Transcript – How to Leverage Teamwork Skills: Curiosity and Creativity

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Ginny Bianco-Mathis 0:03
Welcome to another episode of team anywhere. And I’m Jenny Bianco Mathis on the East Coast with my co host, Mitch Simon on the west coast. And today we are very excited to be interviewing Greg Orme, from Britain. So we have his delightful accent. Welcome, Greg.

Greg Orme 0:26
Well, thank you, Ginny, I shall do my best with the accent. I’m delighted to be with both you and Mitch and to be somewhere in the middle. In the above America, between left and right,

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 0:38
we have this huge triangle. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Well, a break comes to us. He’s the director at the London Business School, where he founded and grew the center for creative business. And you all facilitate transformable, transfer transformational change programs, with a lot of different global clients in a way that we’re going to be chatting about today. And you also are author of two excellent books, one, your earlier book named Spark, and your more recent one who won an award for 2020. Congratulations, the human edge.

Greg Orme 1:18
Thank you very much. Ya very proud of that.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 1:20
Yes, he should be. And we’re going to hopefully learn a lot about it today, and what it means for leaders and teams. So to begin, we always like to begin a bit on the personal side, because it draws people in and, and helps everyone to identify with who and what you are. And we all have been struggling, obviously, with an interesting year last year, how are you doing? How have you coped? What have you learned? How have you?

Greg Orme 1:50
Well grown painfully and otherwise in all sorts of different ways over the last 12 months or so. But, you know, I can’t complain. I’m a really lucky person, I’ve been able to do my work from home, I’ve traveled the world from this one meter squared piece of carpet, right here. I you know, my book has tracked me all over the place, because it one business book of the year, that was that was, you know, weirdly good timing when when the UK was being locked down by Boris Johnson. And I guess, like everybody else, unlucky. And I’ve also learned to be grateful for the small things in life, to have my health to have a walk with my wife this morning to have my sorry for the cliche, but my sourdough bread baking. You know, I’m proud of that stuff. So you know, what should I be worried about? I’m good. Thank you for asking, Jenny. I hope you guys are well, too.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 2:47
Yes, we’ve gone through our ups and downs. But quite frankly, this podcast has been a nice breath of fresh air for both of us as a way to grow and connect, as you said, from our own own carpet space. Wonderful. So you have some very powerful thoughts on that have gotten you here. What led you to writing the book The human edge?

Greg Orme 3:14
Well, I mean, I was thinking this morning, it goes a long way back, actually, when I was seven, you know, I was only thinking about this today when I was seven years old, I got meningitis, which is a really serious illness, that fluid on your brain would you know, which isn’t good, apparently. And I was my parents were advised by the doctors to keep reading to me, because I was effectively it would stop me slipping into a coma. So I actually my reading age was really poor. At that age, I was not doing well at school. And my parents read to me and I clearly I survived. And I I’m beginning to think that’s where I fell in love with reading for the first thing, and also by implication, curiosity, which is a big part of the book. So that’s going along way back. I think you meant my professional life, probably. But it falls into two parts really. The first part obviously, I was a national television journalist, which I think helps me to write and thinking in a quite a visual way. And of course, I was a professional writer writing scripts for television presenters. But then since then, I’ve effectively been a strategy consultant going into leadership consultant, I’ve been a CEO myself along the way, also an entrepreneur. So all those experiences funneled into the human edge. And I like to see the human edges as a kind of a subversive manual that you can keep underneath your desk. So whatever company you’re in, even if you’re haven’t got a particularly alerton boss, you can look after your own human capability and superpowers.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 5:00
Wow. All right. So what what are my key takeaways? I’ve got this subversive book under my desk?

