Flexibility and Intelligence

The more I write about creativity and its relationship to intelligence, the more I appreciate creative people. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone who is artistic or musically inclined, just someone who can think creatively. Someone who “thinks outside the box” (talk about an overused clichéd term). My dissertation topic is on using creativity to improve problem solving skills in Third Culture Kids (kids who are living in a different culture than where they were born or where their parents are from and don’t know the language/customs/etc.). Obviously these children are at a disadvantage in that they cannot communicate very well, will lose ground in school, and thus the downward spiral begins. So using different means to keep these children from slipping through the cracks needs to be utilized and the learning curve shortened.


I have read probably about 200+ articles on this topic now. Creativity. Divergent thinking. Fluency. Originality. Elaboration. Flexibility. These terms come up over and over again in the world of intelligence and creativity. Those who are high in these capabilities are typically both creative and intelligent. I find that flexibility is the one skill that needs to be fostered early and often (not to say the others should be ignored). But as I talk to more and more people on a day to day basis about various topics I realize that flexible thinking is INCREDIBLY important in intelligence.


Being flexible is basically being open-minded. Your thought process can bend and be malleable. You do not get into a rigid thought process about concepts or ideas. “This is the way it is and that’s the only way I will allow myself to see it.” You don’t limit yourself or your understanding to a set paradigm. If you see a problem, you can think of many different ways to solve it. There are several keys to open the lock.


My favorite example of this is Alton Brown from “Good Eats” on Food Network. He is wont to demonstrate his affinity for “multi-taskers” and his disdain for “uni-taskers.” For instance, his use of a common drill bit for an apple corer, a terra cotta stepping stone from the hardware store have been used as a pizza stone, or a standard zip top bag for a piping bag used to decorate cakes and cookies (Brown, 1998). As Defeyter and German (2003) showed, this is common for many of us to fall into, as children as young as 6 years old show less ability to use an item for anything other than its intended use. However, being able to not be beholden to functional fixedness, and use creative processes will allow you to save money on all of these gadgets, space in your drawers, and also use analyze a problem from a different perspective. This is a result of being able to think about problems in different ways as opposed to one problem=one solution.


So how is this related to intelligence? If you don’t close your mind to an idea, and you are open to new ways of approaching a problem or open to new evidence to alter your perspective on things then you can L E A R N something new all the time! Don’t fall into the pattern that you know all the angles. You don’t. You never will. Otherwise you’ll become one of those people who gets locked into thinking “I know all about that” or being narrow-minded and thinking “all those people are like this.” Nobody likes that person. And nobody has ever accused that person of being intelligent.


Brown, A. (Writer, Director). (1998). Good Eats.

Defeyter, M., Avons, S. E., & German, T. C. (2007). Developmental changes in information central to artifact representation: Evidence from “functional fluency” tasks. Developmental Science, 10(5), 538-546.


How to keep your employees happy and lower your turnover costs

I have explained my job and studies to many people over the last few years. I basically sum it up that I want to help make employees happy at work so they come back the next day. Some people look at me a little cross-eyed like I’m some feelgood hippie that just walks around with sage smoking in an office to ward off evil spirits. Many many many more people’s eyes light up and say something to the effect of “man we could use someone like you.” To the owners and managers out there, listen to your employees that want someone like me to help you help them. It’s not about being a feelgood hippie type. It’s about doing some simple things to set yourself and employees up for success. Just think of all the things you have to do if they get unhappy and leave.

You spend money on the lost productivity of an unsatisfied employee or absent employee. You have to pay to advertise a new position availability if they leave or are fired. You have to train them, which again costs money and lost productivity from your trainer. Background checks and reference checks cost money. The time it takes to recruit and review resumes will have to come from somewhere (another loss in productivity and more money thrown away). Overtime to catch up on all that lost productivity. On top of the unanswered question of how many customers were alienated by an unhappy or overworked employee? These are all costs that can be minimized if you just do things right the first time.


1) Treat your employees like they deserve to be treated or like you would want to be treated. It’s the golden rule. Not hard. Let’s move on.

2) Train effectively. If you are going to take the time to train a new employee do it right the first time. Don’t waste your and their time as well as your money doing an ineffective job. By laying out the rules, regulations, expectations, and tools necessary for the new employee to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to do a good job for you. They will always have questions, that’s normal. But the more you can limit the 2nd guessing of themselves and of your company the better off they’ll be, the more confident in your decisions they’ll feel, and the more productive (ie more money they’ll make for you) they’ll be.

