• Scott Maurer

Innovation, Creativity, Change, and….Shame? (What Business Leaders Misunderstand)

Updated: Feb 21




There is a connection between innovation, creativity, change and...shame and vulnerability – HUH?! Yes, and business leaders are missing the connection. But why does this matter?


It matters because if executives miss the connection between what they want from their employees and what their employees want from them, the seeds that are their most brilliant initiatives will just wash away before they have a chance to take root – that's time, money, and wasted potential.

...if executives miss the connection between what they want from their employees and what their employees want from them, the seeds that are their most brilliant initiatives will just wash away before they have a chance to take root – that's time, money, and wasted potential.

A recent Harvard Business Review article cited an example of this sort of major executive blind spot. Commenting on executive push for innovation, the writer warns: “There is only one problem: We [as executives] might love innovation. But most of our employees hate it.” WHAT?!!


In my book, How to Create a ‘No Complaining’ Organizational Culture (…and Why It Will Be Good for Everyone), I provide another illustration.


I once heard Brene Brown talk about her leap into Internet fame. If you’re not familiar with her, she is a psychological researcher who focuses on shame and vulnerability. Some years ago, she gave a TED Talk that catapulted her into the spotlight. Almost overnight, she had become a YouTube celebrity because she spoke about something that deeply resonated with people all over the world – namely shame and vulnerability.


Brene said that she soon began to receive calls from business leaders asking her to come speak to their employees. Here is what I found interesting and revealing. Most of these business leaders asked her not to speak about shame and vulnerability (her areas of research focus). Rather, they asked her to talk about innovation, creativity, and change. This is telling. (Watch video at 5:15)

Most of these business leaders asked her not to speak about shame and vulnerability (her areas of research focus). Rather, they asked her to talk about innovation, creativity, and change. This is telling.

It’s not that innovation, creativity, and change are unreasonable things for leaders to desire from their people. They are very reasonable. Innovation and creativity are things that help people come up with new products, services, and ways of doing things that make money and advance mission. An ability to embrace change helps organizations weather market fluctuations and the developments that innovation and creativity bring. But notice that innovation, creativity, and change are things that employers need from employees.


Now consider shame and vulnerability. These are the topics that made Brene Brown’s TED Talk one of the most viewed ever. Why? Because they resonated so strongly with the deepest needs of people all over the world. Yet, when business leaders asked Brene to speak to their employees, they asked her not to speak about shame and vulnerability, which is what the employees needed. They asked her to speak on innovation, creativity, and change, which is what they (the leaders) needed.


You might say, “well, I pay those employees, and I would be paying Brene Brown to speak to them, so why shouldn’t I have her speak about what I need from those employees?” I want to suggest that it doesn’t work this way. To put it crassly, this is like employers saying to their employees, “just shut up and be innovative, creative, and changeable.”


The reason so many people resonated with Brene’s discussion of shame and vulnerability is that they know there are things about themselves that are broken and wounded. I have coached and counseled hundreds of people for thousands of hours, and I can tell you that even those people most of us would consider successful and together have areas of weakness they do everything they can to keep hidden. They hide these places from others, and sometimes they hide them from themselves. So, when someone like Brene Brown calls out areas of weakness like shame and vulnerability, people feel a sense of relief that they are not alone and a sense of hope that they can experience some healing.


So, what is my point? I’m saying that the things leaders want (i.e., innovation, creativity, and change) are stifled by the brokenness their people experience. Thus, the way to stimulate innovation, creativity, and change is by first addressing the brokenness. And yet these business leaders completely missed this and asked Brene Brown to ignore the things their employees needed and move straight to the things they needed from their employees.

And yet these business leaders completely missed this and asked Brene Brown to ignore the things their employees needed and move straight to the things they needed from their employees.

Let me give you an illustration that I hope will clarify this important point. If someone wants to have a nice lawn, many people will spend a lot of money on grass seed and fertilizer. This sounds reasonable, right? The problem is that if the soil is not well prepared, the grass seed and fertilizer will wash away with the first heavy rain. Not only will the grass not grow, but a lot of money will have been wasted.


Knowing this, consider a scenario where a gardener comes along and tells the homeowner that he should first prepare the soil. Otherwise, the grass seed won’t grow, and he’ll waste his money. Nevertheless, the homeowner orders the gardener to skip the soil preparation, lay down the grass seed, and “just make it grow!” Well, of course, we would recognize the homeowner’s folly.


Yet, it’s the same with organizations. If your organizational soil is not well prepared, you can spend a lot of money on initiatives designed to foster innovation, stimulate creativity, and facilitate change. But much of it will wash away if the emotional and relational health of your people is poor.

If your organizational soil is not well prepared, you can spend a lot of money on initiatives designed to foster innovation, stimulate creativity, and facilitate change. But much of it will wash away if the emotional and relational health of your people is poor.

Business leaders are understandably focused on goals, tasks, profit, and growth. These things are critical, because without them there wouldn’t be a business. But what they often miss is that the relational and emotional health of their employees is vital to the long-term sustainability of those important business objectives. There is a big difference between saying “oh yes, of course that is important” and deliberately developing it in the organization. The misguided requests Brene Brown received reveals that this is a major blind spot for many otherwise highly competent business leaders.


So, how would you assess yourself as a leader in this area? If you had made that phone call to Brene Brown, what would you have asked her to speak on? If you’re not sure how to begin assessing and nurturing the relational and emotional health of your employees, find someone who can help. But don’t let the grass seed and fertilizer that are your most brilliant initiatives wash away. Your business needs them to sink in and grow.


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CONTACT: Scott Maurer Founder and President, Remedium Solutions LLC scott@remediumsolutions.com 571-263-5127


#innovation #humanresources #entrepreneurship #motivation #productivity #culture #executivesandmanagement #engagement #humancapital #relationalandemotionalhealth

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