Tag Archives: problem solving

Why the Manufacturing Industry Needs Diversity

Why the Manufacturing Industry Needs Diversity

I’ve worked in many male dominated industries, from being an innovation keynote speaker to being an inventor to being a manufacturer. Quite often I’m the only woman in the room, but I’ve never felt left out of the conversation. Most men I’ve worked with welcome a fresh perspective they haven’t thought of and are more than willing to answer questions. This is especially true when hanging out with a group of inventors, who will look for an answer wherever they can find it, and for as long as it takes to find it. Inventors are innovators and problem solvers.


I was proud to be included in a recent article on women manufacturers with the CEOs of General Motors, Lockheed Martin and Siemens. They are incredible role models for other women who might be thinking about going into the business or don’t even know that’s possible for them.


Even though women make up about half of all US jobs, they only make up 29% of manufacturing jobs. One of the reasons is that it’s not a career that many women even know is open to them, and the manufacturing industry in general hasn’t started courting women to work in manufacturing like they have been doing with women engineers. 


As the keynote speaker for engineering conferences, I learned that for many years the industry was not only not open to women engineers, it was an openly hostile environment for them. That is changing. Now women engineers are being courted aggressively by major corporations as early as high school and college.


Studies have shown that organizations that have a team of people with different industry backgrounds, different social and economic backgrounds, genders, cultures, attitudes, and belief systems tend to innovate faster and more efficiently. 


Failure to create highly diversified teams often results in GroupThink, a psychological phenomenon where the need for group harmony outweighs rational decision-making and stunts innovation. Studies in science labs have proven that the lab teams with the most diversity in all areas created the most innovative projects, and exhausted all possibilities in problem solving


A recent Harvard Business Review article states “By breaking up workplace homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases — entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.”


Diverse leaders create a more innovative workplace where creativity and innovation are not only okay, but encouraged. This leads to a more innovative company with more disruptive ideas that help them with sustainable competitive advantage. When employees feel comfortable speaking up, they are more likely to share their ideas.


I’ve been told by some of the women engineers I spoke to that they didn’t feel comfortable sharing ideas when they were the only women in the room. And that’s a shame because women have so much to contribute to the conversation. That conversation needs a more diverse set of ideas from people with different genders, backgrounds, races, education, and ways of thinking.


One way to get more women involved in manufacturing is by first letting women know that it’s a viable career path. This is the same problem we have as women inventors.


I’m glad there is starting to be more information out there about women in the manufacturing industry. Now if they would just start courting women like they do for engineers, things might start to change.



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Innovation in Education

Innovation in Education

Years ago I was invited to a private screening of “Waiting for Superman” where teachers in the audience were free to express their true feelings. This was before I started speaking on innovation in education. What I learned from the teachers in the audience is still a problem now that I hear from teachers and administrators. Innovation is a buzz word that’s thrown around, but rarely implemented. 


It’s not that unusual. I hear it in the corporate world too. What I hear from teachers and employees is that bureaucracy makes creativity and innovation almost impossible. Creativity doesn’t fit neatly into a box that always has a definitive outcome. And failure isn’t a positive trait in that industry. As I found out when I got all A’s except an F in math.


But there are schools out there that are embracing creativity and innovation and outperforming the competition. One such school was the Rialto school district in CA. I was hired as their innovation keynote speaker for their school district business conference. Employees were encouraged to get out of their comfort zone and be willing to fail in order to generate new business ideas using improv and creativity games. 


Innovation starts at the top, and if education leaders want to get new, fresh ideas from their employees, they have to be open to them having some bad ideas along with the good. The more ideas you have, the better the chance of getting a good one.


Here are 3 schools that are implementing innovation in education:


Carpe Diem Schools: The Carpe Diem classroom is designed like an office setting, with students learning from their computer in a cubicle. Part of the day is spent doing online work, but at their own pace. If a student is blazing ahead of the rest of the class, they aren’t held back, but are put into the next grade level of work. An example is that a student may be in 6th grade math, 7th grade English, and 8th grade history. Where they’re falling behind they can get more help from the teacher to catch up, and actually graduate early if they want to. The kids have said that it’s incentive to work harder and ask for help where they need it.


