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One little girl with a red balloon watching 20 balloons drift away

My heart goes out to the families affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

In part 1 of my interview with Tim Attaby we talked about psychology, teaching and whether or not creativity is effective. This time we talk about laughter, the creative force behind many relationships.

To me, one of the biggest signs of creativity is being able to think and to use wit. So, I’ve always kind of felt that you were outwardly creative. We used to skate together, we used to play video games, I remember all of that stuff, but I really remember that we used to laugh and make jokes a lot. That’s one of the things that’s always been important to me in my life, and I think that’s a high sign of creativity which is overlooked quite a bit.

Yeah, I think that’s probably true. I think that it’s funny that you say that, because I actually had the exact same feeling about you. That you were like one of the funniest mother fuckers that I’ve ever known in my life. (laughs) I’m serious. You’re just like absolutely hilarious. I agree, and I think that humor, to try and not get too psychological, brings an ingredient to a relationship that is definitely creative. If you think about it, like if you watch Comedy Central, there are people who make lots and lots of money that I think have zero sense of humor. I just don’t understand it. I just don’t think it’s funny, but they make buttloads of money. So, is that person creative and effective? I guess so, but it’s still relative. As soon as I see Dane Cook on TV, I turn it off, because I can’t stand the guy. (laughs) That’s an example of someone that you can say is creative and effective, but I just don’t understand. I think that humor is something that is very personal. You are either with people who understand your humor or you’re not. I think that’s one of the things that’s a real staple of my marriage. My wife and I have a very similar sense of humor. I think it’s one of the things that I love the most about her. She just makes me laugh. For absolutely no reason, she’ll say some stupid thing, and I’ll just die laughing.

It’s a type of creativity, but it’s also a component to a successful relationship. If you have two people who have two different senses of humor, then that can really make that relationship awkward. It can change the nature of the relationship. It can determine going from acquaintance to an actual relationship. I have people that I respect professionally, but I can’t really have extended conversations with them because I just don’t get them. Their way of laughing and thinking about the world is something that I don’t agree with or I just don’t think it’s all that funny. Like you, one of the things that’s really important to me is to laugh. If I can’t laugh, then there’s something going wrong.

Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your life?

That’s a good question.

I’d probably have to say my main graduate school mentor, who at times I had a very conflictual relationship with. I find myself at least professionally saying things that he said and thinking about things in a way that I thought that he would. I would have to say that professionally it was probably graduate school that changed me. When I came into graduate school I was definitely not what I would consider to be well centered. I wasn’t necessarily insightful. I had a certain level of intellectual curiosity about a lot of different things but as far as being emotionally centered and being able to build strong mutual relationships with people I don’t think I was probably as good at that. I think through school, but a large part of that was probably the therapy I was in as well, I think it helped me.

And to be honest, all of the patients that I’ve worked with as well have been inspirations, as well as learning things. I’ve learned more things about life, how different industries work and learned stuff about different people than I would have ever known had I not been in this business. So, I think that I’ve learned a lot about life through people, working in therapy and learning about things sort of vicariously.

Humor brings an ingredient to a relationship that is definitely creativeI would have to say that it’s a combination of mentors and patients, as far as getting me up until I met my wife and I think that she inspires me in different ways. My wife also being in the business is a blessing and a curse. We’re at this place now to where we can really call each other out without even thinking about it. It’s like what you’d imagine two mental health practitioners do. “Oh, you’re acting like your father right now.” And it’s stuff like that where in some circles it might be seen as an attack, but because it’s so much of what we do, we can say things like that to where it’s like you actually stop and think, “Oh, yeah. You’re right. I am doing that. Aren’t I?” (laughs) So, that’s the blessing part. The curse part is that there’s sometimes that I just don’t want to think about that stuff. Sometimes I don’t want to be told that I’m acting like my mother or acting like my father, but I end up having to look at it anyways.

I think finally it’s kids. (laughs) They make you think about things so differently, and it can be such a painful mirror to have a kid. I’m typically not a morning person. So, waking up early in the morning usually takes about an hour to get into the full swing of things. It’s even something simple like, I’m talking to my son and he asks, “Daddy, why do you have a funny face?” I didn’t even realize that I had a funny face, but I’m scowling or growling and I’m totally not even aware of that. The thing that I’ve learned from being a father is how to be different in the world. I find myself more intrigued by other peoples’ kids, more interested in other kids than I ever was before, because I just hadn’t had the experience with it. I think it’s definitely softened me up in numerous ways.

So, I think that is the other thing that has inspired me. I’d like to think about myself as, if my kids grew up as if they knew absolutely everything about me, inside and out, everything that I’ve done, would they be proud of me? I think that’s sort of where I find myself now, living my life, thinking about things, and the behaviors and actions that I choose. Is it something that I’d want my kids to know about? If the answer is no, then it usually ends up being a pretty easy choice as well. “Then I can’t do that.”

So that’s been the final edge of the mold as far as the people that I think have influenced me.

Lalli’s Question: How do you disconnect your work and home life? Do you think It’s better to care about patients too much or too little, and has your work ever affected your home life?

Okay, so that’s like five questions by the way. (laughs) So, remind me if I don’t answer them.

Disconnecting never happens. At least for me, it’s impossible to be a good therapist and to be able to just shut off. It just can’t happen. I’ve never been able to figure out a way to do it, and I think that people who claim that they do are either lying (laughs) or they’re not doing something very well. They’re doing something else to forget about work, and in a lot of cases that ends up being stuff that’s not very effective in the long run. For me, there has never been a way to disconnect. You’re always thinking about patients. You’re always worrying about them. You’re always wondering about what you did the last session, and how you’re going to do things better. It just doesn’t turn off. You get used to it. You find ways to do other things. For me, video games have been away to have a total disconnect from the world.

When I was seeing patients, and even now, I still think about patients that I saw. It’s impossible for me to disconnect from that, and it’s the same for my wife. If you’re not thinking about your patients then you’re doing something wrong. It’s a little judgemental. If somebody says, “When 5 o’clock comes after my last patient, I turn off and do something else.” Either that person does a really good job of compartmentalizing their life, or they’re lying.

Has it ever affected my family life? I think one of the benefits of being in a relationship with somebody who has a very similar job is that we can come home and talk about our day and we know what each other is talking about. We not only can hear it, but both of us can empathize with the other person because we’ve been in that situation. She can come home and talk about a very difficult family session that she had with the kids and family, and I can relate to that, because I’ve been in that situation. Or I can say, “I don’t know what to do with this person. They said this. They have this problem, but they said this as well.” She can say, “What about this? What about this? Or what about this?”

That’s been one of the perks of being married to someone in the business. I can take it home, but there’s actually a real benefit for me taking it home. I can get some additional consultation on it. So, bringing it home in that sense has been a real benefit. I can’t say that it’s been a detriment overtly. It can be distracting at times, because I can sometimes think about it too much to where I’m not really present at home. I think at this point, my wife is pretty good at calling me out, and saying, “What are you doing? Where are you right now? You’re not talking to me.” So, I can kind of snap out of it a little bit.

I would hate to think that I was a person who cared too little for a patient. My wife is much more neurotic than I am. I’m much more laid back. She really, really thinks about her patients to the point that it can interrupt her sleep. She’ll wake up thinking about them. Although it’s annoying at times for me as a spouse, I would love to be her patient. I want my doctor to be thinking about me all the time. If I’m coming into somebody to get help, I want my doctor to be losing sleep over me thinking about ways that they can help me. I don’t want to have the doctor that can shut off. I don’t want to have the doctor that can go home and not think a thing about work. I don’t want that person. I would much rather ere on the side of thinking too much than thinking too little.

Wanda’s question: Since you moved to San Francisco what’s one thing that would have inspired you to pick up a pencil and paper and start drawing?

