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During 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?
A 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.
Several 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?
When 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.