Creative Networks

Creative Networks. Image courtesy meo from Pexels

How does the brain produce creative thought?


Recently, my 13 year old niece had an interesting English assignment. She had to write a story about a well-known villain that would cause the audience to see the villain in a new light. She was having trouble coming up with ideas so she sent a group text to her aunts and uncles seeking inspiration. Because I love my niece, and because it was a good distraction from a complex task I had been working on, I spent some time brainstorming potential story ideas and was surprised how energizing the activity was.

Have you ever wondered what is going on in your brain when you are engaged in a creative work? A series of papers has explored this question across a range of creative tasks. The papers report similar patterns of brain activity.

A blog post on The discusses one of these studies. The study uncovered the “high-creative network”, a series of brain connections used in generating original ideas. Regions of the brain active in the “high-creative network” belonged to three specific brain systems:

  • the default network that is activated when people are engaged in spontaneous thinking such as day-dreaming;
  • the executive control network used when people need to focus their work or evaluate; and
  • the salience network that acts as a switching mechanism between the default and executive networks.

Interestingly, these networks don’t usually fire together, yet in people who excel at creative tasks they do. The theory is that people who excel at creative tasks may have a brain that is better able to run two brain networks at the same time. We can all think of creative people who act a little differently, and this study suggests they may be wired differently. (I think my creative sister-in-law, who grew up in a family of engineers, would agree).

What does this mean for people and organizations wanting to increase their creativity and their ability to innovate? I can see some important applications.

  1. Use a creative network. When you have a problem that requires a novel approach, follow the example of my niece and tap into a creative network. Use your network of people as a creativity network. Often, at our training workshops, participants find that talking through a problem with a colleague from a different area gives them a creative boost.
  2. Want improved creativity? Focus on collaboration. If the brains of creative people are better able to manage the spontaneous thinking (default network) and structured thinking (executive control network) then a creative organization needs to create teams with the skills and processes in place that allow people with different thinking strengths to work together and collaborate.
  3. Facilitation can help with creative problem solving. The “high-creative network” involves the network in the brain that switches mechanisms between spontaneous thinking and evaluative thinking. If your team is having trouble solving a creative problem, an experienced facilitator can bring your ideas together.

Researchers say that further research is needed to explore whether practice helps people increase the connectivity within these brain networks. While neuroscience researchers are engaging their creative networks to devise studies to examine this, I plan on trying my hand at more creative tasks. Already this week I have found that creative tasks such as writing a blog posts, applying neuroscience to organizational effectiveness, or re-telling the Little Mermaid so people view Ursula the sea witch more sympathetically, are engaging and also really fun.

Using Nostalgia to Deal with Change Management

Using Nostalgia to Deal with Change Management

Using Nostalgia to Deal with Change Management. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

What role do our memories and nostalgia play in organizational change management?


Today is the day that Nintendo releases their new gaming console the Switch. It is also the release of the newest installment in their incredibly popular Zelda series. Fans haven’t seen a new Zelda game for a main console in a little over ten years – something I’m aware of because the last game came out right before my daughter was born who is now ten. That game also was launched with a new and wildly different console – the Nintendo Wii, which revolutionized how we play games and interact with content. The Nintendo Switch aims to do the same. It got me thinking about organizational change management and using nostalgia to sell innovation.

It is interesting that Nintendo has used one of the most popular and enduring franchises to launch both revolutionary and innovative products – it speaks to their genius in merging marketing with change management principles. As any CEO or manager knows, selling new ideas and concepts can difficult and the public (or a team) is sometimes slow to get on board. Although advertisers and politicians have been using nostalgia and emotion to sell and manage change for years, inserting nostalgia for training and organizational change management is just starting to catch fire. In a great article in the New York Times called “What is Nostalgia Good For?”, John Tierney explores the role that our memories and our longing for connection to our past helps us learn new skills or adapt to difficult or new environments. Research shows that young adults and people over 60 tend to be the most nostalgia, while those in middle age are more invested in their present. Think of a college freshman feeling homesick while also feeling in love with their new adventure, or the joy and vigor observed when an aging grandparent recants adventures from their youth. Both age groups experience huge waves of change – change management crises you might say- and intuitively recall memories and warm feelings to help feel grounded amid the chaos. They are using nostalgia as a change management tool.