I live on a hill. The property we live on is 19,000 square feet. Huge property! 80 percent of that property is uphill. My backyard actually climbs up the side of a hill to the top of it. So, I can actually hike up my backyard to the top of the hill. When I stand up there I can see everything. The folks across from us have some tall trees, but when I hike up to the top of the hill I can see everything in the west bay. So, I can see San Francisco, I can see Sausalito, I can see the Golden Gate, I can see the Bay Bridge, and it’s absolutely amazing at about 5 o’clock at night. It’s the most awesome sunsets in the world. So, if I had any actual physical type of artistic ability, I could very easily set up a canvas and start painting. It’s just amazing, because you can see the bay, but you can see past the bay into the Pacific Ocean. You can see the entire San Francisco skyline, and the Golden Gate. When there’s fog rolling in it’s just absolutely amazing. Unfortunately we’re just renting, so we’re going to have to move at some point.

I want to thank all of my guests that allowed me to take some time out of their day to talk about creativity. Be sure to read all of the  Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, Lynda Campbell, Wanda Dobbs and Tim Attaby.

Like what you see don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Hand with lit bulb reaching out of a head in black & white

In my final interview for Untapped Creativity, I caught up with an old friend thanks in part to Facebook. Tim Attaby, not his real name, is currently a professor of psychology in San Francisco, and I had a blast reconnecting with him, laughing and talking about creativity. If you’ve ever wondered how creative psychology can be or even the psychology of creativity then Tim will teach you.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.

In my senior year, I took a general psychology class. It was the only one that was offered. I took it because I heard that it was easy, and I was completely and utterly fascinated by it. I never heard anything about it. I didn’t know anything about the major theorists behind it, but I was just totally enraptured by it. I guess it sort of rocked my world, so to speak. (laughs) It made me rethink everything.

In undergrad, I knew that was the area I was interested in. My first semester I took an intro to psych course, and had sort of the same experience that I had in high school. In my second semester of my freshman year I turned into a psych major.

I finished college relatively quickly, because my parents said, “Either you come back home for summer, or you work, or you take summer classes.” I didn’t want to work. I knew that. And I definitely didn’t want to come back home. So, the only other option I had was to take summer classes. I took full summer loads, and got out in three and a half years. It was busy, but there’s another history. I sort of separated from a lot of friends. They started getting into a lot of stuff that I was not so interested in getting into anymore. So, I had a relatively clean break after my freshman year. I mean it wasn’t pretty, but it was a clean break. I didn’t have a whole lot of social connections and a lot of distractions. I was like, “I’ll just get through this as quickly as I can.”

I got into grad school in Arkansas. I was really interested in personality, personality assessment tests, and stuff like that. When I got into grad school that was the main thing that I focused on, at least for research and dissertation. I was there for about five or six years and built up a great group of friends. The people that I started with were five other people that I’ve stayed connected with. We were in each others’ weddings and we stayed really connected all the way through.

To complete your degree you have to do an internship. So, I ended up at Mass General in Boston. Did my internship there, did my post-doc there, and liked it so much that I ended up staying on. I was a staff psychologist there for four years. Part of the training that you get, at least in the PhD program, you can be a teaching assistant and actually teach undergrad courses. So, I taught two general psych courses and two abnormal psych courses as a graduate student, and loved it. I had no idea that I’d like it. I just took it, because I didn’t want to take other classes. Not because I was really motivated or particularly interested in teaching, but I absolutely just fell in love with it.

When I went to Mass General, it was almost entirely a clinical gig. Seeing patients, doing testing, working in a number of different units as far what they focus on like substance abuse, in-patient psychiatry, and out-patient testing. So I had six years of pretty much straight clinical work doing research on the side like going to conferences, and being able to get publications out. Towards the end I was starting to get opportunities to teach residents about psychological assessment, and I co-taught an assessment seminar. I started getting the itch and started remembering how much I loved teaching. It was also a point in my personal life where I had gotten married, had a kid, and my wife and I were sort of thinking about where we wanted to end up. We wanted to make a decision kind of early on, because if we could avoid it, we didn’t want to be in a position where we moved in the middle of school. So, our kids wouldn’t have to regroup and find new cohorts and friends and stuff like that.

We had this decision to make. There are lots of great things about Boston, but we are not Bostonians. It’s a totally different culture there — definitely from Texas and Arkansas. She’s from Texas, too. Culturally, we weren’t really satisfied. We didn’t really have a lot of social connections up there either. We were there mostly for the prestige of the place we were working at. We decided we would kind of play the field a little bit, and if we both got jobs in the same area then we would think about moving. We really only looked at California. (laughs) We really weren’t interested in living anywhere else.

I ended up applying for this job that I got which is a core faculty member on a small campus. Well, the campus that I’m on is small, but Alliant has colleges all throughout California and internationally as well. I would say maybe 70% of my time now is teaching, and I love it. I was really, really busy at the hospital, but I’m probably twice as busy now as when I was doing full on clinical work. But I’m twice as happy. The opportunities that I’ve had being able to teach students and develop my own skills as an instructor and a mentor, I just really enjoy. That’s put me where I am now.

Do you find similarities between clinical work when you were working with patients and working with students now?

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Some students probably should be patients. In my personal perspective, relationships make the world go round. There are no clinical diagnoses that occur in a vacuum. So in other words, even the relatively minor, simple phobia or something like that. Everything that hits a clinical level has an impact on somebody’s relationship. That’s an extreme version, but a relationship between a student and a mentor, that’s a relationship. If the student is doing things that they’re being self-defeating, they’re sort of being passive aggressive, or they’re sort of going down the tubes, and they’re not aware of it. Part of the art of being a mentor is being able to sit that student down, and talk to them about that without it being a therapeutic relationship. Without being a therapist. Without being a supervisor. Without there being a power differential in the relationship. Sitting down with them, and saying, “You’ve been doing this a lot. I’m really worried that if you continue to do this that you’re going to run into a lot of problems not only with the patients that you work with, but in your work relationships with colleagues and stuff like that.” There are numerous occasions where I’ve had to have those types of interventions with students that are based on my training as a clinician.

I know most people may not necessarily label psychology as a creative industry. Would you define being a clinical psychologist and a teacher as being creative? And in what ways would you say those jobs are creative?

You can’t be a good teacher without having some level of creativity. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about, “What is creativity?” I sort of see it as a problem-solving technique whether it’s a creative art or whether it’s trying to figure out how you’re going to pay the bills next month. Creativity is really everywhere.

I guess I see it as having two parts. There’s creativity such as problem-solving where you’ve got an obstacle that you’ve got to overcome. It’s a poet that has some sort of internal conflict they’re not able to resolve. They use their pen to help them work through their problems. Or you’ve got a class that you’re going to teach, and you’ve got this material that you plan on teaching. But you left it on the couch at home, and now you’re at work and it’s five minutes before class starts. You’ve got to think of a way to run a three-hour class without boring people to death. I think the creativity plays into both of those, though they are different types of creativity.

The second part to creativity is whether it’s effective or not. I can tell you scores of stories of people who are really, really deep into substance abuse and addiction, and those are probably some of the more creative people I’ve met in my life. They’ve got to find a way to make money in order to sustain their habit, but they don’t work because of their habit. It takes so long for them to do what they need to do to get money, and then to get the drugs. So, they’ve got to sort of have a day-to-day plan of what they’re going to do. When this plan doesn’t work they’ve got to have an alternate plan. When that doesn’t work they’ve got to have another plan. That, to me, is also creativity. It’s not particularly effective in the long run. So, that’s where I see creativity as having a couple of parts, and not just you’re creative or you’re not creative. I think everybody is creative in their own way, but there’s different levels of effectiveness as to whether their creativeness actually helps them solve their problem in a way that makes their life better.

How does creativity fit into your life?

Going with that definition of creativity, I think that it pops up all the time with kids. Having kids really does change everything as far as how you think about the world, how you plan about the world. My four-year old the other day was asking about — either we were listening to the radio or he heard my wife and I talking, but the word religion came up. He asked, “Daddy, what’s religion?” (laughs) That to me is creativity, because you can’t tell a four-year old a standard definition of what religion is. You’ve got to come up with a way that a four-year old can understand it. So, I think that creativity pops up all the time with kids, because it’s just a totally different mindset. As adults we’re so used to not thinking like that to have to kind of step outside. “Why can’t you just get it? Why can’t you just understand what religion is?” You have to think like a four-year old. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. (laughs)The second part to creativity is whether it's effective or not

I think that’s sort of a daily occurrence for me. Finding ways to be constructive, and be either helpful or corrective, but doing it in a way that’s not damaging. Doing it in a way that’s not pejorative or demeaning. That, to me, is creativity, because again it’s solving a problem in a unique way, or non-normative way I guess.

