From our earliest days, we are told to “color inside the lines.” I was never much good at that, and I suspect I was a consistent disappointment to my art teachers. There was always a haphazard attempt to stay in the lines and then my curiosity got the better of me. I wondered what would happen if I went beyond those fixed boundaries. Could I create something different?

Much of our lives are spent being told to conform—to color within the lines. Corporations are large bodies of legal and organizational structure and process that demand conformity. In many environments, stray beyond the lines in an attempt to innovate or do something in a different manner, and you get the same feedback I received from my art teachers. “He is a bit undisciplined, and he needs to work harder at following the rules.”

If the rules you are following are the historical approaches to leading and managing your business, coloring inside the lines is a death knell for your business. The conventional wisdom is out the window in our political environment, our global business environment and in our industries where everything is changing.

Nine Ideas to Help You Start Coloring Outside the Lines as a Leader:

As a leader, you have a unique opportunity to color outside the lines and help your firm in the process. Just a few examples:

  1. Quit hiring clones. Hire people who are curious and then let them experiment a lot. You might have to send them in a direction, but let them head there in their way.
  2. The next time you hire someone, hire the person who has failed and learned along her journey, not the person who has succeeded at everything.
  3. Every day offers countless opportunities to make a difference by helping others overcome obstacles and think big. Don’t waste a single encounter.
  4. Challenge conventional approaches and processes. Every day. Break old processes just to force yourself and your team to find new ways forward.
  5. Push your team to change their view to the world of your firm. The important things are happening somewhere outside your industry.
  6. Every project—every single one—is an incredible opportunity to inspire people to do something remarkable. Quit treating your initiatives as just more project work. Instead, deal with them like the engines of creation and innovation they are.
  7. Quit worrying when great people leave your firm. Support their need to step out and explore. Let them know they can come back. If they decide not to, ask them to send other people your way.
  8. Never waste a meeting. If people aren’t leaving your meetings better informed, motivated and excited about something, you are failing at running meetings.
  9. Take a chance on someone every chance you get. If your assessment of the individual suggests a solid character and hunger to grow, give them work that is beyond what they’ve done before.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Routine begets boredom and complacency. Quit leading and managing as if it is right that everyone colors inside the lines. Instead, let them push beyond those artificial boundaries whenever possible in pursuit of new ideas, approaches, products and markets. Teach your team how to color outside the lines and be prepared to be amazed at what they create.

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