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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)
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.
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.
He’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.
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.
In 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 my 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.
Be Forceful. Be Creative
In my interview with Nicole Dobbs, she explained a lot of her approach to life, education and science through seemingly unrelated topics. Whether that be zombies or The Lord of the Rings, her ability to relate the things she enjoys to the things she does represents one of the basic building blocks of creativity — forced connections. By forcing relationships between two things that are unrelated we make our brains reevaluate our percepetion of both.
For the second creative exercise we’ll explore the idea of forced connections, and how that can help power your brainstorms. To make this exercise a little easier I’ve included a list of the supernatural and professions to pair up, though you can come up with your own list.
Step 1: Pick a topic from the supernatural and profession columns.
Step 2: Draw two overlapping circles to create a Venn diagram
Step 3: Write the supernatural in one circle, the profession in the other.
Step 4: In the overlapping area write phrases and words that they have in common.
Step 5: Create a slogan to be used in an advertisement for the supernatural profession based off the common words or phrases.
The funnier connections seem to work the best, so make sure to laugh and have fun while completing this exercise. I chose to combine a zombie with a politician in honor of Nicole’s strange fascination with zombies.
Be sure to read part 1 and part 2 of my interview with Nicole Dobbs, and check back soon for my next interview with Elizabeth Lalli-Reese the head of Human Resources at Ace Cash Express for Untapped Creativity.