I teach a late class, and sometimes I don’t get home until 2. My wife wakes up early the next morning to go to work. She works all day. So, another part of creativity for me is trying to figure out how to have a successful marriage in amidst both of us working and having two kids. Finding pockets where we can watch movies, or even just lying in bed and having a conversation are ways that you kind of have to be creative in trying to solve a problem. Having more than one objective in my life requires being able to think outside the box. I could just wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner and go to sleep. It just doesn’t work like that. If you want to be effective, and I guess that’s how it ties into happiness, that level of creativity in day-to-day things is about trying to feel satisfied. Trying to have satisfactory and well-being in your life. It’s much different to have kids and a wife than to live on your own. You only have to take care of one person when you’re by yourself.

Have you ever seen a person that is tormented by their creativity? That glamorized view of the tortured artist who is so creative, but they just can’t deal with their creativity.

I guess I can think of clinical examples. People that I’ve worked with. I think you see that a lot with, this is a little bit stereotypical and doesn’t apply to everyone, writers. There’s a large number of great writers that have had some pretty serious psychiatric problems. So, I think that that creativity can get in the way of effectiveness. You can be creative and be ineffective at the same time. When I say ineffective I mean “Is something working for you?” Do you feel good, and is your life is better, or at least doesn’t get worse. When things are ineffective, you don’t feel well either physically or emotionally. Things aren’t working out the way that you hoped they would. That’s my definition of ineffectiveness.

I think you can definitely be creative but ineffective. And get sort of trapped in that creativity where there is so much that you need to get out, but for whatever reason you’re not able to get it out in a way that is effective for you. What’s effective for me is not necessarily effective for you. It’s a relative concept. I don’t know that I’ve ever met somebody who is not creative. I don’t know that I’ve ever met somebody who doesn’t have some sort of level of creativity in them somewhere. That’s not saying that everybody is effective, because obviously they’re not. But I think everybody has a level of creativity. Everybody has a way to solve problems that they run into, but it doesn’t work well for everybody.

Be sure to check out part 2 of my interview with Tim, and don’t forget to check out the other great Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, Lynda Campbell, and Wanda Dobbs.

Like what you see don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Stained Glass Window Pattern

In part 1 of my interview with Wanda Dobbs we talked about the inspirational people in her life and her stained glass work. Find out how she uses her creativity as a nurse to help others on a daily basis.

How long have you been drawing?

Since I was a kid. I’ve never taken a formal drawing lesson or class. It’s just strictly something that I took up as a child and just love doing. I’ve never taken a lesson to expand my drawing, and I don’t really paint or anything like that. My drawing is kind of limited. (laughs) It’s very primitive. (laughs) I guess you could say that stained glass is about as far as it’s going to expand.

Do you feel that there is a conscious connection between your love for drawing people and the fact that you went into nursing?

I think so.

Do you feel that creativity is something that is reserved for the creative fields like art, cooking, music, dance, etc.?

To me defining creativity is not being artistic necessarily. Being creative can be most anything to me. You just have to be able to define it.

People who say they’re not creative, I don’t think they’ve identified it yet. I think everybody is creative to a certain extent. My father would probably say that he’s not creative, but he is the world’s greatest storyteller. He can completely just hold people spellbound with a story. It doesn’t matter if he’s got two people or twenty people in the room, but they are all going to sit down and listen to him. Storytelling to me is a great art. So, being creative has so many different aspects.

Some people have found their creativity in a lot of different things. I love to cook. People say that I’m a gourmet cook. I don’t know. I just like to take chances and make up things, and I love to entertain. I guess I get a lot of that from my grandmother. I love shopping for clothes, and coordinating outfits and jewelry. Being inspired by other creative people makes me happy. We feed off one another. I love to take pictures. I just bought myself a brand new Nikon 3100D camera for Christmas with a big lens. So, I’m practicing taking a lot of photos. I want to be able to go out on the boat this summer, and take a lot of pictures of some blue herons and a lot of the island pictures from far away. Just to be able to capture things that I haven’t been able to do.

There’s just so much that’s in my mind all the time, just constantly thinking about all kinds of things that I like to do, not just stained glass. Nursing is improvising too, which is a form of creativity. You don’t have this or that handy, and you have to try and think of something else to use in place of it. That’s definitely something that I have used, especially when I worked in home health. Being out in someone’s home, trying to figure out a way to maintain their quality of health, helping them learn how to eat good quality food, or how to give themselves their medicines. Even taking care of their child when I worked pediatrics. You try and be creative doing those sorts of things. (laughs)

I would imagine that emergencies are coming up left and right. Being able to think on your feet and improvise becomes a big part of the creativity used in your job.


Do you think the idea of risk-taking and taking a chance is a big part of creativity?

Oh yeah! Sure. Don’t you think so?

I think a lot of creativity is forging new ground and experimenting. You really can’t do that without taking risks. It doesn’t have to be risking your life, but you have to be willing to try something that it may come out as a disaster.
Knowing that you feel creativity is something that we’re all born with, do you think it’s a skill that can be taught, or is it something you have to be comfortable with yourself and learn on your own?

I think to a certain extent you can be taught. Obviously, I would have never learned stained glass on my own. You have to have that inspiration to do it. Inspiration is 99% perspiration. (laughs) You have to have the idea. I think a lot of creativity can be taught. Obviously, music and the arts can be taught. I think to be able to have that drive, to be able to advance, and go that one step further to want it bad enough to be able to excel in it, you’ve got to have it in your heart. My son may never make it to the top, but everyday he lives and breathes it. He loves it. He works a nine to five job, but every night he comes home and he’s either playing guitar, writing music or he’s writing a screenplay. He would just die if he would not be able to pick up a guitar or a keyboard or a computer and be able to write something. He may as well just lay down and cover his head up. (laughs) He really doesn’t care if he ever makes 50¢ with it. He just has that drive, because he loves it so much. He’s a perfectionist at it. And he’s very critical of those that sell-out to others. After they make the first album, it’s seems like they just want to give in to the money.

Creativity is a burning desire to be able to express yourselfHe’s inspired me a lot, too, and encouraged me along with the stained glass.

I want to write a book about the women that have been in my life like your grandmother and my grandmother. There have just been all sorts of women in my life that have inspired me. When I retire, I’m going to sit down and write a book. I want to write about how all these women have been an inspiration in my life. I feel like there has got to be a common ground between them all.

How do you define creativity?

It’s just something that’s in me. I just feel like when I get inspired to do something I just feel this warm rush inside me that I’ve got to get it out. If I can’t do it in my stained glass, which is put to the side right now, then I’ll do it in the kitchen, or I’ll take pictures. It’s just kind of an inspiration — a burning desire to be able to express yourself.

Do you feel that your creativity is tied into your happiness?

Oh, definitely. And it’s brought Richard and I closer together. He had no idea that he could be creative until he met me. I just tease him so much. When we started this he just got so tickled, because he was able to add to my ideas like picking out a piece of glass. When I was traveling out in California doing travel nursing, he even made some little tiny fishing lures. They were those little sun-catchers. (laughs) I’ve never seen him be so tickled to do something. He’s definitely nothing like he was twenty years ago. It definitely makes him happy.

My previous guest, Keith Van Order, has a question for you. Creatively what are you NOT doing today that you’d like to be doing?

I’d love to be working on a piece of stained glass right now. (laughs) It’s been about six months or so, so it would be nice to be working on a piece.

Do you have any ideas for your next stained glass piece?

Actually, there was a man that called a couple of months ago that said he was building a house, and he wanted us to do above his kitchen cabinets in a fleur de lis. He wanted to do a Saints theme. (laughs) I’ve been thinking along those lines and the kind of glass that I want to use. Of course, we may never hear from him again. You know how that goes.

Thanks to Wanda for taking the time to share her insights and personal feelings on creativity. Don’t forget to check out the other great Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, and Lynda Campbell.

