Make Room for New Ideas

Why is it some individuals are able to come up with new and innovative ideas, while others are unable to think of even one idea to improve work practices? 

Every company wants to be innovative. Fuelled by this desire, many business leaders spend considerable time and money on learning & development initiatives for their employees. By retraining their people to think creatively, innovation must surely follow, right? If we empower everyone with the tools and techniques needed to develop creative solutions, surely the objective of innovation will be met. 

Well, that is true to a large extent. People matter. People play the biggest role in the quest for innovation. People develop ideas, create plans, make decisions, and execute strategies. 

Developing people is indeed necessary for innovation, but the fact is this alone is not sufficient

In placing all their focus on training people to have the right skill set, organisations pay no attention to actually building an environment where that skill set can thrive. Leaders fail to understand that creative thinking tools and techniques simply do not work in the traditional management and workplace setting. Even if individuals and teams did create innovative solutions, their creative ideas will get killed by the bureaucracy and standard operating procedures that still permeate the company. Not enough is being done by leaders and employees at all levels to develop an innovative environment within which creative ideas can actually thrive.

Ideas, in their nascence, are like embers in a fire. If not nurtured and given a chance to kindle they will eventually get extinguished. But, if we add fuel to sustain it, they can develop into something much larger. To that end, here are some tips on how every individual, leader, and team can play a part in helping to build and sustain an innovative environment that allows creative ideas to spread like wildfire.

Encourage everyone to keep an open mind

This is the first step you need to take to make way for new ideas. Colleagues, leaders and teams collectively should be encouraged to adopt this mindset. No one should be showing signs of rigidity in their attitude.

Do not micro-manage

Any attempt to keep track of everything in the workplace hinders innovation. Provide greater autonomy to employees, so that they are free to think out of the box.

Keep your S.O.P. Short and Sweet

The presence of large, comprehensive Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P.) is the surest way to kill any and every new idea.

Encourage people to ask “What if….”

When teams are seeking creative solutions to a problem, encourage them to ask: “What if…?”. This is the best way to challenge age-old assumptions – the greatest barrier to innovation.

Insist on more than one solution

Let employees know that it is in the interest of the group and the business organisation to seek more than one solution to every problem. You can start with a minimum of three solutions and gradually increase it to 4, 5, 6 and 7. 

Make the group diverse

Ensure team members are from diverse backgrounds in terms of age, gender, experience, culture, race and area of specialisation. Involving people from other units and departments is one of the best ways to seek new and innovative ideas.

Make Idea Generating sessions fun

Start the session with some unexpected activities- distribute fruits, candies or chocolates. A pleasant positive emotional experience will bring out new ideas.

Conduct regular Brainstorming sessions

Make sure the facilitator is well trained in the art of conducting an effective brainstorming session.

Ask children for new ideas

What better way than tap on the great potential of your employee’s children.

The above tips work well within your own team and department. But steps also need to be taken within the entire organisation in order to make room for new ideas. Business leaders need to eliminate old and useless practices that currently occupy the room, by reviewing current policies and practices and being prepared to get rid of them if they do not line up with their innovation objectives. Until you create adequate space, you will not be able to bring in new ideas.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this works with regards to your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Seven Principles for Intelligent Problem Solving

Throughout our work day, things don’t always go according to plan. At some point, we might encounter something that went wrong, or maybe someone else brings a problem to our attention, expecting a solution. 

When faced with such problems, our first instinct is to attempt to solve the problem straight away. However, a Smart Thinking strategist should adopt a different approach. 

Instead of immediately thinking of solutions, ask yourself: “Should I really solve the problem, diverting my energy, resources and time towards it?” 

If the problem is insignificant or if it is a problem that is not worth the effort, why waste resources in the first place? The most important benefit of this initial analysis of thinking is maximizing the limited resources we have at our disposal. In their book Breakthrough Thinking, authors Nadler and Hibino argue that competent people approach problems by first ‘questioning the purpose of solving it’. This simple strategy enhances the effectiveness of managing workplace problems.

The authors continue by listing seven basic principles for effective problem-solving.

1. Each problem should be seen as unique

Despite the presence of some similarities between problems we might encounter, we must learn to recognise the uniqueness of the situational needs (context) when solving problems. Although our inherent schemas might serve to solve simple hiccups easily, they hinder the process of addressing the complex and larger needs of our workplace. By look at the unique circumstances of each challenge, we will be able to develop solutions that will meet the unique situational needs.