While the new Nintendo Switch is not anticipated to be a huge seller, the new Zelda game is being heralded as the best video game on the market. The Nintendo Switch is radically different from the Wii and the rest of consoles on the market and a little complicated to sell in a sentence (I’m not even sure how it works) – another change management crisis. The Zelda game on the other hand incorporates elements from the original Zelda game and storyline from 1987 and connects parents to the joy of their youth while they introduce the game to their kids. An incredibly powerful change management tool if ever there was one. So how can you incorporate this idea into your change management strategies. How can nostalgia help you sell new and different ideas to your employees or your market? Here are a few simple suggestions that you have probably already used without even realizing they were hitting on nostalgia nerves.

  1. Framing new concepts or strategies under existing company values or vision statements.
  2. Beginning quarterly meetings with emotional and inspiring stories of recent wins.
  3. Highlighting the successes of past products or innovations and then positioning new roll-outs as the inevitable evolution of that success.
  4. Using universal nostalgic themes in advertising; connecting concepts to love of country or memories with friends and family.
  5. Re-packaging products in old imagery, re-launching your classics during growth plateaus.

There are so many ways to incorporate nostalgia into change management strategies whether they are for internal training, product marketing, or general organizational management. Looking forward can only ever happen if we are gladly grounded in our past. How have you used memory, emotion or nostalgia to handle a change management crisis? What worked? And what hit the wrong note?

What’s the Game? Getting Clear On What to Expect from Each Other

What’s the Game? Getting Clear On What to Expect from Each Other

What's the Game? Getting Clear On What to Expect from Each Other. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Leave the drama at home–operating as a team is about defining the rules of the game so that you know what to expect from each other.


The secret to entertaining improvisational theatre is highly developed collaborative teamwork. There is no planning, just quick responses to “offers” made by fellow actors. It takes being in the moment and paying attention to the “game”. In improvisation, the “game” can take many forms. It can, for example, be about genre. Are we in space, caught in a time warp of a dangerous sort? Is this a mystery melodrama with romance twist played by larger than life villains and victims? With literally no planning actors can create comedy and pathos through highly honed teamwork.  

To the audience, it seems like a magical creation. What appears free flowing and without structure actually is possible only by adherence to clear rules and expectations, or a team operating agreement. Some of the critical ones are:

  1. Accept all offers and share control. Go with the idea offered and build on it.
  2. Be altered – Pay attention to your partner and react to what they are doing and feeling.

In the world of collaborative team work, we call what these rules create is an operating agreement. An effective team operating agreement sets out the rules the team members are required to adhere to in order for collaboration to flourish. They define critical individual team member behaviour and also required team practices. They define the kind of game that the team will play and how the members of the team will work together to create results.

Some of these “game rules” are directed at how work is done, kind of like the “Accept all Offers” rule in improvisation. These can include team meeting protocols (when, how and why we meet), problem solving practices (what the process is and what data is required from who to develop solutions), decision making authorities (who can make what decision, when and where), and specific individual responsibilities and accountabilities that are clear, measurable and agreed upon. A team operating agreement can also include practices that are more of the type of the “Be Altered” rule that address the human side of collaboration. These can include what integrity looks like (e.g. honesty, respect, trustworthiness, caring, fairness), team learning (forgiveness for errors and how to recover and learn from mistakes), and importantly – communication protocols regarding listening, feedback and confidentiality.   

Developing these operating agreements as a team means that team members are free to collaborate and focus on the real “show” of creating results. Melodrama and fantasy are great games for entertainment. We sure don’t want them at the work!

What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree

What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree

This month we are doing a series on Collaboration, the calibrated process of building as a team. It occurs when multiple minds work together to generate ideas, and then take action to realize a shared goal. We’ll be publishing a few posts from several members of our team who have chosen an aspect of Collaboration to elaborate on. This is part two in that series; read the first installment here.

What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

It’s not the first idea that matters, but the second.


Five years ago I took my first course in improvisational theatre at Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, Alberta Canada. My fascination with improvisation went beyond my interest in Drama – the major of my first degree. It was because I heard of the application of this brand of theatre to organizational leadership. Apparently, the principles of great leadership and Improv are the same and encouraging better leadership in organizations is a passion of mine.