Like what you see don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Pieces of stained glass

Wanda Dobbs is one of the funnest most energetic people you’ll ever meet. I’m not just saying that, because she’s my aunt. She’s been a nurse providing home care for patients, and she handles it with the same passion and optimism that she has for stained glass, drawing and most recently, photography. If you never realized the creativity that nurses use day in and day out, then Wanda can tell you all about it. Enjoy part one of my interview with Wanda.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I grew up in the country, and I guess my grandmother had a lot to do with my upbringing. She had a really positive outlook on life. It didn’t matter how little she had, she would just make something good out of it. That always came across as an inspiration to me all through my life. She was the most important person in my life. All the struggles that she went through with her kids, growing up and just a lot of different things going on her life, she just always managed through her faith to project a positive image. She always kept a beautiful home. She tried to inspire with her cooking, her house work and her little decorating skills even though she didn’t have much. She always had fresh flowers on the table. Her house was always just picture perfect. Through that I always envisioned as a kind of a storybook sort of a life. I guess she was kind of a dreamer, so I’ve always been kind of like a dreamer too.

My journey, I guess has kind of been going in different directions. I never really began thinking I was going to become a nurse. Even though my other grandmother had a brain aneurysm when she was probably in her early fifties, was paralyzed on her left side and wound up living with us for I guess probably 10 years or so. We all took turns taking care of her, and I guess I learned a lot of nursing skills or on the job training taking care of her.

I had gone to college a couple of years, and then wound up getting married. Then got on at a drug-store as a pharmacy tech with job training. And then got on with the VA hospital as a pharmacy tech. It just kind of fell into my lap, I found out that I could go back to school and get my degree in nursing, and they would pay tuition reimbursement if I wanted to get a nursing degree. So, that’s how I wound up going into nursing. I was around nurses a lot at the hospital and saw what they were capable of. I respected their profession a lot. I went back to school, got my degree, and wound up getting a scholarship through the VA. So, that’s how I became a nurse. I never had this dying desire to become a nurse. It all just fell into place. I felt that that was my destiny, because I wound up getting the scholarship, and it paid for all of my tuition. I did pretty well in school.

How has creativity influenced your personal interests?

As far as my creativity goes in my stained glass and stuff — I loved to draw when I was in high school and grammar school. I loved people. I loved drawing people’s faces and that sort of thing, more so than I did landscapes. I was just intrigued with drawing the human figure. The reason I even got interested in taking a class in stained glass was because I’ve always loved stained glass windows in churches. I wanted to do the upper cabinets in my kitchen in stained glass. I said I maybe would take a class in it. So, I did, just the basic class. They used all of these basic boring patterns that looked like coloring book patterns. I told my husband, “If we ever got to where we were going to do any serious stained glass, I think I would like to draw my own patterns. I think I could do a better job at that. I could probably look at a picture and draw a pattern like a bird, flower or maybe even something more detailed as we went along.” We started by doing some local birds. He started taking them around to the local art shops, and a couple of them said that they wanted to put them in their shops and show them.

Has that turned into a commercial hobby for you?

We tried that for a while, and then we tried some of the local art shows where you sit around and hang your goods out there. People don’t respect the amount of time involved as you well know. (laughs) We would sit there for Saturday and Sunday, and we would just not sell one piece. When you have a price tag of $250 on an 11 x 14 piece they just kind of frowned at that. They have no idea, especially when it’s something that I drew from the beginning, by the time you draw, make a pattern from it, and put it to glass, polish it and frame it, everything that you have to do to it. The hours involved, they have no idea, not counting how much it costs to buy glass itself. We got bored. It takes too much time and effort to sit around with these festivals and do all this. We would hang a few in some of the art shops, arts & crafts stores and if they sold fine. If they didn’t, so what. We didn’t kill ourselves making those things.

Before hurricane Katrina came along, we had a pretty good business going. We would contract ourselves out making windows in homes. A lot of people were hiring us to do transom windows in homes, over front doors, or that sort of thing like going into a study or between a dining room and a kitchen. We did pretty well, and then the hurricane hit and it’s just slowly, slowly coming back. We’ve gotten a few calls here and there, but nothing like what we were getting before. Then again, Richard has gone back to work fulltime, so we don’t have the time to put in anyway.

It’s something that we love to do, but we don’t make a whole lot of money doing it even with those windows. We charge a fair price, but really the time and effort involved in it, it’s just something that we really love doing. It’s more of a hobby. It’s more of a supplemental income than something that we could actually quit work and say, “Yeah, we’re going to do this to make a living off of.” (laughs) I love creating it, and I love drawing it.

Do the limits of the medium help or hinder your creativity?

Sometimes I feel like it does limit me some ways. I used to cut it all out in the beginning, and do it the old timey way, by hand. But since I am a nurse, and I am around all of the bodily fluids and what have you, I used to cut my hands to pieces doing it. Richard, my husband, actually builds them for me. So he cuts it all out now, and puts it all together for me. A lot of the old timey, true stained glass people poo poo that. (laughs) That’s not true stained glass if you don’t do it all by hand.

We build to make it strong and structurally sound. He will go behind me, because he’s a craftsman. He can solder a lot better than I can. He’ll go behind my drawing, and he’ll say, “Oh, you’re gonna have to modify that, because the points are too sharp there. Or you’re going to have to do something with that angle, because it’s gonna break there when I go to build it.” I’ll try to argue with him, (laughs) and we’ll get into a huge fight. I’ll say, “But you’re going to totally ruin what I’m trying to say here.”

I drew a picture of George Ohr, because we went to the George Ohr festival in Biloxi one time and we entered in the judged and juried section. He didn’t realize I could draw people.

You know who George Ohr is right? The potter, the mad potter in Biloxi. He’s a real goofy looking character. He’s got this wild mustache and crazy hair. They have these faces of him with his hair and mustache going all in one. I said, “I’m going to draw a picture and do him in stained glass to have that as our picture in the judge and jury section.”

He said, “You can’t draw a person. You can’t do a person in stained glass.”

I said, “Don’t tell me I can’t do something.”

I wound up doing that picture of him in stained glass. It turned out really cool. It’s just so hard to do a face, and to have it look just like the person. Not have him come behind me and say, “It can’t be done that way. You’re going to have to change it.” You can’t alter something like that, and have it look just right.

Be sure to read part 2 of my interview with Wanda, and don’t forget to check out the other great Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, and Lynda Campbell.

Like what you see don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Painting gold coinsDuring the first part of my interview with CPA, Lynda Campbell, we talked about the creativity in sharing financial reports to communicate the right information to the right audience. In part two we talk about what creativity means to her personally.

How would you define creativity in its most basic form?

Creativity is being able to use your imagination to solve a problem or an issue.

Do you view it as both right and left brain?

Yes, because in my business it’s being able to use my imagination to see the problems the way other people in my company or a banker does and be able to provide them with the answers.

In your business, it’s being able to get a feel for what the client needs. You have to use your imagination to do that and put yourself in their shoes. And then be able to turn around and give them back what they need.

For you, it’s using your wonderful, artistic talents. For me, it’s putting numbers down on paper in a way that makes sense and answers the questions.

Do you feel that creativity always has to have some tangible outcome?

Creativity is being able to use your imagination to solve a problemA doctor has to be creative to figure out what’s wrong with patients. A patient goes in with an ache or a pain. He’s got to use all of his knowledge and some creativity to pull all those different pieces of knowledge to come up with a solution to a person’s problem. Think of an attorney giving his summation speech to a jury, pulling together everything that’s been heard in court and maybe even a little bit that hasn’t (laughs) to come up with a presentation to the jury to sway them to his side of the argument. For an attorney who’s a corporate attorney it’s a little different. The form is already spelled out for them, but not totally. They’re filling in the blanks.

Different clients want different things, and they have to come up with a way to meet their needs. So, I think we all use it to some extent, but we don’t necessarily call it creative. We think of it as just using knowledge that we have.

Why do you think society as a whole only references creativity as artwork?

It’s a common perception. We’ve used creative to describe something an artist has done for so long that we kind of forget that creativity is a process. When you create something you’re not necessarily creating new colors — or a line is a line, a pencil is a pencil, a paintbrush is a paintbrush. And I’m oversimplifying, not to be insulting. But you’re using all of that with the talent you’ve been given to create something. We all use our knowledge to create whatever our final output is. It just may not be pretty. (laughs) But then all art isn’t pretty to me.