3) Be just and fair. I’ve written about this before (http://bit.ly/xOLIhm) but I can’t stress this enough. Everything else is derivative of this concept. Your training is derivative of justice. Promotions are derivative of justice. Bonuses are derivative of justice. Your feedback and employee reviews are derivative of justice. Etc etc. If you have an employee who feels they were passed over for a promotion because they were unjustly treated, the process for selection was bogus, or they weren’t even considered then guess what: They probably won’t work as hard or as long for you anymore. That isn’t to say you have to pander. People can handle being told “no” if it’s done fairly. If you need to take the time to sit down and discuss the decision process with them then it is well worth your time to do that. Which brings me to my last point…

4) Keep communication lines open. As I’ve told several managers at this point, there is no difference in what you say to your employees and your kids, just how you say it. Don’t condescend to your employee, but make sure they know exactly what it is that you want from them. Then give them the freedom to go do it (http://bit.ly/HOYS9f)


Managers and parents: Why being a boss isn’t much different than being a parent

As I consulted for a local charter school a few months ago I was discussing different leadership techniques with the principal. He was wondering why he was having so much trouble getting everyone in line, to listen and respect his authority, to follow his direction, etc etc. He was having a difficult time with this which was posing problems for the entire school as everyone was off doing their own thing and didn’t really have a specific direction to go. So I ask what he was doing to get people to follow his lead. To get people to respect him. To get people to listen. To get people to know what they’re supposed to be doing. He responded by basically saying he let them figure it out for themselves. Hmmm. Not good.


Why would people listen to you if you’ve never expressed your desire to lead? Why would they trust you if you haven’t demonstrated you should be trusted or followed? He understood his lax style of leadership was the root cause of a lack of direction for the school and the teachers. He explained he did not want to come across as “mean” or “bossy” and so he never really did much to establish his leadership. This is something I run into a lot in managers. They compensate for not wanting to rule with an iron fist by being weak and acting like a doormat. When I explained that this would be a really bad way to parent his kids he understood.


There are many reasons why “management styles” and “parenting styles” have the same categories. “Authoritarian,” “Authoritative,” and “Permissive.” There isn’t much difference in how you should parent and how you should manage. In both cases you are expected to set up rules, regulations, boundaries, expectations, and let the child/employee explore how to get there. When mistakes are made, you help them to correct them. But there is a a great medium ground between being permissive and authoritarian.

Being a “permissive” parent is like being Deena Lohan or Lynne Spears. You set no ground rules, let the employee/child figure things out on their own and offer no guidance when things go awry. You want to be their friend more than their boss/parent. You are however, not there to hang out and be buddy-buddy with them. Your job is to lead and direct. To set rules and discipline when necessary. Without this direction, the employee/child will become maladjusted, immature, and entitled.

An “authoritarian” parent is kind of like an Ike Turner or Michael Lohan (understand why Lindsay is so screwed up). They rule with the aforementioned iron fist. It’s their way or the highway. They are strict and punishing when the rigid demands aren’t met. This leads to children/employees who are gun-shy, mistrustful, and apprehensive to make any decision for fear that they’ll get their heads bitten off.

The nice balance of these two is having and “authoritative” boss/parent. This is Ward Cleaver. This is someone who allows you to make mistakes and figure things out on their own but will rein you in when those mistakes are made and help you re-correct your path. Expectations are laid out, rules are established, but some leeway is given for you to figure out how to get there. Being a good boss or a parent should be the same. Give some direction, lay out to your employees/kids what you want from them, how to behave what the laws of the land are, but allow room for growth and exploration for your kids/employees.

Goal Setting

I do a couple activities in my class on goal setting.  Having them write down their goals (4.0 GPA, graduating in 18 months, etc.), list the skills they have that will help them achieve that goal, what factors do they control and what factors are out of their control, what are the short-term goals that will lead to the long-term goal, what is the time frame, and what are some possible setbacks and how will they overcome them if/when they come up.

Goals need to be broken up into long and short-term.  Set your ultimate long-term goal (anything that is a year out or more) then essentially the short-term goals are the baby steps that get you there.  For my students, if the long-term goal is graduating in 18 months, the short-term goals may be to earn 3.5+ each quarter, be a mentor, have perfect attendance, etc..  The STGs help keep you focused on the bigger picture so you don’t get frustrated the the LTG is so far off you lose interest.

