“I want your 3am ideas”​- Nurturing and enabling creative thinking is essential to building successful teams


Whenever I hire or find myself newly leading someone I tell them the important things they need to know about my management style and how I see my role as a leader:

  • I see my most important duty as being an advocate for those who work with me to those above me.
  • What we do between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm is what facilitates our real lives at 5:01. For me, that’s my kids and books. A good work-life balance is essential to being effective, sharp, and impactful while on the job.
  • Be empowered to take the actions you deem necessary, be sure to justify your response.
  • During your time with me, I want to help you take the next step in your career and help you develop in the areas you have a passion for. Tell me those things, or develop them with me. Time is valuable, and discontent consumes it faster than progress.
  • Bring me your 3 am ideas. Let’s try them. You’ll get the credit; I’ll take the blame.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been known as an innovator, dealing in creativity as much as process. It’s the former that has best served the latter, and both in concert have delivered results. Creativity and intellectual curiosity are traits that I find are invaluable, and too often it seems people come to me and don’t feel empowered to bring the crazy, the daring, the bold to the table.

“I want your 3 am idea,” I say to them, and I can see in their eyes that they’ve had one. They know exactly what I mean: Woken by an intense dream, still only half lucid, lying there at 3:02 am and suddenly that sales pitch, that marketing idea, that market penetration strategy, that new presentation, pops into their head. An idea so interesting, so kooky, so “outside-the-box,” that while the details of the dream quickly fade, the idea continues to stir like that third packet of stevia in their morning coffee.

I want that idea. More than that – I need that idea.

Modern commerce is enigmatic as we shift from old ideas about marketing and sales and embrace new methodologies and ways to apply business intelligence. Sometimes the old rules still work and should still be followed; but as I’ve said in other writings, the tenacity of an idea doesn’t necessarily instill it with value. It may still have value, but it’s worth evaluating – and sometimes it’s worth taking something new and different for a spin.

“Innovate or die,” as the adage goes.

Innovation, creativity, and the application thereof doesn’t just apply to products, companies, and services. It’s something important on the ground level. It’s important in the sales process. Important in marketing. Important in people and workflow. It’s important in rewards and recognition.

In my industry our biggest competitor isn’t another company doing something similar, it’s status quo. They’ve heard the standard pitch. They’ve seen the social pop-up ads and the LinkedIn post about new features. Those things do still work, but is there something that has even more impact? Can we tell our story in a different way? Can we be fresh and new, while still being deliberate and tactful?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes – and we should be willing to try.

Building a successful team means building a team of innovators, of creative thinkers, and of people willing to voice the bold, the new, and maybe even the little-bit-crazy ideas they’ve been chatting with themselves about on the commute. Enabling and nurturing those traits into your team and management is what can turn a gentle slope into a hockey stick, and turn a team of workers into artisans.

I want my sales team to be a group of people not just thinking about their next call, their next email, their next presentation – but also thinking about what they’re going to say on that call. What they’re going to type in that email. How they’re going to tell the story in that presentation.

Creativity knows no bounds and it is a trait that, for me, is more valuable than legacy experience. More valuable than talking a good game in an interview. Enabling a team and individuals to have the intellectual curiosity to ask the “why” questions about their own process is the greatest thing since the person who thought bread would sell better if it was already sliced.

Like I said – I want my team to bring me those ideas. They get the credit. I’ll take the blame.


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