To me, what you do is art. You may be doing it for a reason, but it’s still art because I can’t do it. (laughs)

I think that’s part of it too. Sometimes when you can’t do something, it gives it a mystique. Different people react to that mystique positively or negatively. People talk about artists as being artsy fartsy, because they’re just not an artist and they don’t understand that. People think of accountants as being boring, and maybe we are. I don’t know.

Do you feel that creativity is something you’re born with like a talent, or is it something that you can hone and teach?

I think it’s a little bit of both. Some creativity is just innate. A lot of the people that I know in graphic design or artistic fields have drawn since they could first hold a crayon. It’s been a passion. For a lot them, they do it as easily as they breathe. Teaching problem solving which they don’t do enough of in school does teach creativity. It does teach you to use everything you can pull from around you, whether it’s knowledge you have in your head, or information you look up on the internet or at the library, to create a solution.

I do think that it is taught. I think some people may be more resistant to it, because I think you’ve got to have imagination. And some people don’t.

You mentioned that you were thinking about taking an art class.

Yes, I am! Painting.

I want to actually paint on a canvas. I have no idea of what it’s going to look like. (laughs)

No one does.

I don’t have a clue of what’s going to come out of it. I went to a deal a couple of months ago, and did wine glasses. Everybody just raved about my wine glasses. Well, they were just copying and expanding on something that our teacher had shown us. They weren’t exactly a creation from the start of zero kind of thing. So, I’d just like to see what I can do.

I think it’s something I’ve been interested in, for probably growing ten or fifteen years. Now, I’m at a time in my life where I have the opportunity to do it. I spent the last 22 years raising kids, working and doing all the things that are involved in that, and happily! No complaints at all. Talk about creativity, be a parent. (laughs) Now both of my kids are in college, and I’m an empty-nester.

I love to take pictures, so I’m also going to take some photography classes. Right now, what I take pictures of is high school football games. I want to branch out a little, and take something else. I love doing it.

Would you consider yourself an outwardly or inwardly creative person?

It’s kind of a mix. When I was working at Crowe Design Centers, we had big parties down there two or three times a year. At one of them, we had people come in and do handwriting analysis and tarot cards, all of that kind of stuff. As it was getting started, I did a handwriting analysis, and the women looked at my handwriting and said, “You’re very creative, yada, yada, yada.” Well, I was talking to the people I worked with about it, and they’re looking at me like “Yeah?!” (laughs) I had never thought of myself that way.

People have a tendency to think that if you’re creative you have to come up with great ideas all of the time. Creativity means you come up with things and you pull together ideas, but it doesn’t necessarily make it great.

Do I think the people I work with today think I’m creative? Probably not.

If you’d like to find out more about Lynda be sure to follow her on Facebook. Don’t forget to check out the other great Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, and Elizabeth Lalli-Reese.

Like what you see don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Hand painted piggy bankSeveral years ago I worked for another company called Mosaic, and I had the pleasure of working alongside Lynda Campbell, accountant extraordinaire. I leaned on Lynda for advice in late 2008, as I began laying the foundation for Creative Squall. She not only knows accounting inside and out, but she knows how to relate it to the audience she’s talking to. It’s her background in marketing and her experience in many different vertical markets that makes her one of my favorite accountants people to talk to. We spent some time talking about the creativity inherent to painting, photography and accounting. That’s right accounting. And we’re not talking cooking the books.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got  to where you are today.

I’m a graduate of Texas Tech University. I graduated from there in 1982. I have a bachelors of business administratin degrees in accounting and marketing. So, kind of an odd combination. I’ve always said I must be schizophrenic. (laughs)

I’ve worked in a number of industries. I’ve worked in commercial real estate. I have worked in plumbing wholesales. I have worked in advertising/graphic design. And I’ve worked in the gaming industry, not video games. I should say video poker or gambling gaming.

Now I work for a non-profit. So, I’ve kind of done a lot of different things, and one of the things that I’ve found is that accounting is accounting. You’re counting money, and reporting on it. The differences are in the way that the people in the different industries think. And I think that’s where my marketing background came in handy, making those transitions from industry to industry a little easier. That also allows me to speak English not accounting-ese.

Why did you decide to get a degree in both accounting and marketing?

When I first went to college, I was actually accepted at Texas Tech with the intent of being a civil engineering major. I switched to accounting, because I decided I really didn’t want to go with a degree that pretty much at that time was a four and half to five year degree. So, I switched to accounting and business. That’s what my dad was. And come to find out, I learned very early on that I think in debits and credits, not intentionally, before I even knew what they were. So that part of it came pretty naturally, but I wasn’t doing as well in accounting grade-wise as I had has always done through school. In my junior year, I started thinking about it and took some tests, and basically, they said I should be in either accounting or marketing.

I switched my major to marketing, and then discovered that I was only nine hours short of having an accounting degree. So, I stayed an extra summer, and got the accounting degree. As it turned out, I’ve never used the marketing. While I was in school, Sanger-Harris offered me a job. About a month before I finished my last class, Sanger-Harris sent me a letter that said, “I’m sorry, but due to the economy, we’re going to have to resend our offer.” So, the only jobs I could get were in accounting. I’m now, all these years later, a CPA, and I’ve been in accounting ever since.

Do you find that there are similarities between those two fields?

No. They really are left brain versus right brain.

One of the things that I did in my marketing classes was case studies. Where the accounting fits into the marketing is no matter what you’re doing you’re always trying to drive dollars one way or the other. So, in that respect, yes, they are similar. I don’t care what business you’re in, you have to make money, and you have to spend money. In that area, they relate to each other.

Marketing is all about telling people about a product. Accounting is counting the money. But in accounting you do have to realize that you do have customers just like a marketer does. That’s what people don’t realize. In accounting your customer is, if you’re in private industry, the other people that work at your company or that you report to outside — bankers, depending on the kind of field your in. My customers at a non-profit are the president, the chief operating officer, the head of our development department — which is the department that goes out and gets us donors — or the people in marketing. I have to give them the right kind of reports. So, in a way I market to them by giving them reports that they need to see, so they can account for what they’re spending or bringing in.

Do you find that the relationships are stronger since these are clients you see regularly?

Internally, the relationship is totally different. When you’ve got a client, your client has to believe in you in order to sign that contract to let you do whatever design you’re going to do for them or sell them whatever service you’re going to sell them. Internally, you’re more or less forced on the clients, in other words, the president, the COO or the CFO, whoever hired the people in accounting. So, the director of events has no choice in who’s hired. I have found that the image of the person who’s in the job prior to you can affect your relationship with your internal clients. In marketing or graphic design, you’re going to outside people, and although they may have prejudices towards your profession to some extent, they only hire you if they feel a connection to you.

Much like you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.

That’s right. So, internally, those people have no choice. They have to work with me whether they like me or not. I do have the option of working on those relationships, because they are there daily. It still is just a very different relationship. They didn’t choose me like your clients choose you.

Most of them are good relationships. Don’t get me wrong.

Do you have a favorite vertical industry that you’ve worked in?

Commercial real estate is dry. It’s building.

In all of the industries, or most of them, I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve worked with. I found that the people, at the time, in the wholesale plumbing industry were very passionate about what they do, and I found the same thing in the graphic design industry. I love that passion. I haven’t really seen that so much in the other industries that I’ve worked in.

So, I guess, in plumbing that also sounds so weird. I mean you’re selling toilets and pipe, and the people in that industry at that time, when they got together, that’s what they talked about. No matter whether you stop to talk about the Cowboys or the Rangers or whatever, it always goes back to plumbing wholesale with them. I really enjoyed that.

Working at Mosaic, the individuals in the graphic design industry really love what they’re doing.

Almost to their detriment. (laughs)

Yeah, yeah. I think the other side to that which you and I touched on earlier in a private conversation about having to learn the business end of it is one of the issues of that industry. It’s being run by people who don’t really like the numbers. They’re extremely creative, but they don’t really enjoy the numbers. So, they don’t want to do it, and many don’t make themselves do it.

