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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, the author of “JoyPowered®,” co-author of “The JoyPowered® Family.” With me is my friend, co-host, and colleague Susan White, a national HR consultant. Susan and I, along with five other co-authors, also just released a new book called “The JoyPowered® Team.”
In today’s episode, we are talking about creative problem solving. Susan, early in my career, I was certified in a creative problem solving process called Simplex, S-I-M-P-L-E-X. Dr. Min Basadur has written several different books on creativity, Innovation, and he created this process called Simplex. His first book, called “A Flight to Creativity,” goes into more detail on this particular process, and we certainly don’t have time to review all of that today, but it was a process that taught me three key things. Number one, that creativity is a skill set, and it can be learned and practiced. Number two, we can use this in all aspects of our lives, whether it’s solving big problems or figuring out where to go on vacation or where we want to go to lunch today, we can use a simple creative process. And number three, the key to problem solving is defining the problem itself, not just jumping to be creative about the solutions.
JoDee, I am so happy to hear you say that creativity can be learned, because I think that a lot of peopl, people think, oh, I’m just not creative. No, Susan, don’t ask me to do that, I just, I don’t have a creativity bone in my body. So I am thrilled that you’re going to talk about this and certainly help us, hopefully, get better at creative problem solving. JoDee, do you mind starting us off with talking about creativity being a skill?
Yeah. So let me start with a definition of creativity, which is that it results from originality of thought, expression, and imagination. So I think it’s pretty easy, maybe, that we can think that we could learn about different thoughts, right, we can learn how to better express ourselves. But at least for me, the part of becoming more imaginative seemed like the difficult part, right? How do I learn how to be more imaginative? Well, another definition says that creativity is a combination of our knowledge and imagination and evaluation. So again, there’s that imagination word, but the knowledge and evaluation I think are certainly two parts that we can put our hands around. So I want to go back to a story early in my career. Again, I’ve mentioned on the podcast many times that I went to college for accounting and I worked as an auditor in a public accounting firm for my first nine years. I also, Susan, thought I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. I have zero talent with regards to design or being artistic or poetry or… I could play a musical instrument, but I, you know, I learned a skill to play and I could read music. I certainly didn’t define that as being creative on my part. And here I was, an accountant, which it wasn’t actually a good thing to be known as a creative accountant, right? That was, that was a negative thing of being…
Creative accounting sounds like it would end you up in jail. Right?
That’s right. That’s right. So I that was one reason why I was fascinated about this topic. And when I moved into an HR role, again at the same CPA firm, so I’d worked with the same people for nine years, and all of a sudden, people were viewing me in a different light, in a different role. And one of the partners walked into my office one day and said, JoDee, you are so creative. And I can remember that day in 1995 like it was yesterday, because it made such an impact on my life that someone else saw creativity in me.
I also think, too, that in our fast-paced world today, if we have a problem, at least I’ll speak for myself, I want to go to the internet, Google, find a solution, right? So we’re not always – it’s even easier for us not to use our creativity. We just jump in and see if we can Google a solution or go find a YouTube video on how to do it right.
I can’t think of one home repair that my husband hasn’t gone out to YouTube to see how you’re supposed to do it, and use 99 out of 100 times it seems to work for him.
So, JoDee, I would be interested as I bet our listeners would, how do you think we can become more creative?
Yeah. Well, a couple things is, you know, I’m a big believer in the concept of CliftonStrengths®, or whether or not you take the CliftonStrengths® assessment, just focusing on what it is that you’re good at. And by doing that, Gallup has all kinds of statistics that tell us that if we focus on our strengths, we can improve our ability to be more creative. So that becomes a cycle. We can become more creative about thinking of different ways to focus on our strengths, which can lead us to be more creative again. So it’s a continuing cycle. I also like to think or I try to live my strengths, enhancing that creativity within me. Lots of research out there about how getting a good night’s sleep can help us be more creative. Exercising, in general, can sort of get our brain neurons firing, especially if you do it in the mornings, it gets your brain going earlier. Reading, for me, is one of the ways I think that enhances my creativity, reading or even listening to podcasts, JoyPowered®, of course, is my favorite, but just, you know, learning different ways of, of how people write or speak or… obviously about the particular topic, I think allows our brain to, to be more creative as well.