Greg Orme 5:08
Sure. So, so the book the wrapper around the book, the kind of why did I write the book was in response to the question, how can we humans differentiate ourselves in a world of digital technology and machines, particularly artificial intelligence. So I was writing in response to this worry that machines are coming along to take our jobs and, and and some such. We can talk about that if you like. But actually, one of the reasons why I think the four superpowers that I came up with, based on research, have done well in 2020, is actually they’re an excellent way to respond to any kind of disruption. So I’ll just quickly list them if you like. So we’ve got a frame of reference. And it’s consciousness, which is really about meaning finding meaning in your work, and also finding the time to focus and to think, curiosity, which is a bit more intuitive, but we can dive into that one if you like. Creativity. And then the fourth C is collaboration. And together, these are a way to differentiate yourself, not just from AI, I would say but from fellow robotic humans, who really haven’t switched on their own kind of potential.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 6:26
I love that I think I’ll borrow that. I’ll say welcome. Robotic human.

Greg Orme 6:35
Rude, I’m sorry, actually comes across as a bit rude. But what I mean by that is, you know, I see a divide, opening up in the workplace in the modern workplace. And you know, I think, as it has done with many things, Coronavirus, Coronavirus has just accelerated this, between people who are purpose driven. They’re curious, that leads them to be creative. And then they need to be collaborative, because you actually need fellow human beings to test your ideas and get them out in the real world. And on the other side of the divide, there are people who are just working for the paycheck, they think they’re finished with school, they’re not really interested in continuing to develop themselves. And you don’t want to be that side of the divide. I don’t think in the 2020s it’s going to be a very painful place to be.

Mitch Simon 7:23
can ask me, Greg, the, you know, with with, with my friends, we talk a lot about how, in COVID, which has been a year now, right? It’s been a year since we’ve done that everyday seems to be like Groundhog Day. Right? So that you wake up, same thing, same thing, same thing now? Well, you’re proposing that that I think, would be a robotic human, let’s just say. Now, what you’re proposing is, is to really get conscious and take time to think. And I’m wondering, during this just pandemic, what have you experienced personally? And what have you experienced with the people that you’ve been work working with? Are they are they going to sleep? Are they waking up? Or what what could you do to wake yourself up knowing that we might be in this pandemic for another six or 12 months?

Greg Orme 8:10
Yeah, I see. That’s a good point, isn’t it? Yeah, I have to say that I get through a work day. And then it’s like, I talked to my wife. It’s like, what are we going to cook for supper? And it’s just like, it’s just we’ve asked the same question so many times, I’m so bored by it. And I love food. So. So absolutely. I think it’s a huge challenge to us, Mitch, I think being I mean, I, I’m lucky enough to live in a nice place here in the UK, and a reasonably nice house. But just being the same place is very boring for human beings. So I think if I’m applying the kind of framework we just talked about to this situation. I am a great believer, not in the big words like creativity, but the sub skills that lead up to them. Because the the big words can seem a little bit unobtainable. But if you think about how can I redesign my day, in order to find the part that’s most productive? Now we know through research, we can find that there is research to show we all have a peak in our day where we can be cognitively more alive, better able to get into what psychologists call a state of flow, where we can be five times more productive, which releases ourselves elsewhere. And how can we have on our plate every day as it were a time to play a time to engage with other people a time to actually sharpen up our focus. And I always recommend mindfulness to people for that. I think it’s a great practice to bring especially now it lowers anxiety, we’re all feeling a bit anxious. So I would say it’s about a lot of small habits. But the reason why I like the four C’s framework, it gives you a framework to put those small habits in those sub skills into if you like.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 9:51
So that’s wonderful and the mindfulness on the reflection, the actually creating the space So to take this to one of our major platforms here, can you take those four C’s and relate it to a leader now trying to lead a remote team? Or a team with half in the office half around the world?