The really important parts that most people don’t do in goal setting is setting timeframes for achievement and being specific about what they want.  If you aren’t specific about your goal you really just have nothing.  For instance, if you just say you want to lose weight you haven’t done yourself any favors.  That doesn’t give you any motivation to lose weight or any direction from which to sit down and make a plan.  If you lose 1 lb, technically you’ve lost weight and you’re done.  If you say you want to lose 15 lbs. then you have direction, you are accountable to yourself, and you can make a plan for what and how to do it, and also think about the things that may get in your way.  And you can set up STGs to get you there to keep your interest, like maybe 1-2 lbs a week.  The time frame is also important so that you are accountable to some deadline.  If you want to lose 15 lbs, well you have all the time in the world to do it.  If you want to lose 15 lbs in 3 months, then you now have a complete goal and some pressure to make it happen.

Accountability is very important too.  I’m not the greatest at this, but I’m getting better.  However, make yourself accountable to someone else if you can.  Tell your friend that if you don’t achieve your STGs every week or 2 that you’ll clean their apartment or something like that.  Make them your personal trainer that’ll kick you in the butt to get you going if that’s what you need.

A really good tip I got from my dissertation chair is to set up a reward schedule (actually writing it down) for when you achieve all of your goals.  This helps to keep you motivated (although not rewarding yourself for not achieving the goals is the hard part).  So, for instance, you lose your 1-2 lbs/week, you treat yourself to a couple itunes downloads or something.  When you hit the halfway point, maybe a massage, and the ultimate goal is some new clothes.  Deciding the rewards before hand is important though.

This gets you to really think about what’s important to you as well as how you really need to go about getting to the finish line.  Just remember: be specific, set a timeline, be accountable, and set a plan for how you’ll get unstuck when you hit the wall.  I think most people have never really been shown how to set goals or even been correctly shown how to do it.  A quotation I show to my students during this lecture is “goals are dreams with deadlines.” i think that’s about right.






Connecting with your student at home

Connecting with your student at home

There is so much evidence to suggest that participating in your student’s education will help them succeed, not only in school but also in life. They will be much more likely to stay off drugs, not abuse alcohol, have higher self-esteem, and be overall more adjusted. Here’s some simple tools on what you can do to participate on a daily basis

Closing the education gap between men and women

There are many factors that contribute to get women in to higher education and then keep them there as well.  As Mottarella, Fritzsche, Whitten, and Bedsole (2009) mention, there are still gender stereotypes and expectations that we place on men and women that will impact whether or not they stay in class or decide to fall into the stereotypical gender roles of what men and women are supposed to do.  As mentioned in the article, men are supposed to be the higher earners of the family while women are looked at to take care of the children and household (2009).

It seems to me, as is similar with many other social issues where a certain class is perceived as less than another, the problem is based in stereotypes and the best remedy to the problem is to fix the stereotype.  Increasing education to change the mode of thinking and expectations of gender roles, having parents instill the expectation in both sons and daughters that higher education is important, expected, and available to both, and also fixing the difference in pay scales between genders may also help.  By not doing the latter there is less incentive for a woman to want to go to college if they know the payoff is not the same and they will possibly be facing shame and ridicule from going against the grain of expectation.

As a former college teacher, I know that my proportion of female to male students is very high.  In two of my courses I have a 5:1 ration and another it may be closer to 3 or 4:1.  This trend suggests that we are on our way to closing the gap, but keeping the women in school until they graduate is just as important as getting them there.


Mottarella, K., Fritzsche, B., Whitten, S., Bedsole, D. (2009). Exploration of “good mother”

stereotypes in the college environment. Sex Roles, 60(3-4), p223-231, DOI:10.1007/s11199008-9519y

Assessment tools

I have been asked numerous times how to do a proper assessment and whether self-assessments can do the job by themselves.   I do not believe that self-assessment should ever even be considered to replace other forms of assessment.  The subjectivity of self-assessment, as well as the level of expertise from person to person varies so widely that using this exclusively would be a catastrophe.  I do, however, think that self-assessment is a great tool.  As Harrington (1995) mentions that most assessment tools, like standardized tests, are too generalized and not specific enough to the task at hand.

As most assessments are used as a pre-screening tool for employment purposes, using self-assessment would not be a very valid instrument to use for hiring practices.  There is little incentive to be honest in this case with your skills.  As a teacher who is trying to teach a college success course to new students where they try to understand their strengths and weaknesses, I can tell you that people drastically underestimate their limitations.  For some reason, everyone deems themself an expert on everything despite massive evidence to the contrary. If training were performed to more accurately self-assess or if self-assessment were used as it is now as a supplement to other assessments, then this would be ok.  If it were used as a substitution I do not see how accurate assessments would be attained and useful information gathered.


Harrington, T. (1995). Assessment of abilities (ERIC DIGEST). Greensboro. NC: Eric   Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services, from ED389960).