Ep 06: How to be a more creative leader with Gregg Fraley

Gregg Fraley on TalentGrow Show podcast

About Episode 6

Episode 6 of the TalentGrow Show features my conversation with speaker, author, creativity expert and innovation consultant Gregg Fraley. We discuss whether creativity can be taught (yes!), how important it is to ensure awareness and diversity of creative styles on your team, and ways to leverage the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) model to increase the quality and divergence of your ideas for solving important business problems. Gregg and I also chat about the surprising connection between creativity and conflict, the $4 billion secret you can learn from chocolate peanut butter to create exciting breakthroughs, and the cool product called “IdeaKeg” that his company, Kiln, has been sending clients like General Mills to increase their creativity and innovation (and why I totally want one). Get ready to harness your own and your team’s creative powers by learning the best tricks and tips from Gregg on this podcast episode!

What You'll Learn:

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It’s amazing how much juicy content we can pack into less than 30 minutes. Listen to learn:

  • Can you teach creativity?
  • Why creativity is not the same as artistic self-expression
  • The CPS process – Creative Problem Solving – and how it can make your creative process more efficient AND help you generate better quality and more divergent ideas
  • What common mistake do people make when trying to solve problems?
  • What are creative styles and why you need a diversity of styles on your team
  • What’s the unexpected connection between creativity and conflict
  • The biggest challenge for leaders who want to build a culture of creativity and Gregg’s two tips for overcoming it
  • What’s an “IdeaKeg” and why it’s something that Gregg’s company uses to help clients such as General Mills and Whirlpool create exciting breakthroughs (I want one!)
  • The $4 billion secret you can learn from chocolate peanut butter
  • What is a “Conceptual Mashup” and why does it remind me of James Altucher’s “Idea Sex” concept (and how you can benefit from both)
  • Gregg’s one actionable creativity tip that can fit in your pocket and can increase your creative effectiveness by 50%!

About Gregg Fraley

Gregg’s diverse business background includes everything from founding and managing high-flying software technology companies to working as an interactive television producer. He’s the author of the first ever business fable about creative problem solving, “Jack’s Notebook,” and he’s a thought leader in corporate innovation. Now, he’s the founder of a start-up, KILN, which provides fresh approaches to innovation process, including a unique innovation subscription service called IdeaKeg.

Those who hire Gregg as a speaker comment on his expertise, energy, and humor – his “excellent balance of wit and knowledge.” He speaks with passion about creativity and innovation —  and leaves audiences inspired with ideas and tools to improve.

As a consultant, his “whole-brained” approach focuses on results. He is an effective innovation process guide and a dynamic idea generation facilitator — and his sessions often achieve those elusive breakthrough ideas. He’s been involved with the development of several market-leading consumer products and patented process innovations.

A pioneer in the development of interactive television, Gregg worked with Warner Cable’s QUBE project in the early 80s, where he designed and produced entertainment programming. While there, he won an Emmy award and a cable ACE award for Innovation.

Gregg helped develop the first wireless prescription writing system for doctors (SmartScripts, a patented product), as well as numerous computer applications in healthcare, manufacturing, finance, and field service. Gregg is a founder of three software firms, and now an innovation services company. His management experience includes marketing, branding, sales, research, and technical development.

Gregg has been quoted as an expert in the following publications: Successful Meetings, Skyline News, Redbook, Crain’s Chicago Business, The Chicago Tribune, Chicago’s Daily Herald, Forbes, and US News and World Report. He has spoken at conferences around the globe and his top 50 blog is widely read in the innovation world.

He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association in the USA.


Visit Gregg Fraley’s website www.greggfraley.com

Gregg’s company, Kiln www.kilnco.com

Connect with Gregg Fraley on Twitter & LinkedIn

Gregg’s book, Jack’s Notebook

The Creative Problem Solving process (CPS)

The Foresight Creative Styles Assessment

The IBM study Gregg mentioned where CEOs said that – “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision -- successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.”