Greg Orme 10:17

Well, well, I think what’s really interesting to me about zoom life, whatever you want to call it, whatever platform you happen to be on, we’re seeing both. While the physical distance is being, it’s been heightened, we’re all a long way from each other, we are seeing into each into people’s private spaces that we’ve never seen before. I’ve just met Mitch and I can see into his his office there, I can see that picture behind you, Jenny. And you can see my very messy office here. And, and so we have that kind of, we have that sort of like window into their soul. If you like, if you’re a leader, I think you have to bear that in mind. And what I advise leaders to do is to say, yes, people are done that they’ve got an excess of cortisol and neuro adrenaline that have been going on for too long. It’s very bad for us mentally and physically. What you need to do is lift people with science based understanding, and one of the ways you can do that is to discuss meaning with them, what is the meaning of our work? Why do we do what we do? Who are we helping, and, and certainly here in the UK, and I’m sure it’s the same in the US, we’re seeing the an example of meaningful purposeful work is on the news every day with these amazing health care workers, who we assume have a wider meaning for the unpleasant and dangerous things they’re doing. I would say that meaning is not just for nurses, it’s for all of us. So that would be my first piece of advice. The second is to, to develop more empathy. Because I think if you’re looking into someone’s living room, you can mistake the fact that you actually know what’s going on in their life. And we’re all experiencing lockdown in a very different way. And so I think the ability to question to gently probe to be genuinely interested in that person, and then to listen intently, is a really valuable skill right now. Now I could go on, but I’ll just give you one more. Out of the three. So we went for purpose, we went for empathy. You know, the third one I go for is a sense of humor. I’m fascinated by the science that underpins humor, we know if I can make you laugh or even smile a little bit, it will release oxytocin in your brain, which is the kind of so hug molecule which is released when we want to bond with people, people will listen to you longer take action on what you say. And it helps lower their anxiety. So we know there’s great correlation between having a laugh, and actually being more creative and collaborative. So those the three I pull out from my sort of my palette of human leadership.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 13:05
I love that. So a leader can take those three and then try to operate, operationalize it, you know, in talking to their teams.

Greg Orme 13:15
Yeah. And the third one, I think, is really particularly counterintuitive and a time when, of course, we’re seeing dreadful things happening around the world and a terrible number of deaths and illnesses. But I think it’s in these really particularly dark times, we need to laugh more. Do you know what fascinates me about laughter is actually if you talk to people who’ve studied anthropologist, for example, we laugh before we could speak as a species. And we laughed when danger had passed. And we realized who was still alive, it was a way of signaling to each other, we’re still together, and we’re still alive. Now, I think if you can do that, and I’m not talking about being a comedian, that’s like the office that’s just really awful. And just acknowledging that life is absurd and very fragile as we’re finding out. And actually, if I can have a laugh with my team, even on zoom, it is possible, you can actually lift the their morale for the rest of the important work.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 14:15
Oh, wonderful, wonderful piece there. It is one of your four C’s. I do want you to speak a little more about curiosity, especially when you say weaponized curiosity, which we love that term. How do you do that again, with a team who’s remote? Yeah. Show me how you do that.

Greg Orme 14:46
I think curiosity as I said with my my opening meningitis story is really something that’s just always been part of my life. I you know, I look at my life as a journalist and as a facilitator and as a strategy consultant. And You know, I think I’ve probably spent most of my life trying to work out, you know, how do you provoke other people to be interested in the world around them. And what I love about curiosity is, it’s not a fixed trait. It’s not like having blue eyes. Think of it more like the mercury in a thermometer. It goes up and down, depending on who you’re with, and what you’re doing every day. So if you’re a leader, you can really bear this in mind to really get your team excited about their work. And, you know, I love that I weaponize metaphor, but my most recent one is, it’s the gateway drug to creativity, you get a curiosity, and therefore, and then creativity becomes possible. So a couple of things on on curiosity that I would emphasize, if I was a leader, I would try and help my team, even in these difficult times, put some time aside for their personal learning. Because that is the gathering the raw material for creativity later on. And this is why companies like Pixar, for example, have really crazy things on their corporate learning and development courses. You know, they teach people pottery, they teach people painting, because they know these are transferable skills. And if you learn one thing in a domain of knowledge, it’s like building a little outpost in your mind. And you never know how it will get connected up later, to something else. Do you know why we’ve got like all those crazy fonts on our computers, so beautiful fonts on Apple and various other things, it will speak to Steve Jobs after he dropped out of college, and sat in the back of a calligraphy course and got fascinated by calligraphy, the art of handwriting, and a complete nerd about fonts. And that’s why the apple first had fonts. And now we have these. So it’s these connections. It’s when an idea jumps a fence from one domain of knowledge to another, that’s when creativity happens. So this is what you should be explaining to your team, why they should roam widely outside of their area. That’s how creative that’s how they gather the fuel. And final thing, and people always ask me, you, Greg, you know, you’re exposed to all these amazing leaders, a privileged position at London Business School to meet you know, sometimes 1000s of leaders every year, what’s the one thing you’d say to them? Just one piece of advice. And my piece of advice to them is always this if you want to be a more creative leader, stop giving everyone the answers. And stop start asking better questions. And so sorry, about rabbiting on, I’ll just say.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 17:42

