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“Every child is an artist. The problem is staying a child when you grow up.” – Picasso

Many of us believe that gifts of creativity belong to artists, musicians, and writers, and the rest of us are unoriginal and unimaginative. This is a myth! Creativity holds just as much relevance in the marketplace as it does in art galleries. It is the hallmark of problem-solving, continuous improvement, and strategic thinking.

Daniel Pink’s book, “Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers will Rule the Future,” presents a compelling case for all of us to engage and increase our emphasis on creative, artistic, integrated, conceptual, big-picture thinking. Pink asserts that USA industry is coming out of the Information Age and moving into the Conceptual Age. In this new era, customer allegiance will go to those who design products and services that engage customers by creating meaningful experiences and satisfaction in people’s lives.

One of the best examples of an organization doing just that is a San Jose, CA based company IDEO. They are globally recognized for their human-centered, design-thinking approach to innovation and growth. Their x-factor is customer empathy, understanding people’s experiences in interaction with a product or service. The firm engages teams of people from diverse disciplines such as engineering, human factors, industrial design and communications to generate innovative designs in products and services. The multi-disciplinary approach combined with customer empathy produces renaissance breakthroughs in products and services for admired organizations such as Apple, Procter & Gamble, and Steelcase.

The kind of creativity Pink discusses and IDEO demonstrates emerges when we break away from habits of thinking to explore new patterns, novel ideas, and possibilities. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. Breaking out of our own limitations takes intentionality. To help with that, we have included

Seven Strategies for becoming more creative:

  1. Dare to be different. Don’t limit yourself to narrow thinking. Break out of assumptions, conventional thinking and industry orthodoxy to reach beyond the first solution. Try to expose yourself to diverse stimuli which provide new insight.
  2. Be curious, fearless and humble. Take the risk to experiment even if it results in failure. Every experiment is a learning experience that helps us continually grow as individuals and evolve as creative thinkers.
  3. Dream big! Explore possibilities, regardless of their feasibility. Rely on serendipity to help you connect the dots between unexpected variables. Instead of focusing on the practicality or the ‘how,’ focus on gathering your ideas that are out of this world. There is no pressure or limitations on your imagination, so the bigger and crazier, the better.
  4. Look for patterns, abstractions, groupings, synergy, and integration. How do your ideas align with one another, or how can you dissect one concept and use its parts to enhance another? Try using a big sheet of paper or a white board, with web designs and different color pens to organize your thoughts and visualize how they might relate to or assist one another.
  5. Take a look around you. Get outside into nature, listen to music, go for a swim or take a shower. Embrace tools such as pictures, games or humor, and be sure to get plenty of rest. The right side of your brain operates differently, and it’s important to nurture it on a regular basis.
  6. Network, network, network. Get out there! Learn across disciplines, engage in diversity, and participate in focus groups or think tanks that push you outside of your usual thought processes and into the unfamiliar. Ask questions and seek new solutions to today’s problems.

Don’t be deceived by false assertions voiced by others against you. All of us are born with both the right and left side of our brain. It is never too late to begin exercising the other half of our brain, the creative core. For those of you concerned that “you can’t” or it is too late. Consider these individuals who “couldn’t” but did:

  • Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade. He was defeated in every public office role he ran for until he became the British prime minister at the age of 62.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything. He invented 1,000 light bulbs before creating one that worked.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Today, Disney is touted as one of the most creative companies in the world.
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from a television reporting job because “she wasn’t fit to be on screen.” Now she is a billionaire impacting the world through television.
  • Henry Ford ran three businesses unsuccessfully before becoming one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.
  • Sir James Dyson persisted through 5,126 failed vacuum prototypes over 15 years before developing the Dyson vacuum, one of the best-selling vacuums in the USA. [i]

The reality of today’s world is that the left side analytical approach to life is not enough anymore. Taking strides to develop what your right brain has to offer adds to your value and potential as an employee by increasing your opportunity to grow. The next bright idea to make a huge impact on society may be just around the corner; however, the only way to get there is the right side of your brain.

