The Perils of Managing Bulls in China Shops

Green Light Design is about giving your teams the freedom — and the concrete directive — to speak truth, to be creative, to put pressure on our institution to serve students better. It’s hard, adaptive, risky work.

And, these big-eyed, well meaning people are very much like excited but idle bulls standing in a china shop full of delicately balanced displays of fine china and elfin crystal. And they’re flicking their tails. Sooner or later, they’re going to knock something over.

Your Bulls, Your China

This is the team you’ve put together, the designers and subject matter experts and technologists who need to make things happen for you. They’re the best team you’ve got.  They are creative and dedicated and ready to make a difference.

And that’s dangerous.

Your China Shop is everything that has been done before. All of the traditions and habits and best practices that sit in silent and fragile judgement over anything new. If that new teacup design doesn’t fit in the old saucer, it must be bad. Makes sense, right?

You need that China shop. It represents yesterday’s best work — the best work you could do at the time, whether that was a week ago, a year ago, or ten years ago.

China Shop Managers Get Ulcers

And if you’re going to try green light, that means that your creative team needs to start every project as those tail-flicking bulls, full of potential energy. You need to know that almost any direction they move in is going to break some of that china.

And that’s a good thing.

Your job, as manager, is not to be the china shop manager, wringing your hands and biting your lip over the mess that’s being made.

Manage the Bulls, Not the China

Your job is to walk alongside the bulls as they start crashing into things. Do your delicate dance, picking up a precious teapot here, a well-loved dessert plate there; save the things that need saving without slowing down the bulls or stifling their creative destruction. Encourage them, keep them moving, and don’t let them see how much trouble you go to while they’re working.

The real value in your shop is not the china. It’s the team. It’s their creative, sometimes destructive, always dynamic energy that is what is precious, not the fine china on the shelves behind them.

There will always be more china for the shelves — but if you don’t take care of the team and their creative powers, where will you be?

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