Kiln’s cool product, IdeaKeg, for creating Conceptual Mashup and creative breakthroughs

James Altucher’s Idea Sex concept Halelly mentions is described in this great article about becoming an idea machine (and many others) by James

Tuckman’s team development model mentioned http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman%27s_stages_of_group_development

Get the Moleskine notebook Gregg recommends

Intro/outro music for The TalentGrow Show: "Why-Y" by Esta - a great band of exquisitely talented musicians, and good friends of mine.


Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey there and welcome to another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. This week my guest is Gregg Fraley who is a speaker, author and creativity expert and we pack a ton of things into less than half an hour. We talk about the fact that you can teach creativity, and why creativity is not the same as artistic self-expression. Gregg also talks about creative styles and why you need a diversity of creative styles on your team, and he makes an unexpected connection for me between creativity and conflict. Gregg also talks about this cool thing his company sends their clients in a box, they call an idea keg, and how I totally want one. And the $4 billion secret that you can learn from peanut butter and chocolate and how Gregg uses this concept to help companies like General Mills get exciting, creative breakthroughs. Gregg talks about this idea of conceptual mash up, which totally makes me think of James Altucher’s idea sex, and I think you can use both and benefit. And finally, Gregg leaves you with one actionable creativity tip that can fit in your pocket and increase your creative effectiveness by 50 percent. I think you’ll love this week’s episode; I can’t wait for you to listen.

Hello, and welcome to the TalentGrow Show. This is Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist, and today I have a great guest for you, Gregg Fraley. And Gregg Fraley is a creativity and innovation expert. I had the pleasure of seeing Gregg in action. He does a lot of keynote speaking and I saw him speak at a conference that was all focused on bringing creativity into business. This guy really knows his stuff. I’ve been impressed with him ever since. He’s the author of a great and very interesting business parable called Jack’s Notebook, which is one of those books that’s actually made its way to the reading lists of a lot of MBA programs, and he’s working around the world teaching people in business how to bring in both creativity and innovation into what they’re doing. I’m going to allow Gregg to introduce himself in a minute, but I wanted you to know that I’ve seen Gregg and I’m happy that he has agreed to be on the podcast to share with you some ideas about creativity and business. Gregg, welcome.

Gregg: Thank you. Great to be here.

Halelly: Excellent. So, one of the things I like is to invite the guests on this show to tell a little bit about their journey. You know, you have a significant career with a lot of experience, and it’s hard to encapsulate in a short period of time. But if you could just give us some kind of an overview, a short version, of your journey, your professional journey, and how you got to where you are today.

Gregg: Yeah, well, I guess the short version is when you’re … how do you get to be an innovation consultant? And the answer probably is something like a person who can’t hold a job! I’ve had probably upwards of 30 serious engagements in my professional life. I started in the entertainment industry, coming out of school, and then got into the software industry, which I was involved in for many years and in many different roles. And then I sort of graduated into full-time consultancy back around ’98-ish, and got my book out in 2007 and yeah, it’s been an incredibly interesting journey. I’ve always tended to try to gravitate towards businesses and industries that have something really fresh and new happening. So I’ve sort of rode the surfboard of technological development over the years, from mainframe computers to mobile phones and other commercial products, inventions, trends and so forth. But I’ve had a great time doing it.

Halelly: Well, and you’ve made a great impact, right? So this is such an important topic. As you know, I work with people who are leaders in organizations and a lot of people feel like creativity is something they are very constrained with for a variety of reasons. And you are an expert in a specific process called the creative problem solving process, and I know that you have trained probably hundreds and thousands of people by now on how to use that, and then I know that we get this kind of confused look when we talk about training creativity – can you really train someone to be more creative? What say you?