2. Focus on the reasons for solving the problem

This is essential if you would like to minimise the waste of resources – money, materials, manpower, machinery and methods. Only when we are able to focus on the purpose(s) will we be in a position to see the larger picture. Instead of asking what is going on here and what is wrong, learn to ask what are we attempting to achieve from this situation. This will trigger our minds to seek a number of possible desired solutions. To further propel this process, we should learn to ask: “What else…?”. This will help us to develop as many solutions as possible.

3. Seek solutions using a long–term perspective

Whenever possible, identify the ideal and perfect solution to the problem, and then work backwards so that you can create practical short-term solutions that can eventually become a part of the ideal long-term solution. The authors describe this practice as ‘The Solution-After-Next Principle’.

4. View the problem(s) from a systems approach

Once we learn to view each problem as part of something else, we begin to adopt a systems approach to managing problems. The realisation that each problem we face is part of larger problem enables us to anticipate the challenges(s) we may face when implementing the solutions. This will enable us to develop the appropriate strategies we need to successfully execute on our solutions.

5. Learn to work with minimal information

Some of us are trained to seek out a complete and comprehensive information set when managing problems and work-related challenges. However, seeking this much information is usually extremely time-consuming, and even after we collect it, we become overwhelmed by the data.  Having too much of information on hand also prevents us from considering new and innovative solutions. Our intuitive spark goes missing when inundated with too much of information. This principle, of course, has to be balanced with actually having enough details to understand the real problem at hand.

6. Keep the people factor in mind when developing solutions

As far as possible, involve those who are impacted by the problem and potential solutions. The participation and involvement of these individuals will be critical to the overall success of the proposed solution. Keep solutions broad and flexible so that those who will be managing and executing the solution will have some degree of flexibility, and not be disoriented when everything doesn’t go according to plan. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) type solution should be avoided.

7. Incorporate the timeline principle

Each and every purpose we develop to manage problems should be in the right sequence. Only then we can maximise the outcome of our breakthrough solutions.

Enabling our people to think smart starts with encouraging them to adopt the above seven principles in a consistent and coordinated manner. We need to let our employees understand the importance of defining the purposes of working on a problem. The emphasis is to find out what are we trying to accomplish. Problems and challenges should be seen as situations that require change. 

The best way to bring out the change is by asking: What are we trying to accomplish here?

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this could work with regards to your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Improve L&D by Harnessing Positive Psychology

Dislike & Disdain

Learning & Development (L&D) plays an integral role in many organisations: Training is paramount for new recruits to seamlessly integrate into a company; Assimilating and applying technical know-how and industry developments drive value creation; Leadership and teamwork courses support an organisation’s personnel development objectives. 

Yet, despite its importance, most people dread attending training courses. Whether it stems from the boredom of dreary training sessions where participants are stuck in a classroom for ages, or because they need to spend a few days away from their desk while work continues to pile up, most employees dislike training. This disdain, in turn, limits the effectiveness of L&D sessions. 

Although I have previously written about practical steps we can take to incorporate engaging activities in our training for better results, it might serve us well to use a psychology framework to explore WHY people dislike training and HOW we can use these insights to design and execute better L&D policies and practices.

Let’s Add Some Positivity

Positive Psychology is a scientific model of psychology that provides tools and techniques for people interested in leading a fulfilling life. Martin Seligman, co-founder of the Positive Psychology movement, sought to create a model of psychology that dealt with well-being and “the pleasant life”, breaking away from the traditional practice of psychology dealing with mental illness and negativity. Fredrike Bannink, in her book 201 Positive Psychology Applications defines Positive Psychology as the “study of human flourishing and an applied approach to optimal functioning”.

How does this tie in with L&D? For that let’s explore Seligman’s ‘Well Being Theory’ of Positive Psychology, which is based on 5 elements (also called pillars). The five aspects of the well-being theory (commonly referred as PERMA) are:

Positive emotions
Engagement
Relationship
Meaning
Accomplishment

Taken together, PERMA offers us a breakdown of the 5 elements that create a fulfilling and happy life.

These pillars offer potentially powerful tools to L&D professionals if they can be successfully integrated into L&D initiatives within the workplace. Most training sessions do not involve any of these 5 pillars, and as such, fail to excite learners. In the following paragraphs, we’ll explore what each element really means, and how it can be used to create meaningful, fulfilling training initiatives that are relevant to participants.