[i] Bullet points source:


Empathy – the ability to identify with and care about others by seeing and understanding the world through their eyes.

Serving the customer is the sole reason a business exists. The success equation is pretty simple: No customers, no business. On the other hand, when organizations meet or exceed customer expectations, the business grows. Empathy, understanding the views and needs of others from their perspective, is therefore a critical skill for business (and also personal) growth and success.

In Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell describes the misery, hopelessness and despair of the late 1920s poorest. What is interesting is that Orwell does not write about poverty as a research observer. The account is based on his own personal experience as he chose to live among the poor and suffer the consequences of starvation and social ostracism. He was able to express the reality of poverty because he submersed himself into the experience of others and literally walked in their (tattered) shoes.

Empathy is the skill that allows us to take that walk and view the world through the eyes of others. It permits us to pause from our own biases to see situations through the lens of someone else’s experiences, emotions and concerns.

If you’re thinking empathy is a “soft” relational concept, think again. The ability to experience the world from the point of view of teammates, customers and society is fast becoming integral to twenty-first century business success. Certainly empathy drives intimacy and understanding within family relationships. Every loved one wants those closest to them to understand their world. But take that concept to the next level. A basic communication principle is to know your audience. If you want to inspire people to action with your message, then you have to submerse yourself in their mindset, motivation and passions. Ideas, services and products are purchased based upon what the customer wants—not what the spokesperson, provider or manufacturer thinks is important. The skill of empathy is foundational to identifying customers’ needs and desires.

Let’s look at some current examples. Companies like Zappos and Nordstrom command higher price points because they deliver exceptional customer experiences. Starbucks sells coffee at amazing profit margins precisely because each customer gets exactly what they want – including extra-hot and extra-shot. Newer products like GoPro, Motorola Moto X and Spotify have soared because they allow customers to create personalized movies, customized phones and tailored music to fit individualized tastes. Even hardcore science is moving in this direction. We’re thrilled that some of Blueprint LEADERSHIP’s very own customers are leading the change in determining personalized cancer treatments based on a patient’s unique genetic DNA sequencing.

It is inevitable. Customization and personalization of messages and services are moving at an accelerating pace and this promises to continue. To truly understand the customer’s perspective, leaders across all industries and spheres of society must develop and grow their empathetic muscle.

Not only will non-empathetic companies lose customer allegiance, but social media will continue to drive customers away with negative reviews that spread virally in today’s world. Negative social media feedback marginalizes companies like Bank of America and American Airlines, known for some of the worst customer experiences in the marketplace. To prevent such experiences, customer empathy must be driven from the C-Suite down throughout an organization’s culture. While some may debate whether the “customer is always right,” the customer certainly has abundant opportunities to share their view quickly across the globe. Empathy helps organizations stay in touch with the needs, views and experiences of customers.

Empathy is also important to justice and social revolution. For example, in order to foster peace and implement change, we must empathize with the perspectives of those on opposing sides of politics and upcoming generations, especially when it comes to issues regarding environmental and economic stability, immigration, and educational opportunity. If we only see through our own eyes and experiences, we will miss the opportunity to see the world in a broader sense, as George Orwell did.

In applying empathetic skills to every aspect of our life (relationships, work, and society), we promote other-centeredness and demote narrow-mindedness, a shift our world desperately needs. By evaluating our companies in the context of how we are impacting our teammates, customers, and the world at large, we position ourselves to make a lasting impact, not just in our own companies or homes, but across state and national borders.

The opportunity to see the world through another’s eyes should not be viewed as a soft concept, but rather as one of the most valuable and effective skills in serving the world. The 21st Century competitive advantage will go to organizational teams that work together interdependently to generate positive and caring experiences for the customer and society at large. By choosing to live in the shoes of others, we break ground in building a better world for our families and our customers in generations to come.


“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

A growing organization that was thought to be revolutionary in its field of research had a thorn in its side. The VP of R&D and the VP of operations could not even look one another in the eye. Each intentionally avoided the other and used third parties to communicate to avoid risking an encounter. This nagging thorn plagued the organization for weeks, until it became apparent that the conflict required immediate resolution.