Gregg: You absolutely can. And the first message I would deliver to anyone listening to this podcast is simply to start thinking of yourself as more creative. People buy into the mythology that you’re not creative if you’re not classically artistic, and that’s baloney. The first thing you need to understand is that creativity is more about problem solving than it is about artistic self expression. Artistic self-expression is a wonderful thing, and I think it can enhance a person’s creativity, but it doesn’t equal creativity. So if you’re an accountant who works out very serious mathematical and accounting concepts in order to do your job, then you’re being very creative in doing that. So thinking of yourself as creative is, I think, the first bit of becoming more creative, and more creatively effective. You know, every sentient human being has creative capacity. And I think you have to sort of accept you gifts, whatever they are, and work with them. There’s a number of attitudes and behaviors that one can adopt to become more creatively effective. So, the short answer is yes, you can absolutely train people and processes like CPS – that framework of structured creative problem solving – is one way to enhance your creative effectiveness.

Halelly: Awesome. So let’s dig into that just a tiny bit. I think that a lot of people might not be familiar with the process, and it might be really helpful for them to have maybe the short cliff notes version of what is CPS?

Gregg: Right. Well, there was a gentleman named Alex Osborne who was the O in BBDO advertising, who developed a lot of tools and techniques to make his account managers and creative people at his agency more effective. And he eventually collected all these tools and techniques into a process and a framework along with the help of some academicians, a guy by the name of Sidney Parnes was one of those guys. And he published a book back in the late 40s called Applied Imagination, and it had these principles and this framework outline. That was the sort of launchpad for the CPS process. CPS actually models how people naturally and normally and organically solve problems. When you solve a problem, you almost have to go through three phases. You have to explore the challenge, you have to take, have ideas about how to address the challenge, and then you have to polish up an idea and put it into action. So, if you can think, the three phrases – explore, ideate and take action – then you have the essence of the model, and that’s what everybody does everyday. What CPS does, though, is it makes your efforts more efficient and probably more divergent. One of the problems that people have in becoming better problem solvers is that they sort of settle on the first thing that might work. And then they take that maybe mediocre idea and then run with it. Whereas in a more structured process, you try to generate a lot more ideas and options before you settle on one. So, it’s kind of a quantity principle that I talk about sometimes – the more ideas you have, the more likely it is that you’re going to get to a breakthrough idea. So that’s the essence of it. There’s a lot more detail and a lot more tools and techniques around the process and the framework, but the essence of it is actually fairly simple. Explore your challenge, generate a lot of ideas, pick one and take it into action.

Halelly: Awesome. I am the kind of person who loves living in steps one and two. I just love coming up with ideas and thinking divergently and it’s that whole “pick one and take it into action” that sometimes trips me up. But I have met people who live on the other side of the spectrum from me. So there are a lot of different kinds of probably personality characteristics that cause someone to lean more in one direction versus the other. Do you think that there are different ways to be creative from a personality perspective?

Gregg: Yes. What you’re talking about is something called creative style. So I made the statement earlier that we’re all creative, and the other adjunct to that statement would be and most of us are creative in different ways. You expressed your strength as an early phase person – you’re great with identifying problems and generating ideas, whereas other people are really good at polishing ideas and creating action plans and actually getting into action. And that’s a measurable thing. One simple way to measure your creative style is to ask one question, which is are you a rule maker or are you a rule breaker? If you’re a rule breaker, you’re likely to be more of a conceptual thinker and an ideator, whereas if you’re a rule maker, you’re more of an incremental, adaptive thinker and so that’s another way to measure creative style. It’s a fascinating concept, and there’s correlations of the assessment. There’s various assessments in the field. One is called FourSight, which puts people into four categories – clarifier, ideator, developer and implementer. And they pretty much are just what they sound like. And everybody has elements of all those things. So even though you’re not a classic implementer, you know that to get business done, you have to be an implementer. And so that’s an example of the point that everyone has a style, and everyone can become better at elements that aren’t their most comfortable part. So you have to focus on implementation a little harder in order to be a truly effective creative person, whereas an implementer has to focus on having more ideas, because that’s not their natural suit.

Halelly: Right. They have a bias to action.