Pillar 1: Positive Emotion

This pillar relates to joy, hope, gratitude, and the overall feeling of contentment in our lives. We experience this when we do something we enjoy, whereby the enjoyment comes through intellectual stimulation and creativity.

How L&D Professionals Can Harness Positive Emotions:

  • Design learning content and activities based on the Appreciative Inquiry model
  • Ask participants “What is working well?” This enables learners to experience positive emotions and gratitude
  • Incorporate Play & Fun based learning activities using methods and materials such as LEGO® Serious Play®

Pillar 2: Engagement

Engagement refers to the experience of “flow”, where one is completely immersed in a task or activity. When experiencing flow, our intellect, skills, and capabilities are actively stimulated, and time seems to stand still – Nothing can distract us from what we are focused on.

How L&D Professionals Can Harness Engagement:

  • Create an open and free learning environment which embraces all ideas without judgement
  • Allow learners to engage and utilise their strengths through challenging activities that stretch them 
  • Simulate settings that require full concentration and immersion for practical application

Pillar 3: Relationship

The relationship element measures how an individual is helped, supported, and valued by others. Humans, by nature, are social creatures that crave connection and intimacy on some level. Building positive work relationships, even during relatively short training sessions, helps meet this need.

How L&D Professionals Can Relationship:

  • Use ice breakers and energisers to allow learners to get to know each other on a deeper level
  • Promote small-group and pair sharing activities frequently throughout training

Pillar 4: Meaning

The fourth pillar deals with the meaning and purpose of ones life – one’s purpose for living every day. It is important that individuals know and feel that what they are doing is of worth, and that they are actively contributing to the well-being of others and making a difference.

How L&D Professionals Can Harness Meaning:

  • Embrace learning activities that enable participants to connect their everyday tasks and its contributions to others
  • Lead group activities that identify the social contributions arising from their job scope
  • Seek opportunities for learners to apply their work skills and techniques on a personal level

Pillar 5: Accomplishment 

The Accomplishment pillar concerns itself with our goals and ambitions. It relates to mastery at a personal level, our achievements, and having an optimistic mindset that we will succeed. Actively working on our goals, and succeeding gives us this sense of accomplishment.

How L&D Professionals Can Harness Accomplishment:

  • Allocate time at the start of training for participants to set personal goals based on the content and topic of the training session
  • Ask participants to form small groups and share recent successes they’ve achieved at work, both individually and as part of a team

The suggestions laid out here are not exhaustive by any means, and are meant to merely serve as potential talking points to spark your own L&D Initiatives. Before designing and embarking on your next training session, remember the PERMA Model, and see if you can apply at least one pillar to make your training sessions more relevant and enjoyable for participants. 

After all, if participants look forward to and enjoy training, the main objective of the training itself – the development of our people – is more easily achieved.

If you have any ideas as to how you can or will apply the PERMA model, questions about this article, or need more information about how this works with regards to your company/team, please reach out to me. I would love to hear it! You can contact me at [email protected].


Why Workplace Diversity is Your Greatest Asset

Divided On Diversity

Through years of conducting training workshops on managing workplace diversity, I’ve discovered that on the whole, most organisations and leaders view diversity through one of two lenses. The first lens perceives diversity as a problem – as yet another challenge of operating in today’s business environment. Their take on how best to handle workplace diversity is to seek solutions to mitigate and minimise any issues that might arise from insensitivity, misunderstandings, and prejudices. 

The second group embraces diversity as an asset. Despite acknowledging that diversity could potentially bring about additional challenges, they believe that if managed appropriately, diversity itself can be leveraged to produce better organisational results. 

Diversity's Role in 2017

Workforce diversity can be seen in terms of Age, Gender. Race, Ethnic Composition, Religion and Nationality. The trend towards diverse workforces has been increasing over time, but its importance within organisations and teams is more pronounced now than ever before.

Wayne F Cascio, in his book Managing Human Resource: Productivity, Quality of Work Life, Profits, lists 5 reasons as to why diversity is becoming increasingly important:

  • A shift from a manufacturing to a service economy
  • Globalization
  • Innovative business strategies that demand teamwork
  • Mergers and Alliances
  • Changing labour market conditions

Unlike jobs in the manufacturing industry, service industry job holders need to maintain close and constant contact with their customers, understanding their needs and expectations. With an ever increasing customer base that is diverse, no business firm has the luxury to ignore any customer group. Organisations need employees and teams who understand and can relate to the diverse customer base. In the words of Cascio, the “workforce should mirror their customers”.

