A Marriage of Skills

“I think I’m both…”

We often define ourselves and others according to our dominant skill-sets. We create identities around a specific skill or ability and often ignore or deny unexpected qualities that don’t conform to our ‘image’ or personal brand.

But, truthfully, people are complex. We usually have a diversity of skills and interests. Narrow our perspective of our or other’s capacity and we miss opportunities that this complexity provides. Put simply, over-simplifying can cost us.

Steven Jobs

Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple, obviously had technical know-how and vision. He was also artistically oriented. Jobs valued his design training, specifically a college class in typography. Typography is a design form where beauty and functionality come together. Perhaps that’s where he first said, 

“It’s not just what it looks like, it’s how it works.”

Steven Jobs

Jobs believed that focusing artistry, technical innovation, and performance on user experience was critical to Apple’s success. That’s how Jobs’ personal marriage of skills came to life professionally.

You may know what happened next. Jobs lost Apple when the board of directors replaced him. Undaunted, he put his skills to work developing the NeXT computer. Although innovative for the industry, NeXt did not survive commercially. Jobs then went on to lead the creation of a division of LucasFilm called the Graphics Group. Graphics Group became one of the first successful digital animation film companies. You know it today as Pixar, producer of Toy Story, Coco, Wall-e, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo.

Having further developed his business management skills, Jobs returned to Apple for a very successful round two. Could he have done any of this without his unique blend of skills?

From Quinine to Mauvine

Here’s a less well-known example of how a diversity of interest gave rise to opportunity.

Back in 1856, Sir Henry Perkins was a young chemist working in a lab to create a synthetic quinine treatment for malaria. One day when cleaning up, he noticed that a few chemicals had blended to form a particularly vibrant shade of purple. That might have been it, except … Perkins was also an amateur painter and photographer. Artistic interest took hold.

Perkins recognized the value of his discovery in both its unique color and its potential as a synthetic dye. He and his brother got to work. They did not cure malaria. They invented a dye they called “Mauvine”. Until then, dyes were made from organic substances. This was the world’s first synthetic dye. The Perkins brothers went on to make many more, giving birth to an industry that’s responsible for the color of your clothes, your walls, your boat. They changed the visual landscape of the man-made world and made millions doing it.

Both Perkins and Jobs were extraordinarily successful not because of a skill, but because of their unique marriage of diverse skills. (So, remind me, why is it all about STEM and not STEAM? but, I digress …)

What is your marriage of skills?

Shine some light on yourself by taking your own skills inventory!

Look back over your life and remember your different interests and activities. How have they informed your perception and thinking? How have they made your work product unique, creative, even innovative?

Now, consider what you’ve accomplished, produced .. the mysteries you’ve cracked. What diverse aspects of you came together to make that happen?

Has your love of gardening fed the way you grow your team as a manager? Has your baseball habit nurtured your understanding of statistics? Did your bread-baking phase develop the patience to wait for a project or relationship to rise? Has a love of movies inspired your retail business communications? Do painting or music-making enable a deeper understanding of harmonics and patterns in data, biological codes, or energy signatures?

And what about you managers and parents? Take a closer look at your team and family. How do their diverse knowledge, capacity, or experience inform their work individually and collectively as a group? How does it contribute to their success? Do you hold this up and recognize it, foster it? Do you do your part to promote the marriage of diverse skills over single-skill worship?

Are you growing?

We live in hectic, dare I say frantic days. No doubt you are learning some new things.

Remote work demands, adopting different ways of parenting and leading, developing a talent for flexibility and regrouping are all part of our response to Covid-19 … and then there’s that early-pandemic explosion in learning to bake that continues on. Yum, keep it up!

If you haven’t taken this opportunity to explore something new, consider your inventory or do some brainstorming. Find a quality or interest you’d like to develop. Then, you might try searching for information on the internet, YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, and start playing around a little.

“Play is the highest form of research.” 

Albert Einstein, Scientist

I’m a math person … and an artist … and a baker … and …

Perhaps you’ve never considered the cost of defining ourselves too simply. Embracing our human complexity means a greater capacity to innovate, create, collaborate and solve. It also makes life more interesting.

Your marriage of skills is an important part of who you are and what you create. So, just say no to boring, one-trick identities. Embrace that intellectual diversity. Who knows, you might just discover a new industry while cleaning the lab, or baking bread, or surfing, or …

Let me know what it’s done for you!

Want to learn more about Creative Thinking? Check out CEJ Studio on Creativity.

Creativity. What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Creativity can thrive in the right atmosphere and choke in the wrong one.

What is the ‘right’ atmosphere?

It’s civil. It’s rich with respect, kindness, helpfulness, and active listening. In fact, civility makes the work environment more pleasant and that enables employees to produce more … better … results.