Clintondale High School: Clintondale High School has one of the most innovative ideas I’ve heard in education innovation. It’s an example of not falling into the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mode. So, the typical way of doing homework has always been that the teacher gives a lecture at school and then gives the students homework to take home. The problem is that many students who need help with homework may not have parents there who could help them. Also, one of the main things kids hate about school is the homework. So, Clintondale decided to flip things around. They do the homework at school where they have access to the teacher if they need help. And then watch the lecture at home online. This has reduce the failure rate in English by 33%, reduced the failure rate in math by 31%, and reduced the failure rate in science by 22%. This is a brilliant example of why you should always look at things from another angle. 


The Steve Jobs School: The Steve Jobs School is self-guided instead of having everyone learn at the same pace. Rather than feeding the students knowledge, teachers, who are called coaches, actually coach the students instead. Parents and coaches meet every six weeks. The lessons take place on an iPad and technology, math, science and engineering are taught alongside creativity and problem solving.


Waldorf School of the Peninsula: The most interesting school on the list is one that is innovative because it uses the techniques of the past. You would think the tech giants in Silicon Valley would send their kids to the most tech savvy school, but most of them actually fork over a huge amount to send their own kids to a school that doesn’t allow technology. No computers, tablets or smart phones are allowed. Subjects are taught using creativity, arts, games, and exploration – use knitting to teach math, and games to teach language. Topics like resilience, problem solving and social and emotional intelligence are favored over rote learning. They equip students with the skills to navigate a fast-changing future.


The future of education will be more diverse and personalized. The more choices students have, the more innovative education will become. Parents will always want the best education possible for their kids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more money. It does mean thinking outside the box for a better way to learn.

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Creativity and Problem Solving Through Low Tech

Creativity and Problem Solving Through Low Tech

As technology takes over more of our lives, there is one skill a machine just cannot compete with…creativity. According to The World Economic Forum’s recently released report, The Future of Jobs, that skill has moved from 10th place in 2015 to #3 in 2020. This is based on information supplied by leading international organizations. They surveyed executives from more than 350 employers in nine different industries.


The top skill on the list now and the one that will be needed in the future is complex problem solving, followed by critical thinking. Both of these require creativity.



Top 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in 2020
future of jobs













When most people think of innovation, they tend to think of high tech first. The basis of innovation is creativity. Some of the biggest moguls in high tech know the value of creativity and problem solving. This is why smart high tech executives send their kids to schools like the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, where kids learn math through knitting, and language through game playing.


When the Waldorf School says they are “old school”, they really mean it. Classrooms have blackboards with chalk, wooden desks with hard copy workbooks and pencils, and book shelves with encyclopedias. Computers, iPads, and iPhones are also frowned upon at home.


A Princeton University psychology department’s research study proved that taking notes with a pen and paper as opposed to typing on a laptop, led to better problem solving skills. The conceptual thinking and note taking study was conducted by psychological scientist and author Pam Mueller and involved 65 college students. Some of them took notes from a TED talk in a laptop and some took notes in long-hand in a notebook with pen and paper.


They were then quizzed on what they learned through both fact recall and conceptual thinking types of questions. They both performed well when it came to the fact recall type of questions, but the ones that used good ole’ fashioned pen and paper out shined the laptop note takers when it came to conceptual questions. It seems that the pen and paper note takers were more likely to remember the conceptual information, even when questioned a week later.


Reading regular hard copy books is also better for problem solving. A 2005 survey at San Jose University by Ziming Liu, found that people were more likely to take shortcuts when they read books on an iPad.


Writing out a hand-drawn mind map is also a good way to look at problem solving. I’ve always liked seeing things spread out where I can see them. That way it makes it easier to see the big picture all at once, which helps your brain form new associations.


Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both limited the amount of technology they would allow their own kids to use. Bill Gates’ kids weren’t allowed to have cell phones until they turned 14. The average age now is 10.