Recognising the limited local market, corporations have looked globally to sustain and enhance market share. With globalization, business organisations need to learn how to manage workforce diversity. Integrating an organisation’s culture (originating in the head office of one country) with the local culture of subsidiaries and international offices becomes necessary. To avoid culture shock and clash of cultures, organisations need a system whereby employees at all levels understand and accept their differences while working towards taking full advantage of the diversity that has arisen.

Embracing Diversity

Let us return to the two groups of thought with regards to diversity. This discourse in perception is more than just academic. Proponents of the first group seek to suppress the knock-on effects of diversity, while those of the latter wish for diversity to flourish.

Advocates of diversity look for ways to best leverage their asset. They implement new structures and work practices that are radically different from traditionally-minded management approaches, putting together the building blocks of a fair, effective, and collaborative working environment. Leaders of these organisations understand that, at its core, the purpose of managing diversity is to bring out the best of peoples’ Talent, Abilities, Skills and Knowledge for the benefit of individual employees, their teams, and the well-being of the overall organization. When workforce diversity is managed well, no employee feels disadvantaged. Such a culture brings about higher levels of motivation, creativity, and efficiency.

Long term, there are no surprises as to which of these two groups will be more successful. 

Cascio, in the same book, recommends a few questions leaders can ask in order to give credence to the fact that diversity is a competitive factor:

  • How can diversity help business corporations expand their operation into global markets?
  • How can diversity help to build and sustain brand equity and improve consumer spending?
  • How does workforce diversity enhance an organisation’s HR strategies?
  • How does the diversity element build corporate image among the consumers?
  • Does diversity improve operational efficiency? How?

Asking – and truthfully answering – these questions allows leaders and organisations to really open themselves up to the need for diversity, and understand the possibilities that diversity has to offer. 

How to Leverage Your Asset

To extract value from any asset, one must first understand how to use it. The same applies with diversity. Organisations need to train their employees on diversity and its usefulness within the organisation, their team, and themselves. Employees need to understand and value the differences among them. This acceptance of differences in a positive manner is especially critical if an organisation is keen to enable innovation through creative thinking and collaboration.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this works with regards to your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


How to Create Innovative Solutions to Problems

I recently wrote about how changing your mindset and asking questions can help you understand and embrace innovative practices within your team. Today, I will go into detail by providing practical and tactical steps that managers and leaders can take to promote creative ideas and solutions.

Although many organisations wish to be innovative, few actually achieve it. For a disproportionate number, this lack of innovation can be attributed to one thing: InertiaA preference to remain in the status-quo and to keep the same approach as long as it appears to be working.

This preference to stay as we are is the norm rather than the exception. The uncertainty and risks associated with new things and new ideas are the main reason behind this avoidance attitude. But in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) Business Environment of today, holding on to what worked last year could very well be the leading factor of a firm’s downfall.

The fact is this: Organisations either innovate, or they die.

Managers who wish to survive and grow need to adopt innovation as one of their basic strategies. Innovation demands that people in the organisation learn to THINK CREATIVELY so that they are able to bring about new products, services, and approaches. But how can we think creatively? Through repeated tasks and cognitive schemas, we train ourselves to filter and sort information quickly. This makes everyday decision making easy. Solutions are brought to the surface from the past experience- the way we know things should be. But it is also this very same paradigm that limits creative and innovative solutions, simply because creative solutions and ideas lie OUTSIDE the norm.

We simply cannot attempt to be innovative while holding on to the same mindset as we had before.

To best seize the full power of creative solutions, we need to incorporate creative thinking when managing ALL our decision-making processes. Because the problem-solving process is usually seen as a logical and rational process, most managers erroneously fail to recognise the need to incorporate creativity.

The general problem-solving model can be described as involving the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Gather data/information
  3. Clarify/diagnose the problem
  4. Develop possible solutions
  5. Analyse each possible solution
  6. Implement and Evaluate

The creativity component becomes a dominant element when developing possible solutions (Step 4). At this stage of problem-solving, managers should encourage divergent thinking and insist on the development of a whole range of diverse ideas and solutions to the well-defined problem (Step 3). Problem-solving through creativity in Step 4 simply means we are able to find new ways of solving problems. This is particularly critical when you are not satisfied with the standard solutions – the byproducts of traditional linear thinking.