Don’t take my word for it. I was reminded recently of a 2015 NY Times pieceNo Time To Be Nice At Work” by Christine Porath, Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She focuses on the impact of incivility in the workplace.

In short, Porath’s research reveals the impact of un-civility on:

  • focus (it went down)
  • mistakes (they went up),
  • employee problem-solving and idea-generation (it worsened).

In one study, an experimenter belittled a group of peers. Afterward, they performed 33% worse on anagram word puzzles and came up with 39% fewer creative ideas during a brainstorming task.

In a second study, participants encountered a rude, admonishing stranger — a “busy professor” – en route to the experiment. Afterward, their performance was 61% worse on word puzzles and they produced 58% fewer ideas in the brainstorming task than those who had not been treated rudely.

There were side effects on witnesses and customers:

The study found that witnesses of the incivility performed 22% worse on word puzzles and produced 28% fewer ideas in the brainstorming task.

… Employees began to contribute less and lose their conviction,

… and customers quit patronizing the business.

About your workplace – are you feeling the love?

Is your workplace suffering from the stressors of these crazy times? Is sense of community falling and lack of civility raising? Here are ways to check. Do your employees:

  • Do employees seem more on edge?
  • Do you see more staff conflict with coworkers, vendors or clients?
  • Do more employees work from home and engage in person less?
  • Do employees seem less focused, less productive?
  • Is your team producing fewer creative, high-quality ideas?
  • Do they seem exhausted at the prospect of another problem to solve?

If so, ask yourself – are your employees feeling the love? Or, has workplace civility taken a back-seat to crisis thinking, confusion, and exhaustion during these challenging times?

If so, the impact can be significant. According to Porath, you can expect less creativity: less relevant, innovative problem-solving, and fewer of the ‘good ideas’ that make your brand or business stand out.

You can expect more senseless mistakes, less focus, and less of the productivity that moves your business forward. I will add that if this goes on too long, you can expect more turnover.

Don’t Let Loss of Love Cost You Business

According to Porath’s research, even in the best of times, attending to, supporting, and caring for each other has a lot to do with our levels of creativity and performance.

Can I get some agreement that ‘the best of times’ doesn’t describe the 2020’s so far?! Turns out, sharing the love, civility and taking a moment for some people-time may be just the thing we humans need to turn this 2020’s thing around.

Don’t know how? CEJ Studio offers coaching and classes on skills and techniques that help you create a happier, more motivated workplace. Reach out!

christie@cejstudio.com

Creator’s Checklist

We are infinitely creative …

Photo by Freddie Marriage for Unsplash

We humans are busy creating universes every moment … of every day … from the moment we are born until the moment we pass off of this plain.

We start with a perception.

Then comes a thought, maybe an idea, then … action. Even inaction creates by allowing.

Individually, that’s how we create our lives. Collectively, it’s how we create the world. It’s fun. It’s heavy. It’s who we are.

We choose our game, playground, teams, tools and rules. We play even when we think we are not playing, because not playing is playing the game of ‘not playing.’ No one escapes the game of creating.

Most of us aren’t aware of this. We haven’t thought about it. And yet, we are doing it … creating our moments, our lives, our world all day every day. Look around, you’ll see others doing it, too. It’s mind boggling!

Yes, we play even when we think we are not playing because not playing is playing the game of ‘not playing’. No one escapes the game of creating.

Imagine

At least once, if not a few times a year, life asks us to take a break, sit back and reflect, imagine, envision our lives. Whether it’s time to create New Year’s plans and resolutions or to run through end-of-the-week assessments, it can increase the quality of our output, our creations, to ask deeper, more intentional questions about what we are doing. I like checklists, so I’ve included a Creator’s Checklist below to get you started.

The more deeply you dive into these questions, the more deeply effective and impactful you can be. It doesn’t matter what you are working on – a line of code, a new design, a fat portfolio, a sultry romance, a loving family, a vibrant empty nest, a symphony …. your final result has a direct line to your willingness to go adventuring in your own mind, heart and soul.

It doesn’t matter how you think all this through, only that you do. Take a walk, consider while shopping, while enjoying that burger or game of chess. Write, journal, talk to a friend, a coworker or counselor. Do it your way, just do it.

Working with a team? What if each of you consider these questions on your own then come together and discuss. Making exploration the ground rule, no judging, creates an open atmosphere for discovery and collaboration.

We humans are original, inspirational, and imperfect. We make mistakes. But, know this…

A moment is gone in the blink of an eye. Awareness and intention help us to make more of them. It doesn’t hurt to step back periodically and ask … What does the world you are trying to create look like? Maybe check that list twice, because … anything can happen …

… we are that powerful.