Fractions at the Waldorf School are taught by cutting up apples or pieces of cake into quarters and halves. Learning this way engages both the body and the brain. Findings from a research study in the Netherlands shows that children learn more by engaging the body and the brain at the same time, or kinesthetic-tactile learning.


Brightworks schools base their learning on creativity, and encourage students to follow their curiosity about the world around them. Teachers are called collaborators and classrooms have students of different ages.


I’ve always hired employees on the basis of their problem solving abilities, creativity, and curiosity. These are employees you don’t have to hand-hold, who will find new opportunities for your organization.


CareerBuilder.com gives advice on how to demonstrate your problem solving abilities:


When you’re demonstrating your problem-solving skills on a resume, you should concisely note how you identified the problem, developed a solution, and implemented this strategy.


Some examples of strong problem-solving statements include:

  1. Reduced safety violations 30 percent by installing strategically placed railings on the production floor
  2. Increased customer satisfaction ratings 20 percent by developing new scripts to address common questions
  3. Cut shipping expenses by 10 percent quarterly with customized software solutions


As someone who is a creative, natural-born problem solver, I’m always surprised that it’s not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. But luckily it’s a skill that can be taught. And a very valuable skill to have in your back pocket.










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Creativity and Problem Solving Top Job Skills for the Future

Creativity and Problem Solving Top Job Skills for the Future

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report”, creativity and problem solving are listed in the top three skills that employees will need by 2020. Critical problem solving is one of the most important attributes that employers look for in a new hire because no organization is without problems, and every industry will eventually be disrupted.


I deliver a keynote speech called “Turning Your Employees Into Problem Solvers“, which I’ve given to hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, scientists, engineers, etc. A company’s biggest line expense is payroll, so why not hire the most creative problem solvers possible? As a small business owner, I’ve always hired creative people who have curiosity and enthusiasm. I like having the trust in my employees that they will find a better, more efficient way of doing something that I haven’t found.


In this highly competitive world, having creative problem solvers working for you means seeing things from another angle. This is why brainstorming with a group of people is better than figuring everything out on your own. There is always something you’ll miss. Creative problem solvers are great at finding new opportunities for your organization.


Most companies say they would like to be more innovative, and innovation starts with creativity. If you hire creative employees you’re already ahead of the game. Amy’s Ice Cream in Texas has one of the most creative hiring practices I’ve seen. Here is their job description:


“Pick up a white paper bag. We ask that you take the bag home and bring back something creative. We would like you to express your artistic and creative side through this bag! Decorate it, make it into an object, write an original song on it, fill it with amazing things…the possibilities are endless! Most importantly, have fun and take your time. Show us who you are through the paper bag. It does not have to be artistically brilliant, just creative.”


This has proven to work well for Amy’s. One of their annual events, the Trick Olympics, was started after her employees began doing tricks with the ice cream like throwing it up in the air and catching it behind their back. Now the Trick Olympics is held every year and donates a portion of the profits to a local charity.


One way to hire creative employees is to give them problems to solve when they come in for their first interview. How they react under pressure and how creative they are at solving problems then will give you a good idea of how they will solve problems when they’re working for you.


Once you have your employees, create an environment for them to be creative and trust that they will find the best solution. If they’re not being micromanaged and have a creative environment, they will usually rise to the occasion and surprise you.




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Are You a Genius?

Are You a Genius?

What do you think of when you hear the word genius? If you’re like most people, you think that person probably has a high IQ. But IQ test scores only measure problem solving and reasoning. It doesn’t measure creativity, and it doesn’t account for savants.


It’s been reported that artist Andy Warhol had an IQ of only 86. And the real life Rainman, Kim Peeks, had an IQ that is well below average, yet he was able to read two pages at once (one with his left eye and one with his right) and could remember every piece of music he’d ever heard.


Stephen Wiltshire was a mute, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old and sent away to a school for children with special needs. Unable to speak, he was able to communicate on paper through drawings. Finally by the age of nine he spoke his first word, “paper”.