Greg Orme 17:44
I’d say about questions. You know, I’ve talked about listening and just talked and never endingly. But the final thing I’d say about questions is these aren’t closed questions. Closed questions lead to a like a yes or no response. That’s what sort of prosecution, barristers you know, district attorneys asked in the in the United States, open questions are questions that lead to Creative Conversations. So you know, why do we do it this way? What if we tried that way? Have you seen what our customers are asking for now? These are the questions to electrify a meeting. If you’re a leader,

Mitch Simon 18:23
Greg, what, um, I love that What? What questions do you have these days?

Greg Orme 18:30
Well, I think my question, right. This, by the way, is how I come up with the ideas for all my Forbes articles and everything else is I always start with a question. So it’s the reason why I’m a bit sort of gobsmacked as we say in the UK to that question. Is, it’s a bit like, there are so many, I can’t get all the pieces of sand through the little piece in there. In the what’s that called? When you find out? I’m going off? Yeah, when you when you measure time with the sun, sorry, I’m getting distracted. So I would say the big questions for me, if I’m a leader are How can I effectively make an impact through a screen is one of the big questions of our era? Because, you know, we were talking when we were preparing for this podcast where we were talking about, you know, resume working, remote learning, all this kind of stuff. But my take on it, if you look at the statistics, what l&d departments are saying what boards are say that we’re not going back, all the way to what we came from, you know, that it’s a bit like lending someone, your pullover, your jumper, your sweatshirt, whatever you want to call it to someone who’s bigger than you and you get it back and it’s all stretched out of shape. You know, that’s what’s happened to the working environment. So I think I always say to people, how are you making an impact through a screen? How are you present? Because I’m sure there’ll be face to face working, fingers crossed there is but we’ll always have this element. Now. We’ve we’ve been rested too much in it to go all the way back.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 20:03
Totally. You’ve also you mentioned about, you know, that productivity has already been proven either way. Right? So stop saying one way is better than the other. Right? And you say it’s the opportunity to take the best of both worlds. What What would that look like the best of both worlds?

Greg Orme 20:31
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. Jenny, the, you know, if you look at the statistics around one productivity, there’s actually been a couple of studies into that. And, you know, people are just as productive if they’re, if they’re supported correctly with the right technology in their home environment. And, arguably, people, people have voted with their feet to say, We want more of this. We are happier when we’ve got flexibility, not completely as we are now is a bit miserable right now. But with some flexibility to work from home, people are happy about that. So but this is the issue that leaders are talking to me about. And I think I think this is absolutely true, which is that it’s the creativity in the collaboration, that that’s a little bit more difficult. I think we can collaborate using this technology. But a lot of creativity, certainly in teams comes from what I call lucky conversations. And that’s when you kind of bump into someone, you know, the old water cooler chat, as, as he you say, I mean, this is one of the reasons why Yahoo first, you know, about, I think about five or six years ago, when pretty much all remotes, and then they went back, because they were saying we’re not getting that at all, so. So I think you have to work a lot harder at that you have to be a lot more creative. I don’t think it’s impossible. But I think you have to aim for serendipity, which is a crazy thing to say but you know, maybe take some time at the start of a call have a zoom session at the end where there’s no agenda. You know, I’ve heard people talking about quarantines, you know, having drinks with people online. Sometimes these feel a bit like hard work as alternatives. But, you know, if you are going to be remote as companies like Git lab, for example, I completely remote, you have to work harder at it, they have drop in sessions, they have randomizing sessions where they put people together. But what’s interesting about Git lab as a case study, is even they acknowledge occasionally you have to connect for that chemical moment we have as human beings, so they pay for their people to get go to their colleagues, weddings and, and other big milestones and things like that. So we do need a bit of that. That’s the glue, and then we can build on that with the remote stuff.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 22:44
fabulous, fabulous. Um, and I think this ties to the creativity, and you coaching the leaders to ask better questions. You use phrases like, encourage collisions, and, and almost in a way, it sounds like cause some conflict. Yeah, I