To take full advantage of the creative development of ideas during Step 4, we need to train our employees on creative problem-solving techniques. Only then they will be equipped with competencies and skills to develop new ideas when dealing with problems in the workplace. In the course of the past 30 years, I have found that managers who advocate creative problem-solving always recommend their team to ask the following 2 questions when developing new ideas:

  • What else can we…?
  • What if…?

To supplement these questions, they also embrace the SCAMPER framework. The SCAMPER framework, originally developed by Bob Eberle, provides easy to follow guidelines for those keen to develop new responses to their problems. SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

This would mean asking questions such as “What can we combine or eliminate in managing the work process?”, “What if we reverse the process?”, and “What happens if we substitute this approach with another?” These questions invariably will bring out new and innovative ideas and solutions to any problem. Just remember this – Creativity and innovation can be learned. We just have to unlearn and relearn to become more creative when managing problems at our workplace.

Adopting this approach of asking questions and using the SCAMPER framework will give you the ability to foster innovation within your team, overcoming any natural inertia and fear to embrace innovation in your everyday decision-making process. 

As always, if you have any questions about this article, need more information about how to implement this within your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Innovation & Creativity: A Manager's Guide

Every company wants to be known as innovative. In today’s business environment, innovation is meant to be worn like a badge of honour, giving the organisation an unparalleled competitive advantage. It is believed that this innovation will bring about novel, unique, and inspiring products and services, driving sales that lead to sustained higher profit.

However, as much as innovation is revered and sought after, few companies actually achieve it. And even for those that do, sustaining innovation seems almost impossible.

How then can we tame the elusive beast that is innovation?

Let start by first understanding what innovation actually is…

Creativity As the Source

Leaders and managers who recognise the power of creative thinking and make the effort to familiarise themselves with the process of innovation need to first get comfortable with creativity.

Creativity, as a concept, is seen as the main source of innovation. Creativity is about thinking of new ideas that are different from existing solutions. Creative thinking involves using existing knowledge and talent to develop new ideas, by being prepared to see matters from a different perspective. Creative thinking enables us to acquire a better understanding of the situation we face and the problems we encounter. Innovation and inventions are outcomes based on creative thinking.

Raiders of the Lost Art

If creativity is the source of innovation, then it follows that to be innovative, all leaders need to do is get their teams to think creatively, right? Putting this into action, however, would be easier said than done. The fact is that most working professionals, especially in Asia, do not identify themselves as “creative”, nor do they believe they possess the capacity to think creatively.

How is it that, although a dominant aspect of our childhood, creativity seems to have simply disappeared as we reach our adulthood?

Can we get back the ability to think creatively as an adult? Thankfully, my experience has proven the answer to that question is a resounding YES! We can get back that skill IF we first understand the underlying aspects of creativity and creative thinking.

Planning to Be Creative

Although creative thinking can be accidental, sustainable innovation requires a process that can be repeated. What we are interested in acquiring is a creative thinking process that can be reproduced in a planned and deliberate manner.

Creative thinking requires us to view situations with an open mind. It is a journey we need to embark upon to discover new and different things. The discovery process demands that we continue to remind ourselves of the need to set aside our long established assumptions and attitudes. Researchers and experts recommend that we embrace the following elements for creative thinking to really work:

  • Accept the fact that any existing knowledge is inadequate for innovative solutions
  • Be prepared to seek solutions/ideas from different sources
  • Logical thinking plays a limited role in enabling new and innovative solutions
  • Be ready to experiment with radically different approaches
  • Be willing to Unlearn, so that we can offload useless knowledge, enabling us to Relearn
  • Be willing to experiment and ask: ‘what if’ and ‘what else’ to unfold new ideas and solutions

Honesty as the Best Policy

Now that we know the mindset we need, we can proceed to actually develop our creative ideas for work. Asking questions is a key element in the creative thinking process. Asking questions on a continuous basis also means that teams are able to identify the emerging trends much earlier than the rest of the industry.

Renowned author Rudyard Kipling’s ‘six honest serving men’ is the best bet to getting started. In the words of Kipling:

“I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west.” – Rudyard Kipling

The 5W+1H questioning model is the great way to get started when asking questions. What are some of the questions we can ask when we are trying to think creatively for innovative solutions? Learning to ask: What else, How else, Where else, Who else along with What if will let us see a whole range of possibilities. Some of the questions we can ask when we embark on our creative thinking journey are outlined as follows:

  • What else can we do to get rid of this problem?
  • How else can we improve the quality/work process?
  • Where else can we look for more information?
  • Who else can help us in giving a new perspective to this situation?