You know, many years ago I took a training program and I ended up getting certified to train others in it from Senn Delaney. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Senn Delaney. But one of the concepts that we learned was about the mood elevator, and so we had all these visuals that we needed to first recognize where we were on the mood elevator at any given point in time or situations would unfold. And certainly, when you’re facing a problem, thinking about where you are in the mood elevator, we thought there was a real correlation to trying to get higher on it to become more creative. So I remember thinking that the way we described it was if you were in the basement, like if you’re in the first, ground level, ground floor of any kind of a building, and so you know, floor one for the elevator, all you can really see when you look out the window are the, maybe the buses going by, the trees, people walking down the sidewalk, so on and so forth, outside your building, but if you press the button on this elevator and you go up a few fights, all of a sudden when you look out the window, you can see beyond the trees in front of you, you start to see the roads, maybe the highway out in the distance. Anyway, so on the fourth level, you start to see broader and think broader. Well, get on the elevator again and go all the way up to the top so you’re in the top of this skyrise, the high-level building. And when you look out, you can see as far as the eye can see. And when you’re up at the top and you’re feeling really good because you’re at the top of your mood, that’s when you really get creative because you start to see possibilities and you feel lightened. So when I think about I need to be creative, I check where I am on that mood elevator and I figure out how do I get myself up, get myself more positive, thinking more broadly. And that’s when I start to see new solutions.
Oh, I love it! And I think that’s a great visual of you know, sometimes we hear or we say, you know, take a step back, right? Step away from the problem, which, which might be on the first floor, right, and elevate yourself, or even just moving away or getting out and taking a walk, right, to get a different perspective, it’s really powerful.
I think these are really good ideas about how we get ourselves to be more creative. But JoDee, how do you think we can help others, people that we work with, to help spur them on to be more creative?
Yeah. So I think obviously, we could encourage people to do some of those other things that I’m doing as well, even simple as getting a good night’s sleep or exercising. But I also think, too, it can be really easy is for us to shut other people down, right? When people come to us with new ideas and we want to say, oh, we’ve tried that before, it didn’t work. Thank you for sharing, but that’s not a good idea for us right now. Right? As, as opposed to encouraging people, even if it might not be the right answer, right? Or maybe, maybe it isn’t going to be economical for us or we don’t have enough time to do it, to encourage people to keep thinking and to keep thinking big, right? A lot of good ideas come from, from big ideas that maybe do cost a lot of money or take a lot of time that we can then step back and think how might we, how might we approach the same concept in a different way? I think one of the the ideas that I was going to suggest, too, is equate it back now to your mood elevator, which I like, is called shifting your view. Right? So thinking about it from a different perspective, a lot of times when we’re faced with a problem, we, our first reaction is how does this impact me, right? How is this gonna make me have to work longer or, or get up earlier, or come in on Saturdays? Right? But how does the issue or the opportunity, how does it affect your customers? How does it affect your suppliers? How might it affect the owners or the shareholders or the guy on the front line or the receptionist, right? So thinking about the problem from all different aspects, or again, going back to your mood elevator, how’s the problem? Look on the first floor and how’s the problem? Look on the eighth floor, right? So think about it, not just from your own perspective, but from others. So.
Good. So Dr. Min Basadur suggests that adults use less than 10% of their creativity on any given day. Why is this, do you think, JoDee, and why aren’t we more creative?
Yeah, isn’t that crazy statistic? Less than 10% of our creativity. Well, the – Dr. Min Basadur also goes on to say that this actually starts in junior high, that we are most creative in our lives as a child, right? And you think about the simple aspects of, you know, you’re teaching a kid to draw and they draw a tree and you tell them to draw green leaves and a brown trunk right? And the child might not necessarily gravitate toward that, but we start teaching them what we believe to be right and wrong, versus allowing them to express their own own creativity. And as we get older, we learn more fear. Or sometimes I wonder, are we teaching fear? Are we teaching others to be fearful? And that might be that it’s a fear of ignorance, a fear of failure, a fear of being in charge. I always think sometimes as a volunteer, right, we know if we raise our hands, we’re going to be in charge of it. Right?
Don’t give them eye contact, they’re looking for volunteers!
