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Top-Shelf Tip No. 196:

"Being your authentic self is the ultimate secret to happiness in life."

Sheri Fink

How Embarrassing Stories Can Boost Your Creativity

Most people aren't exactly forthcoming with their embarrassing moments. However, research shows that sharing your cringeworthy moments with colleagues can enhance individual and team creativity. That's because when you only hear about colleagues' successes, it can be motivating but also intimidating enough to stifle creativity and performance.

Instead of only sharing the good stuff at work, Leigh Thompson, a professor at The Kellogg School of Management, encourages professionals to talk about their embarrassing moments, too. In her research, she found that people who recounted an embarrassing incident generated almost 28 percent more ideas and more than 20 percent greater variety of ideas than those who shared a prideful moment.

In a second study, Thompson examined the link between embarrassing stories and innovation in a business-team setting. Researchers asked 93 managers in an executive education program to share real-life stories of embarrassment or pride as members of randomly assigned three-person teams. Afterward, the teams completed a creativity task: generating unusual uses for a cardboard box.

Again, the embarrassment groups generated greater creativity: 26 percent higher volume of ideas and 15 percent greater variety, on average, than the pride groups. Thompson says that the groups sharing blush-worthy stories also seemed to enjoy themselves the most, as their uproarious laughter suggested.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we discuss Thompson's ways to leverage your embarrassing stories to develop your most creative ideas.

Share embarrassing moments. For leaders, the most obvious takeaway is that there's a lot of value in encouraging people to share tales of embarrassment. Whether you're conducting an offsite event, team kickoff or sales meeting, encourage your team to be open with their shortcomings. It's not just about being open to the idea of failure or self-deprecation, Thompson says. It's about being willing to share past foibles. This practice goes well beyond team-building to demonstrably boost creativity.

Tell the story. Stories are powerful. Evidence shows people remember and respond best to a narrative with an actual beginning, middle and end. Much of the value is in the details, so stipulate that people provide them, notes Thompson. For example, saying "My colleagues heard me yelling at my daughter" doesn't qualify. This does: "Last month I was on this critical taskforce call for work, with our VP on the line. My daughter knocked on the door and asked to borrow the car, even though she was grounded. I thought I hit the mute button before talking to her but ..."

Stay in the present. Thompson says any stories shared should be recent, ideally from the past six months-or even yesterday. That way they feel more immediate and relatable, and the recency makes it easier to remember key details, as emphasized above.

Reciprocate. If a colleague offers up a foible or faux pas, respond by offering up one of your own. This way, the entire group can benefit.

How you present yourself matters. If you only share your proudest moments with your coworkers, don't expect to come up with your most creative ideas. When you open yourself up to sharing your real, authentic stories—even the embarrassing ones—you can look forward to more creativity, both individually and within your team.

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Leigh Thompson is a professor at The Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration.

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