The greatest advantage of learning to ask the 5W+1H questions is that it leads to new ideas that almost always break the existing mindset limiters. In other words, this type of questioning lets us step onto new paths where we can find innovative ideas.

Blending It All

Once we have embraced the above elements, we put ourselves, our teams, and our organisations in a better position to develop new ideas – and further adding to, modifying and further refining the initial ideas into something more. In doing so, we bring out concepts and ideas that are new – things that did not exist before.

Just learn to keep an open mind and begin to ask all kind of questions. Make use of Kipling’s ‘six honest serving men’. Progress might be slow at first, but as you keep asking questions, and create this culture within your team and organisation, you set into motion the first steps on the journey towards innovation.  Let your curiosity unfold in all situations and prepared to challenge the status quo.

As always, if you have any questions about this article, need more information about how to implement this within your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


5 Steps to Better Performance:
Achieving Business Results Through People

Facing the storm of the current Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment is not going to be easy. In this VUCA environment, the managers and team leaders are under constant pressure to keep their survival mode alive by fighting the fire on a regular basis. This is obviously not the best option. It is time for the managers and team leaders to move towards the growth path to Make A Difference (M.A.D.)

In my facilitation and knowledge sharing sessions, I encourage the managers and team leaders to adopt the following 5 steps process to M.A.D. in their workplace.

The steps are:

Step 1: Identify What is Working Well.

Ask each team member to identify one thing that is working well in the workplace/team. Once they complete the list, ask them to identify the contributing factors to the success of the one thing they have identified.

The success factors could include processes, mastery of skills, regular knowledge sharing sessions, the use of checklists, commitment to quality and safety, teamwork, extensive use of a buddy system, etc.

Step 2: It Would be Great, if …

Next, take them on a dream journey. Ask each one to complete the statement that states: “It would be great, if ….. This is a safe approach and provides the psychological comfort to team members encouraging them to seek additional opportunities to improve the work processes. 

By completing the statement (it would be great, if…) the team members are beginning to focus on activities that will add value to the organisation’s Mission, Vision & Values. If the group is small (6 or less) I repeat this step a couple more times to expand upon and capture more ideas from the team.

Step 3: Share, Sort & Prioritise the Wish List

Ask each team member to share his or her list. Pin their idea up on a board, so that everyone can see. Once they have shared their wish list that is based on “It would be great, if…”, move on to sorting and prioritising the ideas using specific criteria. Let the group sort and prioritise the findings/listings. Select 3 activities from the sorting and prioritising that will Make A Difference in the workplace.

In the absence of any specific matrix that could be used to prioritise, I ask them to consider the 80:20 Pareto Principle. This is an efficiency-focused strategy that will get us more with less effort.

Step 4: Connect the Dots Between Steps 1 and 3

Encourage the group to revisit the list that was prepared as part of step 1 on things that are working well and the contributing factors to their success. Let the team explore how the success factors can be integrated to enable the top 3 “It Would be Great, If…” statements from the wish list to come alive.

This approach is based on the assumption that people should look at their current internal best practices to close the gaps in their performance. The focus at this stage is to answer the most powerful question: How might we

 Step 5: Moving Forward: How Might We

The How Might We… approach that focuses on integrating the internal best practices will become the first draft of a blueprint to move forward. At this stage, I normally ask them: And What Else… can be added to the list to make the top 3 priority bring out the result they desire. We should encourage teams to seek out best practices from elsewhere.

Remember that these 5 steps work only when the manager/team leader is ready to adopt an appreciative inquiry mind-set, acknowledging the power of team members.

As always, if you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this practice can improve your team’s performance, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Cracking the Code of Teamwork:
Best Practices for Leading the Team

Team leaders and managers are under constant pressure to do more great work with fewer resources. It looks like they need to secure the power of magic to get things done. Are there other alternatives to cope with this challenging times the team leaders and managers face in the workplace?

The only option is to master practical tools and techniques relating to management & leadership principles that could Make A Difference in the workplace. This would let them manage the unpredictable workplace. These tools and techniques should enable the managers and administrators to handle the challenges they face in areas such as inter-departmental coordination, staff communication, sustaining Job Satisfaction and managing operational efficiency in their respective work areas.

What should they focus when it comes to mastering these techniques that will make their life as team leaders less stressful?