Or are we fearful of breaking a tradition, right? Sometimes we focus on the short term versus the long term, which again, I think with social media, Google, YouTube, that’s, we’re looking for the short term quick fixes, as opposed to thinking longer term about how might this impact us? You know, thinking about climate change, right? It’s easy to think, oh, it’d be so much easier if I buy a bottle of water as opposed to thinking long term, what do bottles of water do to our climate and our Earth? We have a fear of making mistakes, right, or making assumptions. We don’t always want to raise our hand or suggest something different in a group of people because they might think that, you know, it was a crazy idea or, or that it’s the wrong answer. Sometimes I think this fear comes or, or not always a fear, I guess, but what keeps us from being more creative, is maybe that we know too much. Right? That we know that trees have brown trunks and green leaves, but that doesn’t mean if we’re drawing one or painting one or doing a graphic design about it that that’s what the tree has to look like. Or we know that we’ve worked in the same organization for 10 years, and this is how it’s always been done. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way, the most effective way.
You know, it’s so interesting, as I hear you talk about that I, I reflect on as a parent, and then as a manager and developer of people, I’m sure that I was spending a lot of energy trying to help my kids and then help my staff members fit in and be successful. And so it very well could be that there was a lot of good ideas coming up, and I’m like, oh, no, no, this is the way we do it here. This is what you do to fit in. And I just wonder if I didn’t stifle it?
I can guarantee you I’ve done it. And I’m fascinated with this topic, and I still know that I do it, whether intentionally or unintentionally, right? We’re trying to help people.
Or we think that we’re helping people or we think we’re helping our kids by teaching them the way things are done and shutting down that, that creativity. So, but it’s – I started out by saying a lot of that starts in junior high when the peer pressure sort of begins and it, you know, probably even earlier than that now, but it is that time in our lives when we sort of really have that more sense of fitting in or being popular or, or wanting to not stand out as the awkward one.
The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast is sponsored by our new book, “The JoyPowered® Team.” JoDee and I wrote this book with five of our colleagues, and we can’t wait for you to read it. “The JoyPowered® Team” challenges you to choose joy for yourself and your teammates. Learn how to build inclusive teams, navigate workplace challenges, revitalize teams who falter, and thrive as teams evolve. Joy starts with you, whatever your role, industry, or area of expertise. Learn more about our new book and how to buy it at www.getjoypowered.com/books. That’s W-W-W dot G-E-T-J-O-Y-P-O-W-E-R-E-D dot com slash B-O-O-K-S.
So JoDee, can you give us some examples, maybe through your research on this topic, that would be helpful?
Yeah, so one of my favorite stories I love to tell which is a combination of both using our creativity and one of the other highlights I mentioned of jumping to solve the problem as opposed to understanding what the problem is. So in a very short form, there was a Harvard Business Review case study done a few years ago on a hotel that was somewhere on the east coast and the hotel had just opened up and were getting lots of positive reviews in every aspect to the hotel. It was, it was very successful and customers were ranking it very high. But there was one consistent problem that, that most all of the hotel guests, at least the ones who commented on, commented that the elevator was too slow.
Don’t you hate that?
Especially if you’re at a conference trying to get to your room during a break.
I know. I’m, I’m very impatient, so I don’t have much to do with slow elevators. So the hotel formed different focus groups and study groups and brought in engineers and consultants and all kinds of people to see how they could solve this problem. And of course, putting in a new and different elevator was a very costly exercise for them to go through, so they did all kinds of problem solving on the issue and someone spoke up and said, is it really that the elevator is too slow? And thinking, have we really identified the problem, or are are we trying to fix the wrong thing? And what they ended up doing, initially as a temporary solution, was they put mirrors on each floor of the hotel next to the elevators.
Well, that takes a lot of time to – you have to spend looking at yourself, right?
Right! And so what people did was they quit focusing on the elevator. They used the mirror to check their hair and check for spinach in their teeth and thought about how they looked in their new outfit, and they no longer received comments about the elevator. So the issue was really about giving people something to do, and not actually speeding up the elevator. I find that fascinating. Now, I’ve heard this story a couple of years ago, and now every single time I’m in an elevator, I look for a mirror, or I’m fascinated that almost every time if there’s not a mirror, there is artwork. Very simply, sometimes there’s plants, but almost always there is something at the elevator, probably because their elevator is slow. Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 59 minutes identifying the problem and one minute solving it.” And that, the message there of course, is not to jump to the solution. Right? We can’t just jump to the solution. We have to identify why might the world be ending, right, and then what will I do about it. But we all want to just rush to save the world or to save the problem.
Oh, that’s great. That’s very insightful. So the Simplex process consists of clarity ideate develop and implement. God. Can you tell us a little bit more about each of those steps?