You’ve taken that step past that. You’re making yourself do it. You’re making yourself learn to like it. That’s kind of off the topic though. (laughs)

Not necessarily. You’re describing a little bit of a dichotomy between the creative side of stuff versus the accounting side. I know most people may look at what you lovingly call crunching numbers as not being very creative. Do you feel that’s a fair assessment of accounting?

Creativity is being able to pull the information together in a way that makes senseWhen you talk about just accounting, it’s not necessarily creative. It is crunching numbers. It is recording the activity of the company. Where the creativity comes in — and I’m going to use that loosely, because the problem is people thinking it’s cooking the books, and that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s something totally different. That’s illegal. When you report to different people, different people need different information. So, the creativity comes in being able to pull the information together in a manner that makes sense to the people so that they can use it.

So, it boils down to creating better communication depending on who your audience is?

Exactly! You have to know your audience, and a lot of times that’s something you have to learn. But I’ve had more people come to me and say, “You know, Lynda, my accounting department just doesn’t get it. I can’t get good numbers out of them.” Well, that’s a communication issue. They’re not speaking the same language, and someone who has at least a little bit of creativity and can speak English can figure out what they need and how to provide that information. That’s the creative side.

If you’d like to find out more about Lynda be sure to follow her on Facebook. Check out part 2 of my interview with Lynda, and don’t forget to check out the other great Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, and Elizabeth Lalli-Reese.

Like what you see don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Secret sauce bottles for logo, branding and website design with a Big MacYears ago McDonald’s launched a product that defined their brand, the Big Mac. At it’s core, the new burger wasn’t anything new, since it is basically a double cheeseburger. It’s the special sauce that sets it apart from the competition. After all, we can all recite the jingle from memory years after the fact. “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” The food industry has been using “family recipes,” “secret ingredients,” and “special sauces” to differentiate their products in an over-saturated market for decades with great success. Why not take that same model and define your own secret sauce for your industry?

The Family Recipe

A secret sauce by nature should be something that only a few know, while many people have experienced it. Consumers love a good mystery, and they will continue to buy your products or services to try and reveal the magic behind your secret sauce. In the case of McDonald’s we’ve all mixed ketchup and mayonnaise together to recreate their special sauce yet the Big Mac is still just as popular as when it was introduced nationally in 1967. A secret family recipe adds a level of comfort to a brand. There’s a sense of love and trust embedded in the idea that’s been passed from generation to generation, and it shows a commitment to the quality of your product or service. You’re brand is defined by the feeling that your end-user gets from interacting with your product or services, and a secret sauce puts them on the inside of the circle of trust.

The Key Ingredients

To define your secret sauce you need to examine 3 key factors — your customers/partners, your competitors and your processes. Begin by talking to your end-users and any partners who interact with your brand. How do they view your products or services? Why do they come back to you? Often you’ll find that it isn’t your core service that keeps customers from coming back, especially since most industries have multiple choices for purchasing products and services. In the case of Walmart, you might immediately assume that low prices are the reason for customer loyalty when in fact it is the convenience of grocery, pharmacy, household and even a doctor under 1 roof that keeps many consumers coming back. If they add apartments into the mix, customers would never have to leave the Walmart compound.

You’ll also want to take a close look at your direct competitors. What are they doing that’s similar to you? How are they different? And most importantly, how do they view you? It’s okay to do what your competition does, but find a way to dress it up with your own secret sauce. Target has taken the same approach to the one-stop shop just like Walmart, however Target features top fashion and furniture designers that you would see at high-end department stores. Target’s secret sauce is “life-style within budget.” Consumers view Target as a higher-end big box retailer despite the fact that they sell much of the same products as Walmart for the same price. Often the consumers perception of your brand can be greatly influenced by your secret sauce.

Next you’ll want to take a look at you’re internal processes in respect to your target market and your competition. Do you have a unique way of presenting your products? Is their a process that you consistently go through that is unique to your business? For example, Google developed an algorithm to rank websites based on content as well as popularity which has made them the #1 search engine on the web. Google openly talks about the results that their algorithm gets, and the fact that it is an algorithm, however, they don’t reveal what the algorithm is. If they did, then they would probably not be on top. Your secret sauce can be anything related to your business, but it should become the core of how you differentiate yourself from your competition.

Add to taste

So, now you’ve found your secret sauce, but how do you use it? Take your idea and boil it down to the simplest terms. If you’ve come up with a revolutionary new sandwich, what makes it so different? It’s the sauce made by mixing ketchup and mayonnaise together rather than two separate spreads. In the simplest of terms “special sauce.” Less complex is better.

The next step is to figure out how your process solves your target market’s pains. For example, color strategy is an area that’s confusing and full of misinformation, and most decisions unfortunately are based on personal opinion. My secret sauce involves a process that reveals the strategy behind brand color in simple visual terms, which eliminates any preconceived notions of what colors mean and more importantly eliminates the urge to make a decision based on personal opinion. In simplest terms, we create “color harmony.” If you can relate your secret sauce to solving a problem for your client then you’ll immediately begin building trust and showing your expertise.

Remember you’re taking your process, and making it marketable. Don’t reveal what your secret sauce is, only what it does. Think of it like a magic trick. We know it’s a trick, what it involves and we often try to figure it out. If someone shows us how to do the trick then it loses its power. It’s the mystery of trick itself that we’re attracted to. Likewise, your secret sauce should sell the results of your unique process as well as the mystery of how it works.

Every company has a secret sauce. Discover it, and make it a key ingredient in your recipe to success.

Like what you see feel free to email me at and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook.

Dinosaur FeetIn honor of the premier of “Terra Nova” last night, I thought it was a good time to post the second part of my interview with Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, or Lalli as you know her by now. We talk about creativity, human resources and, most importantly, dinosaurs.

I recently found out that you play violin, and that was something I never knew about you.


I was shocked when I read that. I would have thought that was something that would have come up more because it’s not exactly an easy instrument to play. How long have you been playing the violin?

I’ve played since I was 5 years old, so for 25 years now. Yeah… it’s not something that I mention very often, but I’ve been really involved in an orchestra group ever since I was a little girl. Now I don’t play as much as I like, but it’s certainly something that I keep up with. I believe that all children should learn music from a young age, because it stimulates part of your brain that isn’t stimulated otherwise.

Do you play with any string quartets or just noodle around on it with yourself?

You know what…  I kind of play around with it myself. When I was in school, I would play in a group for weddings and things like that. That was a function of having the ability and knowing there was a market for it. But now, it’s mainly just for my own relaxation and to make sure I don’t lose that skill or let that skill become diminished through the years. I actually have the violin that my great-grandfather played, and it was passed down to me when I was old enough not to break it or be a jerk with it. When I was about 5, I had a little half-size violin that I would like hit the dog with (laughs). So, once I was deemed mature enough not to break it or play with it in a destructive way, it was given to me. It’s really cool, because it’s in the same case, and there’s old resin that he used. I don’t use that anymore, but they kept it in the case, and it’s really neat for me. He really enjoyed playing it, and it was expensive for him to buy it at the time as someone who had just come to this country. It was one of his prized possessions.

Well, I know that Charlie Daniels was a fiddle player, which isn’t the same style, but which solo do you think was better, Charlie’s or the Devil’s?

I think it was the Devil’s, but I also think it’s because I know too much about Charlie Daniels’ politics. There may be a bias there. So, I don’t think it’s fair, but I think the Devil’s was better. You know, technically, I think it was.

I thought the devil’s sounded better.

I think you’re always supposed to not like things the devil does. (laughs) Yeah, I think by definition “The devil did that really well” probably is not what you’re supposed to say. (laughs)

Would you consider yourself to be a creative introvert or creative extrovert?

I think that I’m probably a creative extrovert, and I think that I’ve always chosen a profession that allowed me to have a lot of face time with people and to engage with people as a recruiter. The compensation that I would receive would be based on the people that I would be able to connect with and with the companies that I was hiring for. And, my husband is definitely an introvert and will sometimes hear me on the phone in the evening, and he’s like “I’m exhausted just watching you do that. I would hate doing that.” Like, if we order pizza, my husband will not use the phone. He’ll be like “Will you call for the pizza?” (laughs) I think that I’m definitely an extrovert, and it’s why I’ve been able to throw myself into recruiting. Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to call somebody that doesn’t know you and try to convince them that there’s an opportunity out there that’s better for them.

