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.

 

Is losing a customer really worth just $11?

My wife is an avid online shopper. It’s convenient, you can comparison shop, you can do it at 2 in the morning when you can’t sleep,  you can buy stuff you wouldn’t be able to find in a store, etc. etc. She has loaded up an Ikea file drawer with a plethora of nail polish this way. We’re talking lots of polish. 100+. She has even developed a good reputation with several smaller-batch polish and makeup makers because of her loyalty and recognition of good product. Several will send her extras and samples with her orders because they recognize a good customer. However, recently one of these small companies decided that fixing their own mistake and trying to cheat her out of $11 was worth more than getting some more repeat business out of her.

 

She had ordered about $60 or so worth of various products from an online store. She got her confirmation email and we went off to dinner. About 2 hours later she got another confirmation email for the same order. She figured it was a mistake in the system, the email got sent twice. No big deal. About a week later 2 orders of the exact same thing showed up. She contacted the company and they said they wouldn’t take it back because it would cost them money to resell, restock, and they’ve already shelled out $11 to ship these items to her. She explained this was not her fault, it was theirs and she didn’t really care about them being out the money for their own mistake. She wanted her duplicate order money refunded and for them to cover shipping. This doesn’t sound like it should be rocket science, but apparently the decision making process at this online store is lacking.

 

They kept trying to guilt her into this over the course of several emails. Finally, my wife got annoyed stating that she has bought from these people many times before and couldn’t believe the treatment she was receiving. Let me reiterate that UPS basically has a parking spot in front of our apartment from all of the beauty supplies she buys every week being delivered. This was the last straw with them not admitting their mistake or demanding she split the cost of this mistake with them, or any other ridiculous thing. She said she would take her business elsewhere. Their response: “You’re the one who’s willing to cut ties over $11.”

 

Well, no. They’re the ones willing to cut ties over $11. They’re the company looking to sell items and my wife is the one with a gazillion options on places to shop. So, even if this was an honest mistake on their part they handled it poorly. Even if this situation were completely different and it was my wife’s fault, they need to understand that this poor customer service experience has cost them a ready and willing customer who loves to get any new shade of nail polish she can. For $11 they decided they stood on stupid principle. They need to realize that the first 2 rules of customer service are: 1)the customer is always right, and 2)reread rule 1. Rudeness and guilt are poor ways to run a customer service department. It leaves a lasting impression that will leave people not spending money with you and blogging about it on the internet.

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)

 

Have you ever seen a championship team without chemistry?

Continuing the theme of Peyton Manning talk, we’re shifting to chemistry now. As any sports fan knows, the chemistry of a team is very important. It’s one of those buzzwords you hear on ESPN all the time whenever some sort of team controversy pops up, which is all the time. When some player chimes in with some disparaging words for his fellow teammates or coach, “chemistry” is the new word of the day. The thing is, we rarely ever see the ESPN analysts discussing this issue with championship teams do we? And a lot of those championship teams have a core group of players that have been wearing that same uniform for quite a while. Coincidence? I think not. Look at the Patriots run of championships and success. The Colts had a lot of success. The Lakers. The Yankees. The Twins and the A’s in the early part of the decade. It’s not all about money and buying talent. It’s about keeping the same working pieces who can coexist and work well together and functioning like a well-oiled machine.

 

With the Peyton Manning news finally coming to an end (at least until training camp starts) we saw another player who was entangled in his decision end up going back to his old team. Alex Smith. Alex Smith is the starting QB for a team with a core group of players that have been there for quite a while now. They may add a piece or two here and there, but for the most part they have stayed the same. There is a lot to be said for that. When players have played together for a long time, they don’t have to think. They just react. They trust each other to do the right thing, to be where they are supposed to be. They develop a bond and understand how they will react and what can press their respective buttons. Smith’s returning to SF is, I believe, a very important element to the chemistry continuing to build towards a championship.

 

I read an article a few years ago about this same issue with doctors and hospital personnel. This is an area where the entire community where that hospital is benefits from how well they do their job. Do you want a surgeon performing anything risky on you if his or her mind is half-concentrating on whether or not the new nurse knows what they’re doing? No. Of course not. The article essentially stated that hospitals run much more smoothly the longer the employees have worked together. Why should that change for any other industry? Sure you want some fresh ideas every once in a while. But keeping that core chemistry thriving towards the “well-oiled machine” goal of every good company is very important. And, hopefully, for my hometown 49ers, that core chemistry will produce big time next year.