It is nothing short of amazing to watch a group of actors create a theatre piece that is both funny and emotionally engaging right before your eyes with absolutely no preparation. It seemed impossible. I soon learned that it is possible for everyone to learn how to do this. All it takes is adhering to some very simple and very powerful principles of collaboration and teamwork.

The first principle I learned is ‘Accept all Offers’. This seems crazy but imagine an empty stage and two actors. Neither they nor we know who they are or where they are. There are no sets, no costumes and no script. One says to the other. “It’s a beautiful day isn’t it? I heard that there is a lake over there behind the trees where you can use a canoe at no cost. Would you like to go and try one out?” It’s a great offer. As an audience we are wondering what comes next? We want the second actor to say “Yes – And add something interesting like “I think there is an island not too far that we could explore. A canoe would be fun.” The actors are off to an adventure and as an audience we are excited about what is going to happen. We want to know more about who these people are. Are they skillful or bumbling? Will they make it to the island and what will happen if they do? What will happen if they don’t? Will this be a mystery or comedy? A witty satire that is a commentary on a current issue or are we going to be entertained with crazy slapstick?

If instead of accepting the initial offer, the second actor says, “No, I can’t swim and am really afraid of tippy canoes” the scene grinds to quick and boring halt. If this pattern of ‘No I don’t think so’, or even if we hear the all too common ‘yes but….’ the scene either stops or inches forward at a slow and increasingly frustrating pace. We very soon stop listening and welcome any distraction as we wait for the torture to be over.

The only edge you have in the marketplace today is the ideas of your people. Sparking innovation in the workplace to create solutions faster and better than your competitors. The days of a few smart people simply doesn’t cut it with the complexity and speed of change that we have now. It takes my ideas giving you other and better ideas that spark someone else’s. The first idea is unlikely to be the best. Give it to someone else who accepts the offer and says ‘yes and…’. Adding to it and changing it up in a way that takes some part of the idea and builds on it making it even better. When we put two or three other people into this dynamic, we create an unlimited potential for creativity and innovation.

What is wonderful about collaborating using “Accept all Offers” and “Yes And” is that it is not the first idea that has to be stunning. It is really what comes next that matters. Just like in our little scenario about the canoe. It is the second idea that matters. It’s what you do with my ideas that makes the difference to both of us. I don’t have to be a creative genius, if I have you as a partner. We can keep moving forward with the best of each of our ideas. If we can manage to do this we will reach the island. And maybe, just maybe it is an enchanted island!

e-Capability: Get Certified with Our New Online Courses

e-Capability: Get Certified with Our New Online Courses

Online Training Certifications Have Arrived!
E-Capability Online Training Certification

Big news today! We have partnered with Gemini SWIFT Learning to launch E-Capability, our new eLibrary. Over many years, we have developed an extensive library of training programs in leadership development, change and innovation, customer service, employee training, and culture development. Now we are capitalizing on that content using the SWIFT Platform to create a series of online certification programs, which will begin to become available in 2017.

The first program we are launching is the Customer Service Certification, and will be comprised of the following seven courses:

Customer Service Certification

Module 1: Winning with Service
  • Service is key to business success and it also has huge personal reward. Learn why and how delivering exceptional service pays off big time for both you and your organization.
Module 2: Getting Close to Your Customer
  • The secret to service success is understanding your customer and their expectations. The secret to your success is delivering the experience that will wow them every time. Learn to think like your customer and deliver on the experience they expect.
Module 3: Delivering on the Promise
  • You are the value add that your company counts on the keep customers happy. Delivering exceptional service requires special skills and attitudes. Learn and hone them in this module.
Module 4: Customer Focused Solutions
  • Customer requests don’t always fall into neat and tidy delivery options. Sometimes mistakes happen and it’s up to you to solve the client’s problem. Learn how to respond constructively to customer difficulties and demands.
Module 5: Dealing with Difficult Customers
  • There are some service situations that fall outside of what is reasonable. You need to know how to handle these nevertheless. Learn how to turn around the most challenging customer behaviour and de-escalate particularly difficult conflict situations.
Module 6: Service Teamwork
  • Delivering consistent high quality services takes a team. Who has your back and how do you support other service team members are the important questions answered in this module.
Module 7: Taking Care of You
  • Customer service positions require energy and focus. They are often stressful and demanding. It is easy to empty your pitcher of giving. Learn how to deal with service stress and maintain your personal resilience during and after work.

Courses will be available early 2017.

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat