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Take a page from Hemingway for your next meeting

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

We love the allure of creative magic. We delight in hearing about overnight success stories. Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody has been quoted as saying, "My dad told me it takes 15 years to be an overnight success – it took me 17 1/2 years."

Great success comes from hard work and discipline; not from magic beans. So why do we buy in to a theory that asserts artists are born and great art is created when a lightning bolt strikes?

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I think it is because we get caught in the trap of believing that creative types have an innate ability to create masterpieces; while the rest of us are bound by the rigours of discipline and structure.

Can we be both? Can we be disciplined free-thinkers? In my experience as a leader in health care, I have found the spirit of inquiry combined with some good old-fashioned persistence has been a key differentiator for our results. It is possible to be both creative and disciplined – we just need a little inspiration.

Do it

Creating great art or innovative business solutions is about discipline and hard work. Effort and commitment are needed to cultivate the environment for that magic beanstalk to take root.

Work with your team to schedule creative time and stick to it. U.K. writer Jeanette Winterson says: "Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom." Schedules and plans build consistency and it is within those boundaries that creativity will flourish.

In any organization, repetitive processes and routine can set the table for success. Rather than being constraints on creativity, they can create and sustain a fertile environment.

Clock it

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Similar to routines, specific time constraints can also allow creativity to blossom. Ernest Hemingway set aside each day, from 7 a.m. until noon, to write between 500 and 1000 words. Even with such a creative and vivacious personality, he knew discipline was a key element of artistic expression.

At your next meeting, surprise your team by bringing an old-fashioned wall clock as a visual aid and use it to stick to your times. With that decision out of the way, you'll see your team is better able to focus on the work at hand. Limit distractions and be present. Don't keep your creative crew past the allocated time, but don't quit too early either. If you can, stash a good idea in the bank so you have a fun place to start at the next meeting.

Be it

To fully embody her role as Fantine in Les Misérables, Anne Hathaway – already a wisp of a young woman – reportedly lost more than 11 kilos in two weeks by eating greens. She was rewarded with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Daniel Day Lewis spent the entire shoot for the film My Left Foot in a wheelchair to capture the spirit of his character, and was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts. The common theme here is it that the creative process is really hard work.

Similarly, bringing that kind of energy into your organization takes commitment and devotion to the outcome. I am certainly not suggesting crash diets or extreme behaviour, but I think we can learn from these techniques to foster a better focus.

Be creative – take your team on a field trip to meet a competitor; go to a movie together; have your meeting in a fast food restaurant – or a gallery. If you change the environment and embrace new situations, you'll find the power in these kinds of creative approaches.

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Blow it

Actors who don't perform well on auditions; writers who can't find a publisher; artists who can't sell their work – failure, followed by the long crawl back to the drawing board – is a vital step to creating great things.

When a leader shares mistakes, he or she becomes open and vulnerable and that courage sets the tone for the organization. Collectively, we can use the ashes of failed attempts to ignite new ideas which would never have been considered had it not been for the failure.

I encourage you to try some of these ideas. You never know; with enough hard work, maybe "magic" will inspire your organization.

Shirlee Sharkey (@shirleesharkey) is president and CEO of Saint Elizabeth, a national health care provider and social innovator. Read her blog at http://www.saintelizabeth.com/About-Saint-Elizabeth/CEO-Blog.aspx

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