Did you find that playing a violin at an early age helped you become an extrovert?

I think it did, and I think it kind of reduced my anxiety around making mistakes. When you’re in that setting, you’re listening to other people play, and you can kind of tell when somebody misses a note or messes up. You understand that it’s just part of the job of being a performer. Things aren’t always going to be perfect. I’ve worked as a recruiter in open settings where everyone can hear everything I say, and you know, if you get too self-conscience about flipping out or saying something kind of silly or maybe not having the best conversation, then you know you’re not going want to get back on the phone and make another call. So, I’m thinking that maybe it’s okay to mess up, and some days you do a great job and some days you don’t have the best concert. It’s all in getting back to it and being consistent.

Knowing that you’ve met with a lot of people because of the industry that you’re in, do you think that there are people out there that are truly uncreative?

I don’t think so. I think a lot of it is confidence. I think everybody has the ability, and I think it’s even in the things people daydream. They may not think of it as creative, but it is. When I first started working in HR within a marketing company, I always felt like maybe I realized that I could be creative in spite of myselfmy ideas wouldn’t have as much value because I’m not a marketer for a living. I realize that I would have ideas that may be outside of what marketers would think, or maybe I had some unique perspective being in HR. I realized that I could be creative in spite of myself. So, I think it’s about confidence. You know, and it’s about being open-minded on how you define what creativity is.

Were you ever involved in any kind brainstorming on projects early on in the marketing places where you’ve worked?

I have been. And, I think that a lot of times, I was kind of the good lab rat for “Hey would this be something you would be interested in?” or “If you just saw this on a mailer, what would you think?” I was able to give an every woman’s unbiased view of what I thought. Then, once I saw more of the process of being in marketing and doing things like branding, I became more and more amazed at how somebody can sit down with a couple of ideas and put out a product that’s eye-catching and engaging. It gave me more confidence to give more suggestions on what I like.

You told me an interesting story involving you husband teaching your bird to whistle the Imperial March from Star Wars.


He probably spent an embarrassing amount of time on it. The male cockatiel we have, Spike, never liked any man that I ever had around him. He didn’t like my father and didn’t like my brother, but something about my husband just clicked. Like, he knew that he was going to have to live with this man a very long time. (laughs) And so, my husband would go up to his cage, and he would whistle silly little things like the Andy Griffith theme, which I’m so glad the bird didn’t learn because that’s really annoying. So, he would try different little tunes. When he found out the bird really got into Imperial March, he would just do it over and over again. And, I don’t think there’s anything more ominous than hearing a cockatiel at 5:30 in the morning whistling the Imperial March. My husband thinks it’s the best thing ever, and he loves the birds though at first he was not impressed. And now, I think the Star Wars thing totally sealed the deal on the relationship.

So was the bird attracted to the Imperial March?

Oddly enough, yes. I mean, my husband whistled the Indiana Jones theme —no interest. As soon as he heard the Imperial March, he turned his little head to the side and tried to copy it. So, I think that he’s probably evil because it’s the only song he’s every liked. I should have him listen to some Charlie Daniel’s and see if that peaks his interest. (laughs)

So have you become a Star Wars fan?

You know as much as I can see that my husband enjoys it. I have. When they had the Star Wars experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. I bought the tickets, and I went with him. When they had the music of Star Wars here in Dallas, I surprised him with the tickets, and he was in heaven. He was just so excited. I get into it because when I see him like that, it makes me think of what he was probably like as a little boy. Being able to see a grown man get that excited over a movie to me is just awesome. Everybody should have that in their life — where they can feel childlike and not be embarrassed by it. That’s how I am with dinosaurs. I’m ridiculously excited about dinosaurs and my husband totally indulges that. He buys me dinosaur figurines and sends me pictures of dinosaurs. It seems kind of silly but it’s something new and it makes me happy. There’s not enough of that in the world.

Have you been to Dinosaur Valley in Glen Rose, Texas?

I have. And I’ve seen pretty much every dinosaur exhibit even the animatronics dinosaurs that came here. And I was pretty much the only 30 year old woman who was screaming with excitement about the dinosaurs. I even got to take a picture next to one of the animatronics dinosaurs.

Do you think creativity is something that somebody is just born with, or is it something that you develop and nurture?

I think it’s something that everyone is born with. When you watch the way that children play, they can take inanimate objects and create stories in their minds. I think it’s something that we’re all born with, but I think that some parents and some people nurture that piece more. Now I can say that I would love more than anything to be able to draw, because I think it’s an amazing skill to have. I’m horrible at drawing. I would get books at the book store when I was a kid that help you trace things, and I would still mess it up. So, I think my creativity may be musical. I’ve seen small children be able to draw far better than I can. But, I think everybody’s creative. I think you’re born with it.

My previous guest Nicole Dobbs has a question for you. Looking back on your life, what was one of the defining moments where you came to a fork in the road, and you had to either choose A or B?

I think the defining moment for me was my first day of law school, because I went into it thinking it was going to be an experience much like my undergraduate experience which was very sheltered and very friendly. I was thrown in law school with a bunch of people that I considered adults, and I wasn’t really sure if it’s what I wanted to do. But, I’ve always been of the mind that when you start something, you finish it. So, I went and talked the dean of students, and I was like, “I really don’t’ know if I want to do this.” She said, “If you decide to leave, you know we will give you 75% of your money back, and you can figure out what you want to do in life. You have until the end of this week.” And every night that I thought about it, I had a different answer for what I was going to do. Walking into the school that Friday morning and having to go to the dean of students, I made the decision to stay and stick it through. And, you know, those were really hard years in my life. I didn’t have the money. I was working full time and going to school full time, but it’s something I’m really grateful I did. I think that if I would have given up, I would have regretted it. And, I would have always wondered what I could have accomplished if I would have stuck it out. So, that was probably the biggest turning point in my life. You know, up to this point in life.

Do you feel like you needed to go through that so that you left the field on you terms rather than the field kicking you out?

I felt like I was going to be — and I don’t like this word — kind of a loser if I didn’t finish. It was certainly parental expectations (laughs) that I finish law school. So, I think somebody else would have been pretty angry at me, but I think that it was, “I can either let this beat me, or I can beat it.”

Do you feel like you made the right decision?

I think I did. Now when I look at my student loan payments, I might tell you something different. (laughs) They suck. (LAUGHS)

I think I did, because I’ve been able to utilize things that I’ve learned and really have a growing career based on the education that I have behind me, so I’m really glad I did it.

Be sure to follow Lalli on twitter @TXStrategicHR, LinkedIn and like her on facebook. You can also find out more about her at Talentculture. Check back soon for when I interview Lynda Campbell and we talk about the good side of creativity in accounting. In the meantime, be sure to check out my interviews with Jeni Herberger and Nicole Dobbs.

Like what you see feel free to email me at and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Dinosaur toy eating a business man toy figureElizabeth Lalli-Reese, or Lalli as she prefers to be called, was the first person that I met during a series of interviews with Starr Tincup in early 2009. She was easily one of the best interviewers I ever had the privilege of meeting. So, I thought that it would only be appropriate to flip the tables and make her the subject of my latest interviews on creativity. She is passionate about the human resources space that she works in, an area that’s not necessarily recognized for it’s creativity. So, prepare to change your mind about HR.

I know you have a lot of unique interests and have had an interesting journey getting to where you are. Give us a little bit of background about how you got to where you are today.

When I was in high school, I was a debater. I did Lincoln-Douglas debate. So everybody was always saying, “Oh, you should go to college, and go to law school.” Coming from a kind of strict Indian family, I had a choice of being a lawyer or a doctor, and I’m really, really squeamish. So being a lawyer sounded like a really good idea.

I went to college at TCU on an academic scholarship, and I also played softball. My major was Political Science, and I totally fell in love with it. I was able to play the devil’s advocate as someone who was politically liberal at a school that’s pretty conservative. So, I had a lot of fun with that.