With the guidance of an internal mediator, the two individuals entered the same room for the first time in over a month, under strict conditions: commit to pursuing what is right, commit to confidentiality, acknowledge the good in their relationship, refrain from condemnation or blame, use “I” rather than “you” in discussion, avoid words like “always” and “never,” and confirm understanding before responding, by restating the other person’s position.

Over the course of several meetings which followed these guidelines, the two individuals were able to gradually extract the thorn and commit to immediate action steps that breathed new life into the relationship. Both became aware of the negative implications of their behavior on the organization and committed themselves to move forward in a way that most effectively served each other as well as the company. Each of them owned partial truth in the conflict. By extending themselves to understand the other’s truth, they were able to acknowledge their own missteps and deepen their insight into the other’s perspective. At the end of the resolution process, all emerged victorious—the VP of R&D, the VP of operations, and the organization.

Raise your hand if you enjoy handling conflict. Make this request at your next team meeting and see how many hands are raised—very few, if any, and it won’t be because they didn’t hear you! You’ll probably observe anxious facial expressions, fidgeting, or people looking for an escape route from the room. For most of us, dealing with conflict does not come easily, and our first inclination is to avoid it at all costs.

But conflict is a powerful reality that influences the safety, the success, and the promise of communities across the globe. Conflict in the areas of politics, race, and religion (among others) has been the root cause of inestimable suffering in the world for decades, with no alleviation in sight. While we in the USA are fortunate enough not to be in the midst of life-threatening conflict on a daily basis, it’s critical that each of us understands the implications of the methods by which we manage conflict. And if we truly want to change the world, we must commit ourselves to lead future generations to surpass our own ability to cultivate harmony among opposing viewpoints.

Let’s begin with the person we influence the most—ourselves. In every situation of conflict, we bring our own biases to the table. Relationship dynamics, current life circumstances, past experiences, stress, ego, goals, etc., all shape our beliefs and impact our ability to achieve objective views. Before engaging in conflict, first seek to develop your self-awareness. What biases may you be carrying that could distort your objectivity? Take time to identify what you’re carrying and why you’re carrying it. Then choose whether or not you’re going to let what you’re carrying obstruct your ability to resolve the conflict at hand.

Once you’ve identified and sorted your bias, take off your shoes and put on someone else’s—preferably someone who holds a contrasting viewpoint from yours on the issue at hand. Consider what bias they may be carrying. Why do they feel so strongly about their perspective? What is their goal? How are their beliefs being threatened by the opposition? Now take a walk in their shoes. How might your objective affect them in the short term and the long term? What is the underlying why of the conflict? What would a “win” look like for them?

Dig beneath the surface, especially when it feels uncomfortable—that’s typically what walking in someone else’s shoes requires. The more you explore, the more informed you’ll be about the full spectrum of the conflict.

Keep in mind that a discussion regarding the conflict between the parties involved hasn’t yet taken place. Determining the most appropriate time and manner for a discussion will heavily influence your ability to achieve a resolution. Allow for adequate time to process the circumstances before addressing the issue—this allows emotions to simmer down and the pre-work we just discussed to take place. Keep wearing the other person’s shoes, because this is your most valuable asset in achieving an all-around win. In preparing to discuss the conflict, remember that your tone of voice, body language, and genuine regard for every person involved contribute greatly to the resolution process. More often than not, the manner in which we communicate our message creates more conflict than the difference of opinions we hold. Ask yourself: How would I receive the message that is being communicated?

Effective conflict resolution doesn’t mean that everyone will agree with the outcome. It does mean that each individual feels respected, heard, and understood. Striving to attain the greatest good for every person involved requires a genuine effort to value every perspective and to work alongside one another to envision an outcome that surpasses what either party initially brought forth. Choosing to enter into a dialogue, as opposed to a debate, sets the tone immediately for what will unfold. Dialogue means you’re willing to listen more than you speak, while minimizing the “stuff” you’re carrying into the conversation, in order to maximize the chances for an optimal resolution.