Greg Orme 23:15
think that there’s some evidence to show that creativity isn’t just this happy, clappy kind of scenario where everybody’s getting on and we’re all you know, it’s, it’s weird. I always talk about the yin and yang of Creative Leadership, because it’s never one thing or another. So whenever you’re trying to make a point, you have to say, well, it’s kind of in the middle of that, but so yes, humor, and people in a good mood are absolutely proven to be more creative. But creativity is always as well. driven by a kind of relentless perfection, a restlessness, a passion that is not always very comfortable. And as a leader, you have to understand this yin and yang of Creative Leadership and, and, and develop the way to balance the mood in the team, depending on where you are in the creative process. And that’s why it’s probably the most nuanced, managerial challenge in history. To be a more collaborative and creative leader in our time that needs collaboration needs creativity, because all this stuff used to better just pay people for it. You know, everything. Yeah, exactly. It’s intrinsically motivated. I do it because I like doing it not because you’re paying me that’s the strange thing about creativity. So yeah, I think that the one I think you really liked also was raising ugly babies was it? So I stole that one. And that’s from Ed catmull. The guy who founded Pixar, as you can tell, I’m kind of a bit of a big fan because they’re so creative and also commercially successful. And what I love about that is it sort of lets us all off a little bit with Creativity, I think we can be really hard on ourselves. And if you imagine if you think about Pixar, they must have some of the most creative people on the planet. And they admit fully when any idea first comes in front of what they call their brains trust, which is a sort of cross functional team that gives feedback on the movies as they’re going through pre production and production. They are they call them ugly babies, because they know they’re not good. You know, no great idea just comes out of the box fresh as a daisy. And it’s like, oh, there’s the idea. They’re ugly at first, and misshapen and delicate. And sometimes, you know, I’m not going to extend that metaphor, because it sounds a bit nasty. But sometimes, you know, you have to get rid of these ideas. So you only you have to sort of bring them along. And I think if you think about us and our lives, we’re not working for Pixar, but we have our own creative challenges in our businesses, we need to realize ideas normally are laughable when they’re first mooted. It’s only after they’ve been iterated, and worked upon and fed back upon generally, that they’re any good at all. So I love it, because to me, inspires me with my creativity, because I have a lot of really bad ideas. And that’s okay. Greg,

Mitch Simon 26:21
what, what would you suggest then, for the leader, who is, first of all, learning how to be very creative now with communicating through through a screen? What would you then say, for this leader, to generate ugly babies to generate creative ideas, especially that when we’re honest, great, because what my experience has been for those companies who are really doing well, right now, it’s put your head down, get to work, we got things to sell, we got operations to operate research to research. And I just see them being very, very serious, as opposed to finding time to be creative. Like, what would that look like?

