Over the years, many people have described me as a catalyst; I spark ideas, promote action and encourage change. This is, in my opinion, my greatest asset and strength. After someone brought it up to me earlier in the week, I wrote down a few ideas about what elements go into being a catalyst. These are the items I felt contribute to my own process.
I believe creativity comes from two approaches – systematic thinking and organic development. It does not have to be something an individual is born with, but I feel having it from a young age makes the process easier. The skill can certainly be developed with understanding how to specifically focus one’s thought process. The essence of creativity, in my opinion, comes from the ability to open your thoughts to multiple categories of information at once; meaning you can draw information from everything you have learned in different areas at one time. When needing to be creative on the fly, I will usually try to merge past experience and the current context to create an idea. When there is additional time to really think and develop, I focus in on different topics and projects I have worked on; systematically going through relevant and non-relevant comparisons. This allows you to connect elements in your mind that spark creation. It is the ability to be creative and generate ideas that is the first element to being a catalyst as it can prompt desired change.
The secret element for creativity is collaboration, in my opinion, because it uses crowdsourcing to bounce ideas off others in the group, rather than placing the requirement on a single individual. Sitting around a room with others and sharing ideas is when the real magic happens. I think back to my first engineering class in college when I was introduced to the idea of the “deep-dive,” which came from IDEO and has since been sold to Deloitte. My favorite story was the birth of the ATM. It went something like this: bank leaders were sitting around a table and one says, in frustration, “I wish we could just put a box of money in front of the bank with paper and a pen to leave a note.” While that idea wouldn’t work out well, the comment prompted someone else to think about taking the idea one step further. Poof! The birth of the modern ATM. Now, I am not sure if that story is true, but I love it. Someone taking an infeasible idea from another and making it applicable, that is what collaboration does; it provides a venue and opportunity to bring about new ideas. This is an extension of how creativity can prompt desired change.
One of the most important, and sometimes the most important, elements of being a catalyst is courage. Change can be one of the largest hurdles to overcome, especially if you are not the decision maker. The difficultly comes from individuals not understanding that change is needed, don’t want change or if suggesting change comes with negative consequences. Simply sharing an idea that is outside of the norm can be stressful because there is no knowing how others will react.
However, sharing ideas can be one of the best decisions when it is done consistently. It shows others that you are using your intelligence and are working to help make improvements, but also shows leaders that you have courage to be vulnerable. Courage is the final step that allows a catalyst to share their creativity. It takes extreme courage the go against the status quo. If there are current policies, practices or events that go against the purpose or values of a company, then courage is the element that will allow for positive change. It doesn’t come easy, but this is the most important element of a catalyst.
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Being told that I am a catalyst is one of the best compliments I have ever received. It comes down to two situations where being a catalyst comes into play; when a fresh idea is needed or a reminder to take actions in line with one’s values. There have certainly been times where I have fallen short on the courage, but I get genuinely excited about positive change and using my creativity to fuel that process. Anyone can be a catalyst when they focus their actions and develop their own process.
Push yourself to improve your own creativity, work in a team to generate ideas and practice sharing to develop your courage. That is how change will happen.