I ended up starting law school right out of undergrad, so I was pretty naïve and didn’t really know what a graduate program like law school would be like or whether it was the field that was right for me. I was 22 years old, and I was going to school with people that were on average eight years older than I was. So I quickly learned that my life at TCU wasn’t indicative of what the real world was like. Starting law school wasn’t really what I thought it would be, and I figured that I might like it more as I delve into other aspects of the law. By the third and final year, I realized that the only aspect I enjoyed about law school was the labor and employment law classes that I had taken.

I decided to try to go into practice. I started with family law because there’s a pretty low barrier to entry if you can follow a step-by-step divorce, wills or things like that. I discovered I really didn’t like it at all. It was very adversarial, and it was very depressing. So from there, I decided that I was going to start working as a legal recruiter because I had been recruiting for a financial firm while I was in college. I was able to leverage the connections I made in law school, and I did that for a while. Then, I guess, I kind of went more into a generalist role in HR recruitment. So, it was kind of a strange way to get there, but I think I made a much better decision not to continue with law.

I understand that you’ve got your own business, and you’ve recently made a job switch.

Yes. I am currently the head of HR for Ace Cash Express. We are an alternative financial services firm based in Irving, Texas. I think our total number of employees is somewhere around 7500 to 8000. We’re located in the US and Canada, and we’ve got 1800 retail locations plus our corporate headquarters. So, I do that, and I also do HR consulting. I write for a blog that was featured on the Austin American Statesman for people who have been laid off, and I also help companies do reductions in force, and organizational development and planning in my free time.

Wow, do you actually have any free time?  It sounds like you work all over the board.

(Laughs) You know, I think that it’s one of those things that when you do something you love, you find yourself, even on the weekends or when you’re sitting around with your laptop, kind of poking around and taking some time to maybe flush out ideas that you’ve had during the week. So honestly, most of the time, it doesn’t feel like work except when I’m doing more administrative tasks. I really enjoy what I do, and I’m really lucky to be in an organization that helps me grow and allows me to be really creative in the way that we work with our employees.

You’ve touched on an interesting subject that I’ve talked about before, and that’s a work identity versus your home. Do you find that you are always in work mode? Is there even a work mode?

I think I certainly have a separation when I’m at work. I am the face of the human resources department so my language tends to be quite censored compared to like when I’m in the car driving and  get angry; when I’m at home and I  burn something; or when the dogs tear up two pairs of shoes. I certainly put on a professional demeanor and I watch my p’s and q’s  more. But, I think that people that know me well here, or worked with me previously, understand that I have some sense of humor. I’m not all “by the books,” not all business, and what I think is the most important thing is to be a good business partner. Sometimes being a good business partner is not always being the “by the book” HR practitioner.

I know when most people think about HR, creativity is not the first thing that comes to mind. Do you feel that’s a fair judgment? Do you see creativity in what you do within the HR industry?

I think it was a fair judgment 30 years ago when the HR department was still called personnel and their function was much more administrative — basically hiring and firing. I think that new HR professionals are able to be a lot more creative in approaches that we take not only in employee relations, but also towards employment branding and in building relationships with employees. I think with the advent of social media and email, I’m able to convey ideas and concepts that get employees engaged in creative ways rather than just send out a memo. We are able to do some cool things with surveys to see how our employees are reacting to different policy changes, and we are able to connect with our employees online in a social atmosphere. If they leave or they decide not to work for us anymore, they can become a member of our alumni group. And, it’s a creative way for them to stay in touch — not just professionally, but also personally. So, I agree that things are changing. I think HR still has the reputation of not being the most creative group. I would probably agree with that to a point, but I think the HR professionals that get it are using creative means to get messages and policies across to their employees.

Do you feel like the industry has grown in particular in the last 30 years because of people switching fields and bringing what they’ve learned in other disciplines much like yourself?

You know I think that my experience in the legal profession certainly brought a very strong compliant streak. I really think  the fact that I’ve done recruiting and worked for a marketing firm has really helped me to be more creative, and to — and I hate the term, but — “look outside the box” (laughs) to find solutions. I hate it when people say that, but it’s the only way I can put it. There are ways to look outside of traditional means for employee communications and to really get people excited and engaged. You know sometimes we’re really not dealing with the most exciting topics — like 401K. That’s not very exciting, but if we put it in context and make it something that is eye-catching, interesting and humorous, people are much more likely to read and absorb the information. I think working within marketing I’ve been able to take a lot of the really cool things that I’ve seen other companies do and bring it into what I do on a daily basis.

How would you define creativity in its most basic terms?

Creativity is the drive for innovationI think I would define it as… the drive to innovate would be the way I would try to put it in the simplest terms that I can think of. Because when I see something that is really creative and really catches my interest, it changes the way that I may look at a subject or an item. And, I think the people that are the most creative are also usually the most innovative in their space. You know, I can think of top leaders within HR that are considered to be the innovators and spot leaders, and they are all very creative in the way they engage with their employees and also with other HR professionals. So, I guess I would say creativity to me is the drive for innovation and to truly be able to differentiate yourself or your message to the outside world.

Do you think that creativity by its definition has to be a tangible product at the end?

I don’t think so, because I think in a lot of the conversations that I have, especially in resolving employee relations issues, we have to be very creative. And, of course, the solutions aren’t a tangible item, but I have to be very creative in making sure that I’m able to address all the different needs of the parties that are involved. And, you know, sometimes it’s not the book standard “policy number 405 says x, y, z” so I think some of the best HR professionals are creative in solutions that they provide for employee relations issues. For their company, it’s creative ways to save money or bring more candidates into the fold. So, I think creativity is a huge part of what makes HR professionals successful.

What was the impetus behind starting your own HR consultancy? Did you want to be a business owner, or did you just feel you had something to say within the industry?

I’ve always had kind of an entrepreneurial plan. My first job out of law school was basically me putting a signal out there and offering legal recruiting services. I had this fear of failure, but I also had the rush of creating something new. And so, I thought that a lot of small companies needed HR assistance. They weren’t following either compliance laws or standard procedures, and a lot of times, it was operators who were really good at driving the business but didn’t know how to work on the HR side. I saw a gap for low cost solutions, because many of the solutions that small companies are given for HR is either hiring a HR professional full time which is very expensive, or working with an outsource group that asks for a large retainer every month. By doing projects either on a small retainer or “as needed” basis, I think I’ve been able to fill some of the gaps for HR within these small companies, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. Working in HR in a small company is certainly different than working in HR in a company with 8000 employees. I found it to be very interesting to see what people think is acceptable (laughs) behavior at small companies with family members all working there. It’s been eye opening.

Do you find that it’s a bit of a creative outlet in the sense that you’re still within the field, but it’s on your own terms?

Most definitely. I think that working with the smaller companies, because a lot of times there’s not a handbook or there’s not a way to do things in HR yet, I’m able to create and put things on paper, create policies and procedures, and help people understand why we are doing things a certain way. The company that I currently work for has been around since 1968, so there’s kind of a legacy of this in the way we do things. I can change those things, but I’m not creating as much as I can with a small company where they may say, “We’ve never done profession planning. Can you help us learn how to do it? Can you put together organizational charts?” It has allowed me to build more and maybe not sustain as much. Also, here at Ace, I’m lucky enough to have a team that handles different pieces of HR. In my consulting, I’m touching every piece of HR. I’m touching the HR part — benefits, employer relations, recruitment — so I’m able to do more things in different areas than I do here on a day-to-day basis.

Are you a person that thrives on being able to wear different hats, assume different roles and constantly challenged with something new?

I think that there’s a reason why I work a fulltime job and then consult on the side. And, I think for me not having something to do or not being challenged, it’s kind of a kiss-of-death for the interest in a job. If I don’t feel like every day I’m coming in and I’m really making a difference or really changing things for the better, then that’s when I start to look around and say, “Why am I here? Am I collecting a paycheck for the right reason?” I really like to feel that if you’re paying me, you’re getting what you’re paying for. So, I think that’s probably why I’ve thrown myself into the industry so completely.

Be sure to check out the exciting conclusion of my interview with Lalli, and follow her on twitter @TXStrategicHR, LinkedIn and like her on facebook. You can also find out more about her at Talentculture.

Like what you see feel free to email me at and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

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