His drawings of landscapes got progressively better, and now he is able to draw a detailed landscape of a city after seeing it only once. After a brief helicopter ride over Tokyo, he drew a detailed and accurate picture of the city.


Psychiatrist Darold Treffert, who specializes in savant syndrome, believes that Wiltshire is able to tap into excess reserves of creativity through unique wiring between the left and right brain.


The study, “The Corpus Callosum of Albert Einstein’s Brain: Another Clue to His High Intelligence”, which was published in the journal Brain, showed that the genius’ left and right brain hemispheres were unusually connected.


Studies have shown that the more different parts of the brain interact and connect with each other, the more likely it will be that that person has a higher IQ and is more creative. This makes perfect sense, since people who are classified as geniuses, in IQ or creativity, usually have a wide variety of interests and are more curious.


Members of Mensa, also known as the “high IQ organization”, also have a wide variety of interests, in subjects like literature, science, language and the arts. The qualification for membership is that you must score in the top 2% of the population on their standardized intelligence test. There are more than 100,000 members worldwide and range in age from 2 to 102. (yes, there is a 2 year old mensa member!)


Even a society like Mensa doesn’t claim to represent true genius, which is the merging of intelligence, creativity, and outstanding achievement. True geniuses have an incredible ability to focus on a task with blinders on. They will explore all angles and cast a wide net to solve a problem. A genius knows they may have to fail a lot over and over again in order to find the right answer. Their intensity and passion for a topic or a project keep them energized and constantly searching for answers.


But just having a high IQ isn’t an indicator of success. University of Michigan Professor of Psychology, Richard Nesbitt, thinks that curiosity is a better indicator. Also, being flexible, open minded, and having a tolerance for chaos and change helps.


Charles Darwin’s cousin Sir Francis Galton had a very high IQ. Much higher than Darwin’s. Galton had a great career as a scientist, but unlike Darwin, he never went on to master any of the fields he went into.


Darwin, on the other hand, focused on one passion and pursued it with vigor. He loved collecting biological specimens, and it became his life’s work. He was able to endure all of the hard work and learning because it wasn’t work to him. This is common among many people who dedicate their lives to something they want to master, until they rise to the top of their field.


Another genius, Leonardo di Vinci, was an extremely skilled painter, inventor, artist, scientist, engineer, architect, cartographer, anatomist, botanist and writer. He wasn’t just someone who dabbled in all of those fields, he actually mastered them all. Even if he had only painted The Mona Lisa and Last Supper, he still would have been a genius.


Da Vinci grew up poor and had no formal training. This may have been a blessing because he was left to his own devices and didn’t have to rely on what the scholars said. He was self taught and studied what he found interesting. He observed the world around him, and spent a lot of time outdoors studying nature, keeping detailed notes of everything. He called himself a “disciple of experience” because he learned about life by observing it and experiencing it.


He came up with theories and constantly tested them, using scientific method before it was invented. He was a creative genius who never wanted to copy anything someone else had done. As an inventor he came up with unique ideas like the anemometer (an instrument for measuring the speed of wind), a revolving bridge, which could quickly be packed up and moved, and scuba gear.


Like most creative geniuses, he would work on multiple projects at the same time, or what psychologists call “diffused attention”. Creative geniuses tend to have a variety of interests and are easily bored.


Sir Francis Galton was the first to put together a study on whether people inherit their genius or not. In his book “Hereditary Genius”, he argued that genius is something you are born with. But that argument has been challenged, most recently with Malcolm Gladwell, who says that genius is a product of years of hard work, dedication and practice.


Philosophers have wondered for centuries whether genius is born or made. Though a person may be born with some of the traits of genius, true genius requires an enormous amount of study and hard work to excel in an industry and reach the pinnacle. Geniuses are also able to come up with ideas no one else has ever thought of. So, it’s not just having the skill, but also coming up with innovative ideas.


This is why I believe creativity is something you have to work hard at to master. If you’re born with incredible genius genes, great. If not, there’s still hope if you really want to master something and rise to the level of genius.




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