Chris Grivas and Gerard J. Pucchio: An interview by Bob Morris

As principal of Chris Grivas Consulting, a global consultancy headquartered in Seattle, Chris Grivas focuses on increasing the creative capacity of individuals, teams, and organizations. An organizational and leadership development professional, he customizes approaches to development for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. As an executive coach, Chris helps his clients identify issues and strategies to optimize their performance in immediate situations and over the long term. Chris helps teams come together, solve problems, and position themselves for future success.  On an organizational level, he consults with leaders on how to intentionally design their organizational culture to produce the results and behaviors they desire.

Chris has designed and delivered courses in creative process for corporate, academic, and non-profit settings, as well as facilitated strategic vision and strategic planning sessions, new product development, process improvement, team building and executive coaching for numerous organizations worldwide. He has taught and lectured at the University of Washington, Northwestern University, New York University’s Stern School of Business, and presented at numerous industry conferences.Gerard Puccio, Ph.D., is Department Chair and Professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State, a unique academic department that offers the world’s only master of science degree in creativity. Gerard has written more than 40 articles, chapters and books. One book, co-authored with his colleagues Mary Murdock and Marie Mance, is titled Creative Leadership: Skills that Drive Change. In recognition of his outstanding work as a scholar, Gerard received the State University of New York Chancellor’s Recognition Award for Research Excellence and the President’s Medal for Scholarship and Creativity. He is the co-author with Chris of The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results, published by Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012).

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Morris: Before discussing The Innovative Team, a few general questions. First, years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.Grivas:  After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Humanities, I knew I wanted to go graduate school and was exploring different avenues.  At the time I was working in a very repetitive high-tech operational job working mainly with folks whose academic careers concluded with high school diplomas.  They worked weekends for the overtime pay.  The work itself held no interest for them. One man said that he had worked so many weekends he barely knew his high-school aged son.  This got me thinking about why people would choose this lifestyle and what would inspire them to find something more fulfilling.  While talking it over with professors, friends, and family, someone finally said, “I think it’s about their creativity.  If they would think creatively, they would see more possibilities and options than they do now.”That was it.  I knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to learn how to help people understand and use their creativity to improve their lives and their organizations.  That led to a Master of Science in Creativity and Innovation from Buffalo State College and a career in organizational development.Morris:To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?Puccio:  I would not be in the field of creativity studies if it were not for an experience I had in community college. I had transferred to Jamestown Community College in New York State principally to join the wrestling team. What I did not expect was that I would fall in love with the topics of creativity and leadership. I took my first formal course in creativity studies at JCC. This was a major turning point in my life. In this course I learned how to better utilize my creative thinking and as a result I became a better problem solver, a more confident person, and expanded my leadership potential. Ever since that early experience I have been dedicated to helping others transform themselves by tapping into their own creative potential.Grivas:  The program at Buffalo State introduced me to research concepts, a variety of theories about creativity, aspects of psychology, sociology, facilitation and educational frameworks and techniques, as well as introducing me to a wonderful community of people with the same mission – to improve people’s lives by enriching their creativity.  Moving from that community into the larger world of organizational development, I was able to bring to organizations a fairly unique perspective on doing the work of OD.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people

Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Grivas:  This is a great quote that encapsulates much of the recent thinking on leadership and organizational change.  When people own the change, it is exponentially more likely to succeed.  It’s the leader’s job to know his or her people well, understand how they think, and then create the conditions for these particular individuals to excel.  One of the goals of “The Innovative Team” was to provide an example of such a leader in story form so people can visualize how this idea can work in practice.
Morris:And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Puccio:  Reflected in this quote is one of the main principles of our book. That is, how to understand your own creativity and how to leverage this awareness for personal and professional success. People often undermine their own creativity by looking around and comparing themselves to others. Making conclusions like, “I’m not Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, William Shakespeare, Meryl Streep, Georgia O’Keefe, etc.”One of the main aims of our book is to democratize creativity, i.e., to help the reader recognize that there are many forms of creativity and that all of us can engage in the creative thinking process. All humans can think creatively, but we don’t necessarily think in the same way. This can be thought of as another kind of diversity, the kind of diversity that lies below the skin – a psychological diversity. Awareness of this helps people to better accept how they will create, and therefore reduce self-judgment, and will also develop appreciation for others who are different. The four styles of creativity that we discuss in the book are Clarifiers, Ideators, Developers and Implementers. All play an important role in the creativity process. The goal is to understand yourself and to learn how to play better with others.
Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Puccio:  One of the subplots in our book is how the new manager engages in a creative leadership style that as a result taps into the latent potential of the work group. By creative leadership we mean a person who applies his or her imagination to guide a group towards a novel and meaningful goal – a breakthrough. The world has become more complex and as such a single individual working alone cannot solve these wicked problems. In light of this, much of the current literature and research on leadership clearly shows that leaders, when faced with complex problems, must be effective at drawing ideas out of others.

