Innovators don’t make disclaimers

Innovators don’t make disclaimers
May 25, 2022 Beth Nyland

When it comes to creative communication, I am not fond of rules—unless I’m breaking them.

I tweak templates, bust boundaries, and write wrong. Perhaps this is why I’m self-employed; I take serious pleasure in challenging “the way we’ve always done it” and going against the grain.

But in our Story Mode workshops, Jill and I enforce one rule without exception:

No disclaimers.

Typically, we introduce this rule in the first few minutes of a session, right after the creative warm-up. That’s when we give the group a prompt (tell us about your first car, your first day at work, or some such), set a timer for three minutes, and instruct everyone to write until we call time.

When the three minutes are up, we ask a few people to share what they’ve written.

Bear in mind, everyone gets the same instructions and the same three minutes. Everyone is equally disadvantaged. No one is expecting a masterpiece.

And yet, that first person to read almost always stalls for a few moments by muttering a disclaimer. It’s always some variation on, “Don’t blame me if this sucks.”

I probably did this wr—

I’m not happy wi—

I don’t think I understood the inst—

I can barely read my own wri—

I’m sure everyone else did this bet—

Those fractured words represent the moment when Jill or I interrupt. We cut in with a smile and say with great enthusiasm:

“Wow! Thank you! You’ve done your colleagues a huge favor! We allow each group ONE disclaimer, and you have used it! Now no one else has to worry about that, because you have burned this group’s ONE chance to make an excuse! Everyone say thank you to [insert name here]!”

This inspires a sarcastic chorus of “thanks a lot” and a sheepish apology from the disclaimer. Once we’ve all had a little laugh, Jill and I explain that this seemingly silly rule carries a seriously sound rationale.

Disclaimers are creative conversation stoppers.

A disclaimer is an excuse. A way to:

  • Lower expectations
  • Avoid or deny responsibility
  • Deflect criticism

Look at that list! It’s a tip sheet for how NOT to make great things happen.

Especially in workplaces that value innovation and collaboration, we need team members who:

  • Aim high
  • Own and take pride in their work
  • Welcome useful feedback

So, if you want to stimulate creativity, outlaw disclaimers. Instead, encourage your team to be Claimers.

Claimers advance the creative process.

Claimers come bearing ideas and intelligence, not making excuses. When they’re tempted to criticize or diminish their own efforts, they squash that impulse, put themselves on mute, and invite others to weigh in on the strengths and opportunities of the work.

Claimers replace excuses with productive statements, questions, and invitations.

I took a different approach this time.

What stands out to you?

Let’s talk through this together.

Claimers start and stimulate creative conversations. They keep the ball of progress rolling. They appreciate their own strengths and call on others to lend additional skills, ideas, and perspectives. They know that innovation is a team sport.

Practice makes progress.

Claiming is a skill. Some learn it easily; others need friendly reminders to build the discipline. Those who lean into self-deprecating humor may find it especially challenging to break the habit of verbally minimizing their own contributions to a project or conversation. Stay with them. Be patient. But not too patient; hold fast to the no disclaimers policy.

In time, you’ll see a shift in your team’s behaviors and attitudes. As everone learns to claim rather than disclaim, you’ll reach a new level of creative collaboration:

You’ll become a team of ProClaimers.

Need some guidance on how to make Claiming the norm for your team? Let me know. I’d love to help.


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