Creator’s Checklist

  • What are you creating today? Joy? Comfort? Chaos? A solution?
  • How are you spending your time? Time is the most precious raw material we have as creators…
  • Do you have a clear goal? … Not what you want someone else to do, what you want for yourself…
  • Do you trust that it’s the right goal? That you’re the right person for it? That trust powers your efforts.
  • Are you solving a problem or a symptom? Acknowledging which you are doing can keep you from being disappointed about the quality of the solution.
  • Your attention … it’s generally somewhere. Do you know where yours is? That drives your perceptions so choose wisely.
  • Your feelings are the soil of creating. What are you creating from? Are you in fear? Compassion? Awe?
  • Are you assuming? Faulty assumptions are like cracked concrete in the foundation of your idea. Sooner or later, that thing is going to fall.
  • Do you trust your conclusions? Have you jumped up and down on those boards of evidence to see if they hold? Have you tested the fabric for wear?
  • Do you feel good about what you are bringing into the world? Does it make you feel like a hero? That feeling is energy that helps you run faster and jump higher. Not having it means working against your own grain. You know that old phrase, ‘go with the flow’? That includes going with your own flow.

Grandmoms – The Key To Human Evolution?

Interesting new research is adding evidence to that theory.

Grandmothers and mothers were keeping the kids fed, not man the hunter.

Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at University of Utah, studies modern hunter gathers in hopes of gaining insight into how our earliest ancestors may have lived. Her work with the Hadza of Northern Tanzania reveals that not only does the food gathered by the women of the tribe account for a larger portion of daily calories, but that helpful grandmothers make crucial contributions to the gathering.

This doesn’t mean that the calories contributed by hunters is unimportant. But, it does suggest that some of our most humane skills – cooperation, empathy, considering the thoughts and feelings of others – likely arose through this intergenerational gathering activity. And, it’s these qualities that likely kept tribal warfare to a minimum.

Kristen Hawkes believes that gatherer’s sharing and cooperation means more food, less war for the Hudza tribe. It may have meant the same thing for our ancestors and human survival and evolution.

Since a basic sense of safety, cooperation, empathy are rich soil for creativity and innovation, interesting to consider … adding a cooperative, empathetic, considerate grandmother or two to the team? 😉

Find more at NPR/All Things Considered

What Are Your Words Creating?

Words matter. They are the bricks with which we build identity and hope and with those, a productive life. This illuminating experiment has an interesting message for us all.

Ikea wanted young people to think about the impact of bullying. They displayed two identical house plants in enclosed containers in schools and piped recorded voices to them 24/7 for 30 days.

One plant got only loving, appreciating messages. The other was bullied. Whoever walked by could watch the messages do their work. Young people were allowed to record some of the messages themselves.

At the end of the experiment, the loved plant had grown and was thriving. The bullied plant appeared to be dying.

Was this science? Not really. There was no control and we don’t know if other factors may have been at play. We don’t really know scientifically what happened there. But, it is curious. And, it does get one thinking about …

The Impact Of Our Words

Public Speaking is a particularly stressful activity and very few begin it feeling enthusiastic and confident. Most jump right into self-criticism … self-bullying, self-creating the Public Speaking equivalent of the wilted plant. That’s not good!

The way we speak to ourselves is just as powerful, if not more so, than the way we speak to others. The way we define our last presentation directly shapes the energy and confidence we will, or won’t bring to the next one. Deem one a failure and the next one will be. How to stop the self-bullying loop?

Find A Success In Every Presentation

Let that set you up for the next.

Did you make particularly good eye contact, even if you flubbed the data? Great! You made good eye contact! Yes … there was the data … but, you made good eye contact!! Did you start moving more comfortably even if you didn’t fully answer that question? Yay!! You’re moving more comfortably. The more you practice and get comfortable with moving, the less distracted you’ll be and more you can focus on the questions.

Every presentation is a step in creating yourself as a speaker, and that step is as strong as you make it. Call yourself a learner and define your speech performance based on the things you did well, then get to work planning the next one. Sure, work on the issues; they will be temporary. But, find the positive and make that your name.

Try to remember the Ikea experiment. Be kind to others and to yourself. Your success as a speaker (and as a human) may depend on using the words you say to yourself to build the beauty of you.

Walking Increases Creativity

We’ve all heard by now about the negative impact of inactivity on our bodies, our hearts, our muscles. But moving isn’t just good for the body. Researchers are learning that walking, specifically, can be good for the mind. In fact, it appears that walking can help stimulate creativity.

Reminds me of a book by one of my favorite ‘creativity’ authors, Julia Cameron, called Walking in this World. It explores the value walking has on Cameron’s own creativity and offers new strategies and techniques for creative breakthrough.