I’ll give you an example.  I run an experiment in my graduate courses and corporate training programs in which I put participants in three different teams. Each team selects a leader and then I assign leadership role to that leader. I tell the groups that are conducting an experiment to examine how leadership style influences decision-making. The leadership styles assigned are autocratic, democratic and creative. I define the behaviors associated with these three leadership styles and then I give the groups a case, fraught with ambiguity, and then a series of 15 multiple choice questions about the case. More than 90% of the time, the autocratic groups reach their conclusions the fastest but have most incorrect answers. The groups working under the creative leader, someone who guides the group, almost always takes the longest to reach their decisions, but almost always has the highest number of correct answers (and the democratic groups general fall in between these two extremes). I think this experiential exercise highlights the essence of your quote.  It is this kind of leadership that is modeled in our book.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should  we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Grivas:  In our highly competitive marketplaces, we often make the mistake of thinking that short-term successes take priority over long-term success.  After all, it’s easier to justify one’s position by consistently showing immediate value-add.  Innovative companies work at changing this mindset through both process improvement methodologies and a focus on leadership behaviors and organizational dynamics. While “test-fail-fix-retest” is becoming more standard practice for those organizations applying Lean Six-Sigma, for instance, that alone will not always produce innovative results. Leaders also need to recognize the positive progress made through “failing well”  – learning and improving from mistakes.  Once it becomes accepted that learning from mistakes is valued organizationally, the climate will become more open to risk-taking and play – two of the key ingredients for fostering an environment of innovation.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Grivas: People have to feel a strong need to change to make change happen. It helps if the leader shakes things up by creating conditions that do not allow the old comfortable ways to continue.   Ask yourself, what in the environment is enabling the status quo?  This may be the key to create the discontent needed to bring about a change.  Our leader in The Innovative Team does this at outset of the story by letting her team sit with some pretty negative feedback from their client in order to get them to see they have to find a new approach.  Also, going back to the Lao-Tzu quote discussed earlier, a change will more likely be adopted and accepted if it comes from and is brought about the people themselves.  Ownership of both the situation and the fix will speed a successful implementation along quite well.

Morris: In recent years, there has been criticism, sometimes severe criticism of M.B.A. programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, in which area is there the great need for immediate improvement? Any suggestions?

Puccio: There has been much discussion about this issue. One of the best sources to on this topic is a book published by Harvard Business Press called Rethinking the MBA. The book provides a lot of solid advice, and like many other sources, one of the main recommendations is to give greater attention to developing creative thinking and innovation skills. Business schools tend to focus on analysis, critical thinking and rational decision-making models. These are great skills, but again in a complex world fraught with change, there is call to also include such skills as flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, originality, and the like. And these are skills that we know can be taught through creativity courses and curriculum.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between creativity and innovation?

Puccio: Simply put, you don’t get innovation without creativity. Creative ideas and breakthroughs must occur first before innovation can happen. Without electricity there is no light.  With this in mind, creativity is typically defined as the willingness to apply imagination to produce ideas that are novel and useful. Innovation is the adoption or commercialization of new and useful ideas. So, creativity begets innovation. And there is good research that shows that organizations that employ creativity mechanisms are also recognized as being significantly more creative.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Innovative Team. When and why did you decide to write it and do so in collaboration?