For a start, the L&D professionals could offer learning sessions that would let the team leaders & managers master the skills in the following areas, while remembering the golden principle that they should always  – “lead their people and manage the things”:

  • Every team leader understand their role in improving employee performance in the workplace
  • Know how to use the appropriate Management/leadership styles to collaborate more effectively in Teams to achieve the organization’s Mission, Vision, and Goals
  • Use techniques to manage employee expectations without compromising the organization’s values, using the best communication strategies
  • Apply best practices to enhance staff morale with practical steps that will lead to higher degree of job satisfaction

When trying to get things done, team leaders and managers should remember to start with the ‘why’ aspects of the job, instead of asking ‘how and what that need to be done to get the job completed’. Everyone should remember the fact that for companies to succeed, we need to pay attention to our people – Recognise the work of team members.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this approach can improve your team’s performance, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Improving the Quality of Business Education

What is happening now?

It is not uncommon for education institutions to focus more on lectures as the widely used instructional practice. In this ‘chalk and talk’ approach, the teachers are seen as the dispensers of knowledge.

Today we face an ever-changing Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. The current practices in our institutions of higher learning do not prepare our graduate students for the VUCA environment. Stakeholders need to call for a change in the way we teach. Given this current chaotic and dynamic business environment, how can we train and teach our graduate students?

What are our options?

Everyone agrees on the need to change and improve our teaching approaches so that we are capable of producing graduates who are competent to take on responsibility. How can we make it happen?

For starters, researchers recommend that we let our students think and analyse the business environment using models such as design thinking. Design Thinking is a solution-focused approach that basically attempts to create the desired future. The design thinking approach allows organisations to manage complex challenges using tools such as Rapid prototyping, Assumption Testing, Rapid Concept Development & Story Telling. These tools help to develop relevant and focused solutions to manage the VUCA dimensions to improve the businesses.

Building upon this, we have realised one of the ways to integrate the dimensions and tools of design and system thinking in the workplace is to consider the LEGO® Serious Play® method and materials.

The LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) method and materials offer powerful solutions to unlock the potential of employees and shift their habitual thinking. LSP, when facilitated by a competent and certified facilitator, will enable everyone who is involved in decision making to lean forward, ensuring 100 per cent engagement.

How does the LEGO® Serious Play® method work in education?

Students use the specially designed LEGO® Serious Play® materials comprising Identity & Landscape Kit, Starter kit and Connections kit. Participants using the LSP materials enjoy a high level of interaction and able to dive deeper into innovative ideas. A number of research studies confirm the usefulness of LSP as a pedogogical application to unlock new knowledge while being an interesting and new way to learn.

The use of LSP makes the learning experience effective and memorable. And the concept is not totally new. A number of universities around the world have already started using the LEGO® Serious Play® method as part of their business education.

According to Kris Normandin, Curriculum Director, Executive Education, Simmons School of Management, Boston who integrates LSP in his teachings, the LEGO® Serious Play® “methodology really allowed people to visualize and connect with each other’s story, as well as gain additional insights into their own leadership”.

Moving Forward

Let your MBA and other post-graduate students master essential business skills that empower them to cope with the VUCA business environment. With this ever relevant system and design-thinking skill-set, they will be ready to build better businesses upon graduation.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this approach can help in Business Education, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Traditional Training Practices are Broken.
Here’s How We Can Fix It

Traditional corporate trainers (aka facilitators, enablers, knowledge architects – as some call themselves) present their content with the aim of making it easy to be remembered and understood. This focus on conducting training needs analysis, content development and presentations leaves the application of acquired knowledge solely to the learner. Participants leave training sessions with knowledge, but a limited context on how they can apply it effectively in the workplace. This severely broken link needs to be fixed.

There are several tools and techniques HR Learning professionals could use to overcome this situation. These initiatives focus on context-based presentations aimed at making content stick. This strategy enables learners to apply what they have learnt to their workplace with confidence.

In the course of facilitating training over the past three decades, I have discovered that using highly interactive and reflective tools as part of context-based learning leads to better results. The context-based approach enables learners to immediately link the concepts learned to their workplace setting. By focusing on creating and sustaining adequate opportunities for learners to connect the dots between the content delivered to what they experience at work, we are able to enhance the competency of the learning outcome.

The first and most meaningful step is engaging learners through individual and group-based experiential activities throughout the learning session. Puzzles and activities such as Challenging AssumptionsBroken Square, Children Storybooks, and Image-Visual Cards could be used to add value to the context-based learning experience.

These hands-on and interactive activities are designed to help learners contextualise the concepts to their actual work environment. We can make this easier by framing the right questions aimed at connecting the concept to their workplace.