Cameron’s first book, The Artist’s Way, is a seminal handbook for all seeking insight and tools on how to develop their creative potential.

What are you still sitting there? Put down that phone and get on up!

Mistakes

Mistakes are an essential element of creating. It’s not a question of ‘doing it wrong’. It’s a question of observing, playing, experimenting, analyzing, visioning, trying things out, trying ideas on. Mistakes are about learning.

If you’re not making mistakes, then you are not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.

John Wooden, Basketball Coach

Mistakes are arrows painted on the road to a creative destination.

Managers, hear me now…

If you are not willing to allow your team to take the ride, don’t expect them to arrive. You will likely be disappointed in the final result if you expect your team to innovate, discover or create anew without making mistakes.

Walk with me:

You are a child. You are playing ‘kitchen’ or ‘toolshed’ or ‘bikes’ or something. Let’s say it’s ‘kitchen’.

You have the Bake-It-Easier-Than-Mom oven going. You’ve whipped up your first little chocolate brownie cake, popped it in the oven and set your little table. Your siblings are seated and waiting. Everyone hears the ‘ding’ that lets them know the baking is done. Mouths are watering.

Excited, you open the oven door and take the ‘cake’ out. It looks a vaguely grey on one side, but hey, it’s a cake and you made it! You break it into pieces, pass the plates, and everyone takes a bite. Your youngest sibling get’s an awful look on his face. The older one let’s out an ‘eewwww’ and they leave your table disappointed. You are crestfallen.

You try to recover your baker confidence as Mom helps you determine that maybe you didn’t stir the ingredients enough. The sibs were getting a big mouthful of salt or baking powder. Round two …

What if you are the first person to try to make cake?

Let’s say you are the first person in the world, ever, to try making a cake. No one has done this before, so no one knows what it could taste like or what happens when you don’t stir the batter enough. Fail this time and your whole village is disappointed. You may decide, “It doesn’t work.”

No cake for the world because you quit on the first try. On the upside, maybe the world is a little slimmer, but really, no cake?

Or, maybe you’re the boss …

Let’s say you were the boss of the first person to try making cake. They failed and it disappointed customers. You said, “That’s it. It doesn’t work. No more messing with this cake thing. It’s a waste of time and resources.”

No cake for the world because you put on the brakes …

And, Your Competition?

Your competition across town may keep at it. They begin to understand cake problems and figure out the solutions.

After one-hundred or so mistakes, they actually invent the cake. It’s delicious. People don’t just like it, they love it! They love the baker for making it. They buy that baker’s bread, muffins and pies, too.

That baker probably agreed with Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” … Until, they found the one that did.

That baker now knows a lot about cake, too. They have stories about the art and science of making cake. You know what that means – interviews, articles, guest speaker engagements, a prime spot in the culinary history books. Probably a picture, too.

I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.

Thomas Edison

(Sometimes a mistake isn’t a mistake)

Here’s a thought. Sometimes, it’s not about getting it wrong. It may be about timing or being in sync with people’s needs, expectations, or understanding.

I learned as an actress that if you thought a perfect, mistake-free audition was going to get you the part, you would be in for a lot of disappointment. The casting director could want a blonde and you are brunette, or they’d want someone more like that one … and you weren’t.

Or, they like vanilla and you made a strawberry masterpiece. Or, they want the widget to be fireproof and yours is innovatively flammable and self destructing at the perfectly timed moment and they don’t understand or trust. Get the picture? Be careful about what you are calling a mistake. (Remember, stickie notes were just someone else’s take on a failed permanent glue.)

Back to mistakes: make room for them. Trust in them.

Plan for and welcome mistakes and setbacks. Reframe them as learning experiences. Explore and value the information and work product that come with them. Make the time for creating something truly special by making time for mistakes.

Make sure your team knows that you expect the learning experiences that come with creating. They will make mistakes and watch to see if you mean what you say.

Mean it. Cement their trust.

Then, creative energy will flow. With trust in the process, your team will loosen up, redouble focus and release imagination. You grow a confident, creating machine that surprises you and themselves. You take us all places we haven’t been, create solutions, products, and worlds we haven’t imagined.

That’s what mistakes are really good for. Not just the learning they produce, but the creative freedom they bring and the passion they can generate.

One can measure passion and sense of purpose for a subject or project by how willing we are to wade through the challenge of mistakes and learning. Do they turn on our wonder and hunger to know more? Or, do they make us tired and bored? The latter is more often a result of one’s interest and passion than of the value of the project itself.

If you are about having your innovation cake and eating it, too, mistakes are part of the recipe.

If the work is creating ’new’ … a new dish, script, program, painting, system, procedure, technique, company, song, fragrance, answer, question, a new solution, …

… people are going to be making mistakes.

That’s part of the fun 😉