Grivas: Our goal of writing The Innovative Team was to bring to the popular business press a taste of some of the 40-plus years of application-oriented research collected and produced by academia, specifically by the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College.  Research has shown us a lot about how creativity works, of which the general public is largely unaware.  We particularly wanted to get the word out that research shows that creativity can be taught and improved both individually and in group cultures to build healthy, competitive, creative organizations. Our book focuses on what researchers call the universal creative process – the process we all naturally go through when solving problems.

That process begins with Clarifying the Situation – looking at the situation from many different perspectives, gathering a lot of information, and focusing on the most potentially fruitful direction to head.  Next, we Generate Ideas – welcoming lots of options – and then select the best ones that tackle the situation and hand.  Then we Develop Solutions, – take those rough ideas, break them and fix them, polishing them till they shine.  Finally, we Implement – we lay the groundwork for change, and turn those ideas into reality.

We now know that people have unique preferences within the process in how they apply their creative thinking.  Thanks to the research and theories of my co-author, we also now have a way to assess those thinking patterns and mindfully apply that knowledge while working together called FourSight – a terrific assessment tool.

Our relationship began when I was a student of Gerard’s back in the 1990’s.  Since then we have collaborated on research papers and conference presentations.  This book is the latest result of that relationship

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Grivas:  As the lead author, I wrote the first draft.  My own FourSight scores showed that I did not have a preference for the developing phase.  Looking at that initial draft, I realized I had skipped that part of the process altogether.  It wasn’t even there.  That was a big “aha.”  When you don’t intentionally follow the process, you skip stuff, you miss stuff, and ultimately you don’t create the best end result.

Morris: What specifically is the FourSight methodology and what differentiates it from other creative thinking methodologies?

Puccio: Chris provided an excellent description of the FourSight methodology earlier. Often creative thinking methodologies focus almost exclusively on idea generation. As you can see from the FourSight approach this is only one-step in the process. Another chief distinction is the fact that the FourSight methodology makes a clear link between the person and the process. That is, we recognize that all people naturally engage in creative thinking. We all clarify, ideate, develop and implement – this is natural. And what is also natural is that people have different degrees of preference or energy, if you will, for these four forms of thinking. So we not only teach people a deliberate creative methodology, but we also help them to see how they naturally fit into this methodology.

Morris: You identify and discuss several quite different creative thinking preference types. What are the defining characteristics of each? Let’s begin with Clarifiers.

Grivas: It should also be mentioned that most people are a combination of these types, but I’ll describe them each here briefly so you can get a flavor for each.  Clarifiers tend to be focused and orderly. They are organized, deliberate, and tend to ask a lot of questions.  For them to be effective they need the facts, access to information, and permission to ask questions.  They may have a tendency to not want to more forward because the picture they are forming is never as complete as they would like.

Morris: IdeatorsGrivas: Ideators tend to be playful and imaginative. They are comfortable with ambiguity and love to generate options, data, or new ways of looking at things.  They are happy being divergent and often need a sense of the big picture rather than all the minute facts. They may also have trouble converging on the one idea or two that they should focus or not sticking to one idea throughout the process.Morris: Developers Grivas: Developers tend to be reflective, careful, and pragmatic.  They need time to evaluate and consider possible options; time to get to know new ideas and permission to tinker with them.  Developers like to put their energy into taking an interesting concept and working out how to make it into a great solution.  They may have a tendency to get stuck by seeking to make things too perfect.Morris: ImplementersGrivas: Implementers are persistent, decisive, and determined.  They are action-oriented and need to feel they are making progress.  They may have a tendency to be too aggressive or pushy in their haste to get something done.

Morris: Integrators

Grivas: Integrators are those people who are comfortable with all four parts of the process, with no clear preference for one over the other. They tend to be steady, flexible, team players, who can be stabilizing influences on a team.  They need to feel collaboration and belonging from their teammates. Because of this they may become peacemakers on teams and as a consequence lose their own voice to accommodate others.