Martin Luther King, Jr. worked tirelessly to resolve one of the greatest conflicts in U.S. history, racial inequality. In his book Stride Toward Freedom, King describes his resolution mentality, by which he sought to defeat injustice and conflict rather than people, resulting in reconciliation and progress rather than enemies and gridlock. He encouraged individuals to identify what is positive in people’s actions instead of looking for ways to humiliate or defeat them. This crucial difference fostered the cultivation of teamwork rather than division. King experienced firsthand how challenging and unsettling conflict can be, but he also foresaw the extraordinary potential for human growth, and he clung to this hope. Like King, the strongest organizations acknowledge the transformative power of conflict resolution to equip leaders for the unforeseen future, believing that there is significant value in the challenges we encounter. They hold fast to that ancient proverb, “You reap what you sow.”

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“Some of the greatest advances happen when people are bold enough to speak their truth and listen to others speak theirs.”  – Ken Blanchard

“Disruptive, controversial, futuristic, and unique,”[i] are the words writer Ken Carlton uses to characterize the extraordinary minds that gathered in November 2014 at the World’s Greatest Problem Solver’s Conference. The event united an eclectic group of individuals with a common mission: “to advance a cause that was not about themselves.”

Carlton summarizes the thought-stream of the event: “Preventing terrorism by enlightening the mothers of extremists. Plopping sensors down every water well in America to understand drought. Confronting violent crime like an epidemic (think Ebola) to apply science to reducing inner-city murder rates. Treating crop data like a renewable resource to empower farmers. Harnessing wind to create untold power and create new jobs. Placing the safety of children in the hands of the community through the use of technology to keep our kids safe.”[ii] All are bold-faced problems in dire need of lasting solutions that were engaged by the world’s greatest minds to initiate progress toward alleviating such global scourges.

Another initiative for changing the world is called Solve: “This MIT-based program asks extraordinary people to work together to find solutions to the extraordinarily hard problems facing our global community.”[iii] With a sense of urgency, the group focuses on specific themes to tackle serious problems, including inaccessibility to education, substandard health care, lack of water and energy, and limited meaningful opportunities for the majority of the planet’s population. The program’s website explains exactly what the group does to carry out its purposes: “Solve convenes technologists, philanthropists, business leaders, policy makers, and change agents to examine and address the problems where technology, business innovation, and smart policy can be leveraged to bring about real and lasting change.”[iv] MIT President, Rafael Reif, proclaims, “We will do more than talk about the greatest problems facing our world. We will set the course to solve them.[v]

A third approach to arriving at answers is outlined by Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin: “A great problem-solver is usually open to new ideas, innately curious and good at working with others.”[vi] Having started his ambitious venture with minimal experience in building a company, Branson developed phenomenal listening skills, which he insists are absolutely essential for effective problem-solving. In fact, he attributes much of the company’s initial progress to that factor: “One of the reasons my friends and I were successful early on was because we always asked a lot of questions. I was willing to listen to anyone who could help, and over the years many people volunteered their advice.”[vii]

In each of these examples, the doors of innovation were opened wide by building channels of communication that led to collaboration in solving problems bigger than any one person or organization is able to handle alone. There is across-the-board recognition that the greatest promise in tackling serious problems lies in diversified collaboration and shared responsibility. In order to implement the most effective solutions, leaders must continually challenge themselves to depend in greater degree on the strengths and contributions of others. They must believe in the power of teamwork over individualism. They must realize that the world’s gravest problems will not be solved in siloes.

There is a wide variety of tools and thought-exercises available to help ignite the collaborative problem-solving process. But before gathering in the boardroom or putting pen to paper, we must consciously choose to be a part of the solution. It begins with cultivating a trust in and a respect for every person involved, regardless of individual differences. Because when it comes to problem-solving, diversifying the team always multiplies the potential for breakthrough solutions.

  • What expertise do you bring to problem solving within your organization?
  • In what areas do you seek advice or support?
  • What assumptions or personal biases should you leave at the door?
  • How do you leverage individuals’ strengths to approach problem solving collaboratively?