Gregg: Yeah, and so they take action before they even have an idea. Some people do that, and in fact a lot of leaders are implementers because they get a reputation for being great leaders because they get things done. One way for some leaders to grow – not all, but some leaders – is to spend more time making sure they’re solving the right problems, which is a strategy thing, and to spend more time making sure they have the best idea, which could be the difference between have an incremental business idea or a breakthrough business idea.

Halelly: So I want to explore that a little more, but real quick, I want to ask you – do you think that, you just talked about how we naturally have a proclivity to hang out in one part of the creativity process versus another, and that we need to build our muscle to use the other kinds of parts of the other ways of being creative so that we’re well-rounded and we have more creative, more full process. Would you say, also, that for leaders one thing they could maybe do is make sure they have people on their team that represent all of these different strengths so that they compliment each other?

Gregg: Yes, absolutely. In fact, studies have shown that the more diverse a team is, in terms of thinking style, the more likely it is they’re going to have a breakthrough idea. The leaders would be well advised to surround themselves with a nice mixture of clarifiers, implementers, developers and ideators. That’s the way they can make sure that they’ve got all that thinking in the room, so to speak.

Halelly: That’s really great. And that assessment, the FourSight assessment, I know that you’re one of the people that can administer it and give insight based on it. Is that the kind of assessment that you have to have a consultant work with you, or is it something that’s freely available to anyone?

Gregg: You need a qualified person to assess that, to use FourSight. So if you’re an organization, you should get in touch with either me or FourSight to find yourself a consultant to do that. The good news is that it’s pretty easy. FourSight is an online measure, so if you had a large team or even a small team but scattered about, they can do it online and you could do either a conference call or a meeting to walk through the meaning of it for that particular team.

Halelly: I would imagine that’s extremely helpful and very insightful for leaders, both to understand themselves but also to understand who it is on their team and to overcome any blind spots that they might have in their process for creativity.

Gregg: Oh, absolutely. And you know, I’m sure you may have heard the Tuckman model of, what is it, forming, storming, norming, performing. One of the reasons that most teams don’t get to high function is because they avoid storming, and they avoid conflict. And so they stay, essentially, stick themselves or stay in the storming step and a tool like FourSight, and awareness of creative style, can help a team be more aware of why that conflict is there, help them fact it in a productive sort of way, and the move on to performing.

Halelly: Cool. So I think that most people don’t really connect creativity and conflict in the same thought. So that's an interesting insight to see that sometimes it could be the root cause of conflict or being stuck is actually part of the creative process.

Gregg: Absolutely. It is interesting and it’s one of the things that I coach people on all the time is that you need to air out the conflict and awareness of style is important. And awareness of the value of having, say, a person who is just like a clarifier to no end on your team, sometimes that kind of questioning and constant “are we doing the right thing, following the rules” kind of mindset can drive a team nuts. And you’d think, “God, Mary Lou or Bill, they’re just a millstone around our neck.” And what you realize is that that kind of thinking is what saves your behind in certain circumstances. So you then suddenly value the fact that Mary Lou is bringing up that rule about our company policy, looking in the handbook at item number 3C, related to taxes or whatever. You know, clarifiers can save you. Now, implementers can save you. Personal story, I had a software company back in the 90s that did medical software. And I sort of hired everybody in my own image in a certain way. I ended up hiring a lot of ideators and the good news was we were able to crank out a prototype in no time flat. The bad news was we couldn’t finish it in three years. And so I became a little more aware over time of the value of having implementers on the team so I hired a couple of people from Arthur Anderson and they cracked the whips and got stuff done. So you really need that diversity, no question about it.

Halelly: And it helps when you see it in this way, and it helps explain what you’re noticing, and reframe it as a normal and as positive. It’s helpful.

Gregg: Absolutely.

Halelly: So you work with leaders in a lot of different contexts. I know you work with a lot of Fortune 500 companies and you work across the globe. What would you say is the biggest challenge that you see for leaders to create a culture of creativity?