Beside these interactive tools to enhance the context-based learning, I found the LEGO® Serious Play® approach* (commonly abbreviated as ‘LSP’) brings out the best in participants. The LSP is one of the most powerful interactive initiatives available to fully engage participants. The 4-step process of the LSP model (question/theme, build, share & reflect) enables learners to feel and experience real world situations to the concepts learnt during the training session.

The sharing and reflection elements of the LSP approach make it possible for the content covered to become context based and relevant to the real world. When I use the LSP process during the learning, learners are able to bring out the problems and solutions to the attention of everyone in the room. Learners take ownership to answer the most critical step of ‘now what’ and ‘what is next’. The 100 per cent engagement from every learner and the collaborative learning environment not only makes the learning stick but also moves the group forward to Make A Difference in the workplace.

There are several tools and techniques HR Learning professionals could use to overcome this situation. These initiatives focus on context-based presentations aimed at making content stick. This strategy enables learners to apply what they have learnt to their workplace with confidence.

If, as a member of the HR professional team, you ever found yourself asking, “What should I do to manage the ‘broken’ link of my training sessions for better outcomes?”, you are not alone. The best way to respond to this question is by ensuring that the learning you provide is interactive, reflective and context-based. This will ensure that your training sessions will help achieve the learning outcome that will benefit your organisation.

With the context-based training initiatives, we no longer need be concerned about the ‘broken practices’ in our training sessions. The context-based approach to training practices will make our training focused on our desired outcome: Improved Results.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this approach can improve your team’s performance, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].

* LEGO, SERIOUS PLAY, IMAGINOPEDIA, the Minifigure and the Brick and Knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO Group.


How To Identify Your Creative Employees?

Everyone recognizes the importance of creativity and innovation. It is the creative thinking that leads to innovation. Creativity is about being able to generate new, novel and unique ideas that are significantly different from existing situations. Using the ideas, we move on to develop new products, services or processes. While it is a fact that all of us are capable of coming up with new and innovative ideas, some do not think that they are creative. The truth is, all of us are capable of thinking creatively, but how sure are you that you are creative?

Though many argue that the creative potential in each of us is similar when we were young, the degree of creativity differs in adulthood. How do we bring back the high level of creativity juice in us? What can we do to unfold the creative potential in us? One way to get that done is to be with people who are more creative. The very fact of being in the presence of highly creative people will infect you with their creative idea virus. As managers you should identify the creative people with the right qualities and make them part of the team. Once you have a small group of creative pool of employees, you can bring in others to be with them. The challenge is how do we know a person is more creative than another person who is just averagely creative?

Creative people demonstrate certain qualities. Creative people exhibit the following qualities:

  • Adaptable - creative people do not stay put with a fixed mindset. They are willing to go with the flow. They are highly adaptable to the changing environment and work situations.
  • Bring out highly imaginative ideas - their ability to synthesize and present problems and solutions in a new way is their prime strength of creative persons.
  • Challenge the status quo - while everyone finds comfort in a routine way of doing things, creative people are the first one to challenge the practice, policy or the assumption. If you do have a person who keeps on asking why or why not, he/she is the person you should bring into the team.
  • Demonstrate high degree of Curiosity - Creative people find everything fascinating. They are always curious, by asking why.
  • Emphasize the future oriented solutions - their action and thinking are very much future oriented. While they accept the usefulness of past and present, they use them to generate new solutions or ideas, without letting the past and present limit their options.
  • Follow their gut feelings - when every one view things from a firm mindset, they are prepared to follow their intuitive feelings without feeling guilty or uneasy about it.
  • Generate ideas by going beyond the normal idea - They insist on asking 'what else', even when they are presented with a good idea that almost appears to be the right idea.
  • Help others to see the link between ideas - asking open ended questions is one best way to let others see the link and relationship between ideas.
  • Initiate new ideas - most of the time it is the highly creative people who get the ball rolling by putting a unique and innovative ideas.

Creative people demonstrate a high degree of perseverance that enables them to remain focused on the task at hand. Creative people find it easy to break away from an existing connection and make new connections to ideas and thought processes that are completely new. While we would be able to use the above list to identify highly creative people so that we can make them as part of the team, it would be a great start to use the list to answer "Am I Creative?" If someone were to ask us 'How Creative Are You?" or "Are you creative?" we should be able to answer those two questions by saying 'yes', with confidence. Are you creative?