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)

 

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.

References

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