#507  from Innovative Leader Volume 9, Number 12          December 2000

Innovative Leadership Strategies 
by Evangeline Caridas

Ms. Caridas is president of Caridas Consulting Group in Houston, TX (phone 713-629-5692; ecaridas@intergate.com; www.flowmanagement.net).

Today’s organizations thrive when they maximize what they know.  Results depend on the collective talents and creativity of people.   How can you get the best from your most valuable resource—your people?  Participation is the key. 

Participation and creativity are crucial to unleash people’s talent and generate a compelling sense of purpose.  Research indicates that shareholder value is increased when employee participation is improved. Participation encourages people to take ownership and become responsible for creating results.  Participation creates higher morale, retains top talent, and improves the bottom line.  Strategies that increase participation also reduce stress, create energy, and motivate people to contribute to the success of the business. 

Ask yourself:

  What elements of your business encourage participation and, therefore, greater commitment from your people to contribute ideas?

  How can you draw on participation from all levels of your organization to improve your business strategies? 

  How can you use participative strategies to motivate people and achieve excellence?

Three field-tested strategies that generate results are “open systems,” “search conference,” and “flow.”  They help organizations anticipate change, create flexible plans and improve their ability to be active and adaptive.

Open Systems

An open systems approach provides a framework for scanning the external environment, learning from that environment, and adapting plans, designs, and services in response. 

The following scenario illustrates the advantages of an open systems approach.  A furniture company anticipates that a new generation of buyers will not be interested in luxury, but rather in utility and clean lines.  Because this company anticipates a shift in taste, they can incorporate the changing market into their production line and become innovative leaders.

An open systems approach recognizes that an organization’s plan influences the environment, enabling an organization to set trends for their industry.  An open systems approach helps a business anticipate and adapt to change.  It assists leadership in creating a learning organization that will thrive.  People learn in a dynamic environment.  They want to contribute to the success of a business through creative ideas and an active relationship with the business environment.

A leader must focus on the external environment and encourage everyone in the organization to think strategically.

Search Conference

The design of a search conference translates the concept of open systems into a planning and learning environment.  Search conference is a practical tool that makes open systems come alive.  It is a planning method that fosters full participation, cooperation, and learning toward the most desirable future of an organization.  People create a plan and take responsibility for implementing it.  People commit to plans they have put effort into creating. 

For example, a company can conduct a search conference to utilize input from clients to improve a product line or develop new services.  The environmental scan of a search conference can be used continuously to examine the business climate for opportunities and threats. 

The search conference begins with the group learning about its changing environment.  Next, the group searches through its past and present to develop the most desirable future.  Then they develop strategies and action plans that they will implement. 

Every search conference is unique, requiring special planning and design.  There are no set activities to take off the shelf and dust off for simple use.  The activities are designed to fit each context, and the generic method is to ask:

  What changes are important to the company’s future?

  What is the desirable future of the company?

  What is our company’s history?

  What should we keep, drop and create?

  What are our strategies?

  What are we doing to implement those strategies?

Components of the search conference can be modified and used continuously by an organization.  For example, as decisions are made, people can check them against the changing reality of the external business environment. At Microsoft, search conferences are used to promote innovation and new product development. They have conducted over 35 of these strategic planning sessions over the past four years.


Flow is a state of consciousness so focused that it amounts to total absorption in an activity.  It provides a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of pushing to higher levels of performance, into a new reality.  Athletes call it the zone.

Why would an organization want to design their work environment to promote flow?  In today’s labor market, organizations want to attract and retain top talent.  Work environments that create flow promote greater job satisfaction and higher performance.  Being satisfied with work may once have been a concern for an individual only, but now such satisfaction is crucial to the employer’s bottom line results. 

People who experience flow in their job learn and grow in their work, find more enjoyment, and feel their abilities are stretched.  Flow creates conditions where people are truly empowered and are motivated to work.  When people experience flow, they become more committed, productive and engaged. 

To create a flow experience, the following conditions are necessary:

  Clear, challenging yet attainable goals


  Challenges matching individual skills

  Concentration and focus



  Loss of self-consciousness

• Transformation of time (In other words, “time flies”)  

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©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.