Greg Orme 27:06
Yeah, yeah. And you know, it is a tough time. And business. You know, when you think of business in the framework of Tarik creativity in the framework of business, of course, it’s a slightly odd concept, because you know, that execution, that delivery you’re talking about is this year’s profits, creativity is only ever next year’s profit profits, really. So you have to bet you have to have one, you have to have a slightly longer term view, which is very tricky to have. I’m not saying this is easy, but it’s very tricky. And I think as a leader, you need to be, we’re coming back to this yin and yang idea, you need to be able to toggle, if you like, is a decent word for it between the ability to say, right, we’re in execution mode now. And and then be able to maybe the next hour, maybe it’s even the next minute toggle back to right, we’re in an open exploratory phase for this. And I’m going to facilitate a question that we’re going to answer together. And you need to be able to do that with a communication skill, to not look like you’re schizophrenic. Which is, which is quite challenging. And so I think this is one of the reasons I wrote the first book, the spark, and I talked about this in the spark is to understand the creative process, because this isn’t very good for the people listening, because I’m making hand gestures here. But when you start a creative process, you are in divergent mode, you’re starting from a question or a challenge, or something that’s just irritating you that you want to solve. And you you create a portfolio of good and bad ideas. And the leader has to facilitate that. Then at some point, you pick a criteria, and then you start selecting them. And you’re in a much more hard faced, tattered, taciturn frame of mind, then you’re, you’re killing some of the ideas. So this is why I talked to leaders about being able to be flexible in your approach and understand where you are in the creative process. And so coming back to your question, Mitch, you know, of course, we’ve got to deliver. And of course, we’ve got to delight our clients. Now. However, we need to put time and resources aside in a sort of more protected area of our day of our month in order to do this otherwise, next year’s products and processes won’t exist.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 29:24
Love that.

Oh, fabulous. Well, we can talk to you for another day. Is there something we haven’t asked that we should have?

Greg Orme 29:37
Oh, I tell you what. Yeah, that’s one of those open questions. It’s a real tricky one for me about my sourdough bread, despite the fact we dangling a big clue about it, right, the stuff but I think more interested in terms of what we’re talking about, you know, there’s a whole part of the book that we didn’t really get to that I think is fascinating, and it goes back to one of Mitchell’s questions. At the start, which is how do you cope with this weird environment that’s a bit kind of degrading on us. It goes on week after week. And and I’m really interested in the ability to focus in a digitally distracted world. Because over half the world are now using social media, we’re scrolling more than we’ve ever done. And it’s the one thing that you do. When you look aside from your Zune call, you pick up your smartphone, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But I do think there’s an issue with our relationship with social media. And it’s a big irony of my book, because my book is about how to compete with artificial intelligence or differentiate actually, is the argument I make, and the irony of it to do that, you occasionally need to disengage from the AI enabled social media apps that are trying to grab your attention on an industrial scale that we’ve never seen before. So I would encourage leaders, and maybe you’re just asking what else we would talk about, I would reflect upon if we ever came on to another podcast together, I would love to talk to you about the practical ways that we can tame our addiction to smartphones to make more time, I mean, one last little kind of image for you. You know, I have to think of my hero, Albert Einstein, who famously was used to actually do his creative thinking. While he was a patent park in Bern in Switzerland, he would put his work aside and turn to this you’ve had a very understanding boss. And I wonder what if we’d have Albert’s theories if he’d had an Instagram account? And I doubt it, personally speaking. And that applies to all of us, doesn’t it? We really need to curb this in order to find the time for our little bit of genius to to blossom.

Mitch Simon 31:56
Lovely. That was great, Greg, I love your genius. I love your sense of humor. Great.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 32:06
Fabulous. Greg, thank you so much for being with us today and for giving us a wonderful podcast. And maybe we’ll we’ll take you up on doing a second one a few months from now to see what’s going on.

Greg Orme 32:21
Well, it’s been lovely to be with you so warm with you guys on one side of the, you know, the world and the other and lovely to see you and to hear you mentioned, Jenny. Thanks for having me.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 32:32
Thank you. Great.

Mitch Simon 32:33
Thank you. And thank you, our great listeners for listening to another episode of team anywhere. Please share this episode with your friends and let them know about these great, great guests we have and we’ll see you next time. Thank you very much.

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