Yeah. And, of course, you know, it could take us much longer to go into all the details of this, but in general, I think the step number one is clarity, right? And by that I mean clarity of the problem. So going back to the elevator story, is the problem that the elevator too slow, or can we switch the perceived problem to be that people don’t have anything to do while they’re standing at the elevator? So clarify what, in fact, is the problem, you know, it can in very simple terms. If you’re, you’re trying to figure out where to go to eat, are you trying to eat healthy? Are you trying to eat somewhere you’ve never been before? Are you trying to go to the fastest place or the most expensive place or the cheapest place? Right? What are, what are the factors that you went to include? In the issue of making a decision on where do you want to go eat, that’s something you can do personally on your own or you could do with a group of 20 people, right? The second step is ideate. And it really is a concept of what Dr. Basadur calls divergent thinking and convergent thinking. So he suggests that we kind of go wild with our ideas. Again, might seem a little extreme on my example of where are we going to eat but, but let’s list all the different ideas, right? Even if we don’t have a big budget or we don’t have much time to do it, let’s list all kinds of ideas that we can think of to get our minds working, to get some ideas on the table. So divergent is thinking big. How can we go to the eighth floor, look out and broad thinking, and then we might need to bring it back to the second or third floor to make decisions. But the purpose of thinking big, even though it might seem like, well, why would we waste time thinking big when we know we can’t afford to go to a really expensive place, is because it allows others to build on those ideas, that someone might say, you know, let’s go, let’s go to Disney World for lunch. And you’re thinking, well, that’s impossible. But we could go to a store at the mall that’s right next to the Disney Store, right?
It just gets creative thinking going,
Right, right. It just encourages different thinking,
You know, one of the things I do in my HR consulting work if I’m working with a leader who feels like they have a problem that is just unsolvable, they just say, Susan, I’ve tried everything, nothing’s gonna work, and they just have objective after objection, I say, listen, let’s just stop for a moment I’m getting out a clean piece of paper, a white page, and I’m gonna give this to you with this pen, and I want you to just write out if you had absolutely no constraints, no constraints at all. I want you to write out what would you like the future to be? Or what would you like to happen here? And it’s so interesting, because usually what they come back with, we’re not going to be able to do it. I mean, they’ve pursued it. But there’s usually kernels in there, there’s pieces in there that we can build on. And they’re like, whoa. They never felt free enough to look at a problem, because they’d been shut down so many times. That, by doing that liberating kind of an exercise, free thinking, we come up with a few things that we can actually resolve.
I love it. And I love your term specifically, of “no constraints.” Right? Let’s start with no constraints, then we can move into step three of developing the idea further. But one other thing on ideation research says that our best ideas don’t always come at the beginning, right? So think about your blank piece of paper you’re giving to your coaching client. Research says that our best ideas, that some of them might come at the top, some of them might come at the end, and some of them might come at the middle. But yet typically, we shut down our ideation or our brainstorming too quickly, so we might never get past the first third, right? If we if we think of it in thirds, we may never get past the first third. If we say, where should we go to lunch and somebody says Mexican and someone says Chinese, we never get to Italian and American, right? We say okay, who votes for Mexican and who for Chinese. We stopped too soon, without getting to an option that might be more appealing or a better solution for the whole group.
Good lesson for us, is that really give ideation than the amount of time it takes, right?
Not to rush through it. So it’s good advice, right?
And obviously, however big the problem is you know, the more… there’s no clear, you have to brainstorm for 20 minutes or 20 hours, right? Depends on how big the issue is. But likely, however much time you’re spending is not enough. If I’m facilitating a group, I almost always push them to finish at least one whole flip chart, right, no matter how small the issue. So I love your idea of here’s a blank piece of paper, fill it up. Right? That kind of pushes us to keep thinking more. Now, in bigger issues, I’ve had 10 flip chart pieces of paper with different ideas. So. And then, as I mentioned, that leads us to step number three, which is then further developing the concepts, being deliberate, checking our objectives, improving some of the ideas or building upon some of those ideas, but always being affirmative and in the positive. But you know, we have to think about things like costs and timing. And I mean, that’s reality, too, as a… and part of this development stage is our evaluation. What really does, we might have eight great ideas, and we might be able to do all eight over the course of time, but which ones will we start with first? Which ones are most cost effective, whatever your parameters might be. And step number four, interesting, seems like the simple part, right, but is to implement it. Sometimes we spend a lot of time on solving problems and never implement them. Right? So not stopping too early, getting through the whole implementation phase. Interesting, though, what sometimes solving problems lead us to is more problems. Right?
Yeah, you discover along the way. Right? New issues that need to be addressed.
Yes. Yes. So I like to think of them as new opportunities.
There’s that positivity.
But you know, solving one issue, now, you know, go back to my elevator example. Okay, we’re gonna put mirrors, that, well, now we got to go find mirrors that fit, right? I mean, that could be your next issue. What kind of mirrors are we going to get? How much money are we going to spend on them? How big are they going to be? It just created a new opportunity for the group. So.
So I really like this four step process. JoDee, why do you think this approach works so well?
I like to think of it as a focus on the fuzzy front end right? Not going in this situation saying, here is our problem, let’s solve it, but if we go into it with, here’s a challenge, here’s an opportunity, here’s an issue, sort of admitting from the beginning that we have an issue and it’s a little bit fuzzy and let’s further clarify that. I think also, you know, we have, lot of times, and hopefully most of the time, we have different kinds of thinkers in the room. And so this sets us up for somewhat of an analytical approach, that the analytical people in the room feel like, okay, we have a process. We’re not just going to sit around and brainstorm all day, but yet allows opportunities for those who are not so analytical or who think differently, to be able to walk through each step of the process as well. And then it’s a proven process that has been researched, it can be taught, and it can be facilitated across a broad range of problems. So.
Great. Well, I think it’s really straightforward. JoDee, if any of our listeners want to learn more, where might they want to go?
Yeah, well, Purple Ink teaches classes on creative problem solving, and you can reach out to us on our website at W-W-W dot Purple Ink, that’s I-N-K, LLC dot com. I also mentioned a couple times Dr. Min Basadur, B-A-S-A-D-U-R, who’s done lots of research and has written five or six books on this topic as well.
So, JoDee, we’ve got a listener question today. “My boss gets really angry when someone leaves the organization, regardless of the reason. I think it’s important that we stay connected to former employees and not to burn bridges. What do you think?”
Yeah, well, it’s it’s a funny question for me, because I actually worked for a firm one time for nine years, and then I left for a year and a half and I came back for another six years. And after I came back, there was someone in the organization who had didn’t realize I’d left, and we were in a meeting one day talking about recruiting and trying to be creative about how to hire people, and I mentioned the concept of hiring alumni, and he said, I would never hire an alumni, not realizing I was one. He said, I think once people leave, they’ve, they’ve made that choice and they should not be welcome back. And so I told him, I said, hey, I’m an alumni, and, you know, I had an opportunity and, and took it and realized I really missed where I was, and creating that relationship with your alumni can be very powerful, that they might be future employees again, but also, now I think of it a lot, too, is they might be future customers down the road, right? Or they could be, they could work for a supplier, they could be a part of your branding, you know, former employees could make a great impact on other future recruits that you might have as people might go to them and say, hey, how was your experience at this organization? So.
I also think it’s really powerful for employees to see someone come back, the grass wasn’t always greener on the outside. So yeah, treat, treat those who leave you as well as you would want to be treated yourself. Right?
Good luck with that.
In our in the news section today, we continue to see and hear more and more about corporate social responsibility, which many of us now call CSR. And SHRM reports that companies that are socially responsible and strong advocates of community involvement have higher levels of engagement than companies that are not actively supporting their communities, but fewer than 10% of midsize companies use this as an opportunity to drive engagement. Seems to me like a such a missed opportunity. SHRM is, reported there are several reasons for this disconnect. First, many mid market companies don’t have dedicated resources to manage their CSR initiatives, and without dedicated resources and a strategy or plan, sustained engagement is virtually impossible. Also, many companies support their communities via donations, which of course is, you know, awesome and amazing and helpful to the organizations, but this checkbook approach really provides little to no opportunity for the employees themselves to be engaged. I thought that was an interesting perspective. There are a lot of simple opportunities for engagement via volunteerism and other activities, such as just corporations having you know, smaller individual fundraisers, maybe collection drives for food or clothing, could be for eyeglasses, or…
Sure, sponsoring families at during the holidays trying to make sure they have gifts and food.
So many things.
Love it. And so SHRM suggests that one of the best ways to help promote community involvement and drive engagement is to create a group of employee ambassadors. Serving as an ambassador provides employees with a hands-on role in supporting your company’s good works. I also think it can be important to maybe think of different people for different activities, right? If you’re doing a food drive, ask a few people if they want to be involved, if you’re sponsoring a family during the holidays, ask some different… otherwise if you’re going back to the same employees all the time, they might be burnt out on that.
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