Creativity and Timing: The Perfect Pair for Successful Pandemic Planning

In this post Kristin Harrington discusses the importance of creativity and timing which form the perfect pair for successful pandemic planning. Kristin also provides tips based on the ideas presented in various books, along with lessons learned from her own experiences with helping plan for the uncertainty of this school year.

Creativity and Timing

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see companies, schools, and families scrambling to make changes and create procedures, environments, and processes that align with our current mandates and needs. We are witnessing some organizations who excel at this, making quick changes to adapt their products and environment to meet new needs. Meanwhile, others are faltering by trying to cram traditional practices into an entirely new environment, or giving up completely, unable to make the changes needed to survive in our current world. For schools the latter is not an option, making it essential that our plans are safe, effective, and inclusive for all students.

This summer I read two books that provided unexpected insights into Covid-19 Planning for schools and districts. The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work by Natalie Nixon provides a glimpse into ways to harness and utilize creativity in the workplace. She discusses creativity as a necessity for great leaders, and its importance in making quality decisions. Dan Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing takes a different path, informing readers that the “when” is just as important as the “what” when making decisions and organizing our schedules.

This post provides tips based on ideas presented in these books, along with lessons learned from my own experiences with helping plan for the uncertainty of this school year.

Four Tips for Utilizing Creativity and Timing During Pandemic Planning

1.  Plan for the Worst- I have been known to prompt many sighs and eye rolls from colleagues in meetings with my tendency to think of every possible thing that could go wrong with a project or initiative. Turns out, this can be  a great strategy for planning! Dan Pink describes this strategy as Premortem Planning, which entails a project team pretending to fast forward to the end of their project and discussing how their plan might have failed and why. This allows teams to determine potential problems early on, and reduces the chances of failure. While most of us have limited time to engage in planning for this school year, taking even an hour for this type of planning may eliminate costly issues and headaches down the road.

2.  Create a Culture for Questions and Questioning- When engaging in planning that requires creativity, it is important to create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and questioning procedures and processes. In The Creativity Leap, Natalie discusses ways to build a strong community and workplace that supports creative thinking. One way is using the Yes, and…brainstorming method made popular by Improv groups. During this activity, participants generate ideas, while others say, “Yes, and…” adding additional thoughts and building on previous statements. No ideas are eliminated or debated, allowing everyone to feel comfortable submitting ideas. The Yes, and… activity also encourages active listening, since team members need to listen to previous ideas in order to add their own perspectives. Later, leaders need to feel comfortable with dissent, and encourage employees to raise any questions and concerns they have about a project.

3.  Take Advantage of Fresh Starts- You may have started reading this post, thinking these ideas would have been useful a month ago, but it’s too late now. However, it’s never too late to revise your plan or create a new course of action. Dan Pink calls this the Fresh Start Effect, and his book discusses how beneficial new beginnings can be. Some good times to start fresh are:

  • The first day of the month
  • Any Monday
  • First day of a new quarter
  • Any important date or day after a holiday

These landmark dates get us to slow down and pay attention, while allowing us to let go of any past negative experiences. In the context of school planning for the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to continually evaluate the procedures and processes you have in place at your school or district. If any are not contributing to a safe and effective learning environment, then it might be time for a fresh start.

4.  Consider Unlikely Sources- In The Creativity Leap, Natalie Nixon stresses the importance of valuing the outlier. An unlikely source may be able to provide insights you never considered, or offer the perfect solution to an issue. School planning teams typically consist of school administrators, district representatives, and a couple of teachers. Research tells us that by adding voices such as custodians, bus drivers, and parents, school teams will likely discover more creative ways to solve challenging problems and create a more effective plan.

The Creativity Leap by Natalie Nixon

In my district, we are finding that some of our new procedures are more effective than ones used in previous years. For example, in the cafeteria students sit at a designated table with their class, rather than standing and waiting in a long line with multiple classes. While our intent was to encourage social distancing, this routine has also cut down on behavioral issues and noise during lunch. Planning for the pandemic required us to think outside the box and consider learning environments and processes in a new way, and despite the challenges there are opportunities for changing the way schools work for the better. By creating a culture of creativity and timing and remembering that the “when” is as important as the “what”, schools can thrive during this challenging time.

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