Gregg: Well, that’s the … do we have about three hours on this one? No. Well, okay, I think first of all, leaders are often paying lip service to the value of creativity. So IBM did a big survey not so long ago and 92 percent – I might have that wrong, but a very high percentage of leaders – say they want creativity. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when they actually see it and experience it, it makes them uncomfortable. Because creativity often feels like a loss of control, particularly to classically trained and classically behaving kind of top-down leadership style type people. So, they’ll often see what they’re actually expressing the need that they wanted, and then when they see it they actually kind of put their foot on it because they don’t want to see that lack of control. So the first thing is to tolerate ambiguity and to tolerate creative types, and to develop a kind of nice sort of stand back from the creative team and let them do their work attitude. So, leaders would be well advised to develop that.

I think the second point – and you mentioned the word culture – and I get asked all the time, “How do we change our culture to become more innovative?” And there’s really a simple answer, and it gets more complicated as you sort of unpeel that onion, but the basic, simple answer is this: culture is only changed by doing. So, if you want to have a more innovative culture, you have to do innovative projects. So if you do projects and you do them on a cycle, whether it’s twice a year or four times a year, eight times a year, then you’re going to grow an innovative culture as a result of that action. And then the detail around that is how do you involve everybody in the projects? And there are tools and techniques for doing that, like idea management systems, as an example, the permit virtual ideation and virtual participation and strategy. So that’s how you change culture, and so projects, doing, crazy idea huh?

Halelly: I love that. That is actually, you’re right, it’s so simple and it’s really so intuitive. Culture is only changed by doing. I wrote that down.

Gregg: And I’m not the first person to say that. Joseph Juran, the famous quality guru, said that back in the, I want to say the late 40s or early 50s. Deming, another quality guy or statistical process guy, said, “No, nothing that isn’t measured changes.” And so that implies that you have to have something to measure, and in the innovation space you have to have projects to measure.

Halelly: So for leaders, tolerating ambiguity and then creating some kind of an innovation cycle that can build the habit of being creative into their culture? Those are the top suggestions I’m hearing from you.

Gregg: Yeah. There’s a lot more to say about it obviously, but yeah, those would be the first two things I would say in an elevator to a top executive.

Halelly: I love that. So, I’m going to ask you before we wrap up, what’s one actionable step that listeners can take right away to move in the direction of becoming more creative or maybe more, becoming more mindful in practicing their creativity? But before that, what’s something that you’re really excited about? A new project, a new discovery – what’s got your attention these days?

Gregg: Well, blowing my own horn just a little bit here, so forgive the somewhat of a commercial thing, but I started a new company about four years ago called Kiln, K-I-L-N, like the oven where you fire pottery. We named it after that, because want to evoke the imagery of igniting innovation. And if I had a third thing to say to leaders, I would say that innovation tends to come from a clash of concepts that have never been clashed before. So when you blend two things, sometimes that have never been blended before, it leads to innovation. The classic example is the printing press, which is a combination of the wine press and moveable type. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – classic combination of two things that had never been combined before in a confection – peanut butter and chocolate. Incidentally you think that’s so simple, and some guy did that in his basement, Mr. Reese did in fact do that in his basement, and the value of that combination eight years later when Reese’s sold out to Hershey was $4 billion. So, Kiln is basically providing tools and techniques for people to do conceptual mash-ups. And we have a product called an Idea Keg, where if you’re a customer we ship you a box and inside the box are seven objects that represent concepts and trends and consumer behaviors that any given company would be well advised to clash up their challenges with to see if they could come up with something brand new. And so Idea Keg and Kiln and our FuseTrail process that’s associated with curating the box and so forth, that’s exciting to me. Companies like Whirlpool are using that now and General Mills and they’re having some exciting breakthroughs as a result. So that’s what I’m excited about.

Halelly: Really awesome. I love that. Right away it makes me want to get a box like that. Like getting a box with things in it that you can make connections between them that are seemingly unrelated, that would be really awesome. All right, are you familiar with James Altucher?

Gregg: I’m not.