Taking ownership of our potential to influence problem solving is crucial. By heightening our own self-awareness and inviting others to do the same, we create bridges instead of walls. Diverse perspectives and ideas expand the repertoire of possibilities that enable impactful solutions. It brings us to the starting line and prepares us to engage the most difficult problems by employing the full spectrum of insights from all kinds of minds.


[ii] Ibid.


[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.


[vii] Ibid.

personal accountabiltiy

It is clear that in today’s fast paced and economically challenged environment; the competency of personal accountability is certainly one of the top attributes a successful leader must bring to the workplace.  Those who are personally accountable experience a much sweeter success whether it’s in the marketplace, community, or family. The modeling of personal accountability trickles down, and people tend to catch it through example.  This results in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Personal accountability centers on the internal willingness to take responsibility for solutions.  Accountable people solve problems without getting discouraged, even after some initial failed attempts.  On the other hand, a person with poorly developed personal accountability will make excuses, project blame, and focus on what is wrong. Put simply, the difference between these levels of accountability can be framed into two categories: leader and victim.

leader and victim

A successful leader understands it takes commitment and persistence for teams and organizations to grow and succeed. They accept responsibility for their actions even in messy or challenging circumstances.  They seek long-term solutions that culminate in sustained commitment to the values and objectives of the business.  Accountable leaders also view mistakes as a learning opportunity and use them as a springboard for moving forward.

One of the most memorable examples of personal accountability is arguably the Johnson and Johnson case. Led by their mission and values system, J & J did not hesitate to implement a total product recall back in 1982 when it was determined their Tylenol product was being tampered with. The result was not only the innovative tamper-resistant packaging, but a growing favor from the public.  A potentially disastrous situation ultimately became a marketing opportunity.

Other examples include Nordstrom’s long standing tradition of accountability which includes a representative taking back a set of tires from a frustrated customer (Nordstrom does not sell tires), as well as Whole Foods’ commitment to being accountable to our world by purchasing power from wind mill farms and their unprecedented organic criterion they sustain with their products.  The clear upholding of their mission and values, regardless of hurdles and obstacles, puts these companies in a category unmatched by most.

People and teams flourish within organizations that consistently do the right thing.  This inspires all of us to own solutions, regardless of what stands in our way. The challenge for 21st century leaders is to stay positive, be courageous, seek solutions, and learn from mistakes.

To help you evaluate your own level of personal accountability, ask yourself these fundamental questions:

  • Am I asking questions to find solutions (or to assess fault)?
  • Am I committed to persistence and success, regardless of the obstacles ahead?
  • Can I admit my mistakes and move past them?
  • Do I create an environment where failures create learning opportunities?
  • What can I do to help other’s generate energy to solve core issues?

Personal accountability is critical to success in your organization, career and life!  All of us seek out others who we can rely on and trust to come through for us, even though tough obstacles arise.  Personal accountability boils down to doing what we said we would do – regardless of the cost.  It does not mean that everything will run smoothly or even be delivered on time.  Remember, it is often the most difficult trials handled well that provide the most learning and, as in the case of Johnson and Johnson, deepen levels of loyalty and trust from those we care about and serve.

Navigating life successfully requires facing difficulty with authenticity. We often grow the most during times of trial and tribulation. Hardship builds muscles of compassion, empathy, intentionality, persistence, will, endurance and faith. These strengths enable us to climb the mountain of life successfully – in both good times and bad.

Having acknowledged that reality, let’s look at the other side of the coin.  Gratitude is the antibody in the face of disappointment!  As Oprah states, gratitude looks toward what we have, rather than what we don’t have.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

Many people face hardships and still manage to stay positive.  They intentionally focus on the good, rather than resenting their current situation.  Although at times life seems difficult, what we focus on gets transcribed upon our heart and flows like a river out into the world.

Out of heart flows the wellspring of life.  (Proverbs 4:23)

Commit to nurturing a grateful heart as we prepare for a new year.  One tool that can help you move in that direction is a gratitude journal.  Begin each day recording at least 5 items that you appreciate that morning.  It is amazing what recording your thanks and gratitude can do to improve your perspective on life.  Taking stock of the good things in our life helps us to put the trials into perspective.  Hardships don’t define us; we define them by how we decide to respond.