Morris: Why do you focus primarily on the benefits of FourSight for a team?
Grivas: Understanding yourself better is always kind of fun and interesting. Where we have found the biggest revelations, however, is in the collective understanding a group can come to by seeing how their different thinking preferences play out in their team interactions.  We’ve had groups fundamentally change the way they interact based on discovering their group results.  Central to creating an innovative organization is both awareness of process and awareness of each other, in other words how you work together.  FourSight is a means to building that understanding quickly and relatively painlessly.  It’s elegant, easy to understand and internalize, and application oriented.
Morris: Here’s one of several dozen observations that caught my eye. “Everyone strives to be innovative but few succeed. Why? The reality is that organizations have a hard time being innovative without awareness of how they use [and abuse] their creative resources. How to gain that awareness?
Grivas:  It has been my experience in the business world that we are so focused on results we often neglect to reflect on how we do things.  Reflection time is not openly valued or promoted in most organizations, yet it is through reflecting on how one does things – what worked and what could be better, we learn to do things differently.  We know that organizations that are aware of the creative process can more deliberately apply it.Our book is a good starting point for gaining that awareness.  Also, FourSight can help a team understand why in functions the way it does since it looks at how the members of the team think while doing the work of problem solving.  With this framework in mind, and intentional reflection, any team can transform itself from stagnant or dysfunctional to dynamic and innovative.

Morris: Please explain why you decided to begin your book (Part 1, “The Story”) with a fictional business narrative, albeit one anchored in the real world, with a cast of characters, dialogue, conflicts, plot developments, climax, etc.

Grivas:  For millennia, people have learned easily by listening to stories.  Stories help put abstract ideas into a real world context making them more easily to grasp and internalize.  Our goal was to create characters people would recognize from their own lives and use them to explain how creative thinking styles are different and how they interact with each other. It’s our hope people will find this both entertaining and insightful.

Morris: Let’s examine Part 2 (Chapters 17-23) in which you focus on a four-step process. What are the most important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when attempting to complete each step? First, Clarifying the Problem.

Puccio:  There are many recommendations that might be made, but I will limit myself to one key recommendation that that cuts across all four steps of the FourSight process, something that is unique to the creative problem-solving model. One of the most important considerations to remember is to balance off divergent and convergent thinking in each step of the process. Divergence is generating many, varied and original options, whereas convergence is screening, selecting, and supporting the best options. Most individuals and teams are much more comfortable focusing on convergent thinking, which will always end up in stopping original thinking and insights. Whether you are exploring challenges while attempting to clarify a perplexing situation (Clarify), generating ideas to address a problem (Ideate), transforming a good idea into a great solution (Develop), or considering steps that must be taken to advance a bold new action (Implement), effective thinking in each stage requires divergence first followed by convergence.

Morris: Which seems to be the most difficult step for business leaders to complete? Why?

Grivas: In business today, I think there is a bias toward action rather than reflection.  Because of this bias, business leaders find it difficult to follow the entire process.  They may loose patience with it, or not want to give it a try because it’s not what they are used to doing.  That said, we’ve seen the results of intentionally sticking with it.  In fact, IBM did a study that showed that teams whose members understood their FourSight preferences consistently outperformed those who did not.  Having a solid framework and being able to reflect and learn as you engage within that framework are essential for innovation to occur.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read The Innovative Team and is eager to transform his company’s culture into one with those attributes. Where to begin?

Grivas: It starts with the leaders.  It’s their commitment to creating an innovative culture that will guide the behaviors they will need to practice to make that culture materialize.  The CEO would need to gain their commitment, work with the leaders to define what their innovative culture will look like, and then identify not just projects or activities, but the behaviors the leaders will need to consistently demonstrate that will help them create that culture.  Once there is buy-in on how they will behave and hold themselves accountable, then the best work can begin.

Puccio:  Some research has shown that when organizations adopt a common creative problem-solving model and language they achieve higher levels of innovation. In my own impact research, and general training experiences with organizations, has taught me that a common language and framework allows for a shared mindset and promotes accountability. Therefore, I suggest that CEOs consider adopting a deliberate creative process across and throughout their entire organization.

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To read my review of The Innovative Team, please click here.

Chris and Gerard cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

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1 Comment

  1. Sean Warren on December 18, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Interesting article. Similar methodologies have also been successful. I feel one of the main components of any Team Process Improvement methodology is the ease of use and end user buy-in. Both are present here in this article. Very nice!!

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