Rumor Mill: Don’t let the office tabloids spin out of control

Office gossip is going to happen no matter what you do as a boss. Cliques form, people chat, opinions are formed. This is all totally fine office procedure. However, when rumors about office politics and policies start swirling, then it can be a major problem. Getting ahead of the spin, controlling the information, and more importantly, limiting the misinformation is one of the most important and least accomplished roles of a manager that I have witnessed.

Aamodt (2007) compares informal organizational communication to the grapevine communication of the Civil War, when lines of distorted telegraphs were hung on lines resembling a grapevine.  The grapevine in today’s sense provides employees with organizational information, entertainment, and power (Aamodt, 2007).  Whether one person receives the information at a time or a few people pass the information to a few others and they pass it on to a few people, informal communication can spread quickly.

Research has shown that much of the information passed along the grapevine contains some truth to it (Aamodt, 2007).  However, some truth and all of the truth are two different things.  Hearing misinformation can greatly alter the perceptions of the listener (Aamodt, 2007).  Between misinformation and rumors through informal communication that change the organization’s functioning, it is wise for the employer to keep an ear in the grapevine.

I do not agree with completely regulating the grapevine, however.  It is important for communication to exist between team members (Aamodt, 2007).  Communication can increase efficiency and teamwork (Salanova, Agut, & Peiro, 2005).  Regulating communication then can hinder the performance of workgroups.  However, if a manager, whom Aamodt (2007) mentions are the main contributors to the grapevine, hears major inconsistencies that may alter the functioning of the organization it is important that the manager clears the air and enhances communication. Without doing so will create an environment of fear, resentment, and panic.

I worked with a manager who refused to do this. He was new and started making changes left and right at a business that was established and had always resisted making any changes in the past. People started panicking that their jobs might be the next changes to be made. I informed him of the panic that was rampant and poisoning the employees but he did not care. Morale went down, performance went down, and a lot of people left.

I have consulted with a few managers who have been gun shy about what they should and should not disseminate. My advice: TELL THEM ANYTHING THAT DIRECTLY AFFECT THEM!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough! Any changes and new policies and new procedures should be told to everyone. People fear change and if you can explain to them what and why these things are happening then they will feel as if they’re a part of it, will not jump to conclusions, will have a chance to express their concerns and frustrations, etc etc. There is no good reason I can think of or that I have read that would lead me to suggest not explaining new direction.

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2007) Industrial/organizational psychology. An applied approach. (5th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Salanova, M., Agut, S., & Peiro, J.M. (2005). Linking organizational resources and work engagement to employee performance and customer loyalty: The mediation of service climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1217-1227.

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.

Dr. House and Problem Solving

My dissertation topic is about problem solving and how we can help to improve it in non-native speakers. But how do we do that? How does one become a better problem solver? The article that sparked my curiosity about this issue was one titled “Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail” (Nutt, 1999). Really? More than half? I reached out to Mr. Nutt about this, read parts of his book about this and his investigation into what companies do to solve problems. Basically, it turns out that they go with the first thing that comes to their head and then go with it, never to investigate again.

Well, there’s a problem in and of itself. Where’s the brainstorming? The analysis? The follow up? When I watch “House”, as I do religiously, I notice that there’s a reason he’s the best diagnostician (ie problem solver) in the medical field (and yes I know he’s not real…but he is based on Sherlock Holmes). He sits with his team, looks at symptoms, looks at possible causes, brainstorms with his people about what could and could not be the root cause of the sickness, and then reanalyzes once they come to a conclusion.

There is no “put a bandaid on it and send them packing.” For anyone who has ever seen “House” knows, there would be a lot of dead bodies right outside the hospital door in Princeton, NJ. They always think they got it right and then everything goes horribly wrong soon after. Without fail. Now, instead of throwing in the towel, they now have more information to analyze. They usually find that they are curing symptoms and not problems.

Further analysis after a problem is assumed to be solved will always turn out more and better information for an organization. This is an opportunity to learn about what is and is not strong in your structure. What can and needs to be done to improve a process. Take the time to brainstorm, use your team to parse out what is wrong. Making knee-jerk decisions will only serve to send the patient away to be found dead later. That is not effective to anyone or the business. A problem is not solved quickly, nor is the project over until you follow up to make sure the disease is cured and the symptoms are not just masked.

 

Reference

Nutt, P. C. (1999). Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Academy of Management Academy, 13(4), 75-90. (AN 2570556).