“If serving is below you leadership is beyond you.”  – Anonymous

There are two kinds of leadership: power and service-oriented. Lead by authority, or lead by example.

The world has seen leadership by authority for centuries. We now know that leadership by example is much more powerful and effective. To be on the cutting edge of leadership, we need to embrace service-oriented leadership.

How do the two models differ? Leadership will always maintain its element of authority, but the defining difference is in how that authority is used.

Power leadership sees people as a resource that can be used for any purpose, by any means, for the sake of accomplishing the goals. Service-oriented leadership recognizes that the people within our corporations are part of the goals, and thus leads them in such a way that raises them to their full potential. A power-based leadership structure will always create an environment of drone workers who punch the clock, do their job, and go home to their real life. But a service leadership structure will create a culture of leaders at every level who are engaged and who actively contribute to the success of the whole.

There are many wonderful examples of service leaders just in the past century or so, including such people as Martin Luther King Jr., John Wooden, John Maxwell, Cathy Truett, and many more. One of the most notable examples, Nelson Mandela, said, “A leader…is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”[i]

Each of these leaders has stories that validate the power of the service-leadership they lived. But it’s especially worthwhile to note that King and Mandela used service leadership to reform oppressive, authoritarian systems. If power leadership was more effective or powerful, then neither King nor Mandela would have succeeded.

We might ask, if service-oriented leadership is so much better, why has it taken so long to be taught? The reason is that it’s harder. In particular, service leadership requires sacrifice. It’s about putting self aside for the betterment of another person and the overall mission of the organization. The military, top-performing athletic teams, and the most influential leaders of all time deploy this principle. But, truthfully it’s easier to be selfish. In fact, it is nearly impossible to yield self-interest in service unless a common cause or mission becomes more important to us than the self-interest we’re naturally born with. If we are going to work harder at leadership, we need to understand the benefit we’ll receive for the effort.

There is a deeper reason service leadership has been slow to be embraced. After all, entrepreneurs and executives didn’t become what they are by taking the easy road. Also, if it just comes down to setting aside our egos, then we really just need to understand the preponderance of evidence proving superiority of the service culture.

Why then would it continue to be difficult to set ego aside? The answer may be that our ego is not really about taking pride in our work or making a difference in our communities. Instead ego thrives on the control we have over other people, and the power we feel from our exalted position. Taking this one step further, if our identity is rooted in performance-orientation, we risk feeding an ego need to exert authority and make ourselves look good. This approach fears failure above all else and is intimidated by others’ successes.

A service-oriented approach is rooted in possibilities and the best interest of others. It bears failure as a steppingstone to success and can celebrate and encourage the successes of others, knowing that the success of one individual provides increased strength to the whole.

True service is looking out for the benefit of each other and the customer. 


Darwin Smith

Not many people know about Darwin Smith, and that’s the point. He began as a simple in-house lawyer for Kimberly-Clark, but the future dramatically changed for both him and the company one day in 1971 when he was chosen to be the next CEO and chairman of the board.

He operated in that role for the next 20 years until retiring in 1991, and is known for saying of his position, “I was just trying to become qualified for the job.” He was more than qualified for it by taking a company that over 20 years had fallen 36 percent behind the general market in stock performance, and transforming it so that it performed 4.1 times greater than the general market.[ii] He led the organization in making bold moves to divest its ownership of several paper mills and focus on strengthening the technology of its products. This paid off dramatically in causing Kimberly-Clark brands such as Kleenex and Huggies to gain No. 1 rankings in market share, elevating the company above its rivals Scott Paper and Procter & Gamble.

Despite all his successes, Smith continually passed credit on to the employees, the managers, his predecessors, and the customers. He led the way in developing continuing education and health programs for his employees. He established a culture of service that looks to hire people who want to make a difference in the world, not just for themselves.

Today, two decades after his death, Kimberly-Clark prides itself on serving one billion people worldwide— all because its CEO believed service was the company’s No. 1 goal.



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