Halelly: I love, he’s a very smart and quirky guy, and I would say a real Renaissance man, and he has a podcast I listen to a lot and he talks about becoming an idea machine and he comes up with 10 ideas every morning, as just part of his practice. But he came up with this crazy concept that this is reminding me of, that’s what I’m going there, and he called it idea sex. So hopefully this doesn’t get me rated R on iTunes!

Gregg: I’m sure you’ll be fine, so far.

Halelly: But idea sex, he was saying, you would take two different ideas that have nothing to do with each other and then you kind of make them have a baby, like what comes out of that? And this mash-up. It sounds the same as that concept.

Gregg: That’s it, a conceptual mash-up and it was first identified by Arthur Koestler in the 40s.

Halelly: Well nothing is new, huh? Everything new is old again, or however you say that.

Gregg: But there’s always new applications.

Halelly: That’s right, and people that can explain it in a way that people finally get it, like you! So what’s that one takeaway that people who are listening, they’re trying to build up their leadership muscle, they’re trying to take their leadership to the next level, what’s something that's really actionable that they can take away from listening to this podcast and implement it to become more creative or to become more in the habit of being creative?

Gregg: Well, you know, it’s a creativity tip that I would give, and that is simply this – if you want to increase your creative effectiveness by about 50 percent, there’s one thing you can do to do that. And that is notebooking. So, the old fashioned way to do it is to carry around a notebook and as ideas occur to you, jot them down. Then, maybe on a weekly basis, you look at your list of ideas and sometimes those ideas, by the way, aren’t pure ideas. They’re more questions or strategy questions and things like that. You review your notebook once a week and then you try to put some of those ideas and some of those concepts or questions into action. And it’s an amazingly simple and yet dramatically effective thing to do.

Halelly: Very cool. I love that, because it is – you’re right – it’s so easy. Anyone can do this. Even if you don’t write in a paper notebook, I bet you can write notes in your iPhone or something.

Gregg: iPhone, iPad, people have different tools and techniques for actually doing their notebooking. But I’m actually a big fan of the classic moleskin vest pocket, smaller than a paperback book kind of notebook, because you can take them with you everywhere you go. And you know, phones, their batteries die, and thumb typing is always challenging to get an idea recorded quickly. And you know, although I must say I do appreciate the iPad because you can do drawings – they have some nice drawing packages on the iPad that make prototyping designs and that sort of thing pretty cool to do and easy – but pick your poison, folks. But do your notebooking.

Halelly: Great. I love it. So, it’s been a great conversation, and I wish we could talk more, but I think that you have provided the folks listening with tons of great insights and actionable ideas, and I’m going to link to things we mentioned and to your website on the show notes. But where can people get in touch with you and find out more about you Gregg?

Gregg: My website is the best place to go to find out stuff about me and about Kiln. You can link over to Kiln’s website as well. So it’s just www.GreggFraley.com, or www.KilnCo.com. Either one will get you to me and my information.

Halelly: Great. And Gregg is with two G’s on the end.

Gregg: Right. Just to fool everybody!

Halelly: Well thank you so much for spending time on the TalentGrow Show, Gregg. I appreciate your insight and your wisdom, and I hope that you enjoy a great day as well as everyone listening. Be creative – you are creative. Just let it out!

Gregg: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Halelly: Take care.

Gregg: Bye!

Halelly: So, did your creative juices start flowing? I hope that you found your notebook or that you’re going to make a note to go buy one so that you can start harnessing all of your creative ideas and putting them into action. In the meantime, check out the show notes where we link to everything we mentioned in the show. Those are found at www.TalentGrow.com/podcast/episode6. Also, if you really like this show and think that other leaders can benefit from it, please share it with other people that you know and also consider leaving us a review and a rating on iTunes or on Stitcher. That helps us show up in search results more and helps other leaders discover this show and benefit from it. I really appreciate that you listened to this show and hung around until now, and I look forward to seeing you again on the next episode. Until then, make it a great day. Take care.

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