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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.

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.

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.

2011 HOW Live Recap ChicagoI have to admit that I was a little concerned that I’d be disappointed going to the 2011 HOW Design Conference since it was my third consecutive year to go. I hadn’t planned my schedule of sessions ahead of time as I did for Denver and Austin. I wasn’t sure if that was due to the overwhelming amount of sessions offered at the four conferences, or if I had burnt myself out by going too often. The day before the conference I finally decided to nail down my schedule, which I never really stuck to. It forced me to experience the conference in a fresh way.

Get out of your comfort zone. Way out.

Several of the sessions that I attended involved a lot of interactivity from the audience. As uncomfortable as some of those sessions may have been, they proved to be the most memorable and rewarding. The opening keynote with Kristina Robbins and Jo McGinley had the audience doing design yoga, and being aware of how we interact with others. Sam Harrison, one of my favorite speakers from Denver, followed up with teaching us to play, explore and act silly to find inspiration the following morning. What’s not to love about throwing paper planes, pointing and screaming at complete strangers and sniffing Kool-Aid. Peleg Top began his session later that day, by not only forcing you to interact with a total stranger, but to actually brainstorm about your business with them. His session was terrifying and invigorating at the same time particular since it started with everyone laughing for a full minute while looking strangers in the eyes.

I would have loved to see less designers walking out of those sessions when forced to connect with a stranger, but sadly it happened at these three sessions more than any of the others that I attended. I completely understand how intimidating it is to have a conversation with someone you’ve never met, but every time I do it I’m amazed at how awesome most people are. Designers are shy, and I’m no exception. When you’re at HOW shyness doesn’t count. I’ve met some amazing people just from having the courage to be the first person on the dance floor, and you have to learn to take that chance.

Panning for water in a river of gold.

I didn’t have to look hard to find nuggets of inspiration with almost every session having brilliant insight, practical application and “I want to do that” inspiration. Here’s a list of the biggest nuggets I took from all of the sessions that I attended.

  1. “Decoding the Meaning of Design” Michael Cotton & Rob Swan — Break down brand traits to a molecular level and rebuild.
  2. “Color Strategy, Forecasting & Expressions” Jack Bredenfoerder — Color psychology is bullshit. Context gives meaning to color.
  3. “Designing for Icons” Moira Cullen — Iconic brands have the confidence to be simple, honest, and in tune with current trends.
  4. “To Plan or Not to Plan” Luke Mysse — Make big juicy goals that convince others that you’re crazy.
  5. “Being a 24/7 Creative Pro” Steve Gordon — Always be curious and earn your sleep.
  6. “Intro to Marketing for Freelancers” Ilise Benun — Simplify your marketing approach with daily, weekly and monthly tasks.
  7. “I Want to Make a Million Dollars” Monique Elwell — Define your sales funnel.
  8. “Becoming a Hired Gun” Von Glitschka — Show the work you want to do, and most importantly don’t suck.
  9. “Being Available in the Moment” Kristina Robbins and Jo McGinley — Understand how you influence others and situations with your body language.
  10. “Galumphing, Goats on Roofs and Other Revelations to Spark Inspiration” Sam Harrison — Learn to play and be a kid again through your work.
  11. “Creativity” Peleg Top — Infuse your business with what’s important to you, and take chances everyday.
  12. “Fee + Equity: How to Charge Less and Make More” Kevin McConkey — We don’t sell solutions. We minimize the risk for the solution.
  13. “Who Died and Made You Boss?” James Victore — Design doesn’t happen in the studio, production does. Find your muse.
  14. “Lead Generation 101: How to Make Your Site Into a Business-Generating Machine” Mark O’Brien — Develop personas instead of defining a general target market.
  15. “Letter for a Living” Jessica Hische — Learn your type designers not just the foundries that sell their creations.
  16. “Fascinate: How to Persuade and Captivate” Sally Hogshead — Use the right triggers to attract the ideal client. Be the orange ticket.

Put a bird on it.

Twitter BirdSocial media is an important part of any conference experience, but you should use it as a means to make those face-to-face connections. Twitter is perfect for finding out where groups of HOWies are spending time after the sessions close, or for letting people know that you want to meet them in person. This year I sent a tweet a few weeks prior to the event with a list of people I wanted to meet that I’d been following and, more importantly, interacting with on twitter over the past year or two. I met everyone that I intended to meet, and even a few people I didn’t expect to meet. People like David Ashcraft, Kelli Langdon, Jon Sandruck and Cami Travis-Groves are just a handful of the awesome friends that I’ll continue to stay in touch with over the following year. I’ve already begun setting up a list of people that I need to hangout with in Boston next year like Maria Singleton, Jasmine Wabbington and Crystal Reynolds.

Sometimes you have to get pancakes at 2 am.

A big group of old and new HOW friends decided to get pancakes after the Neenah Paper party, and I was fortunate enought to be invited. I could have easily said, “No, I need to go back to my room and salvage the little sleep that I can get before the final morning panels,” but that’s not what the conference is about. The biggest inspiration of the HOW Conference is meeting and connecting with a passionate group of creatives that have the same drive, frustrations and sense of humor. Von Glitschka told me, “This is what the conference is really about.” Getting together with your colleagues, pushing each other to be better and make our industry better is the true spirit of the conference.Where else can you learn that Emeril Lagasse agrees that corned beef hash always slays chicken fried steak?

The new connections that I made, and the old connections that I revisited help me remember why you can never burn out on HOW Live. I decided to take Luke up on his double dog dare, and I’ve set my big juicy goal to speak at HOW Live. In addition to coming to terms with my fear of revolving doors that I developed in 9 days in Chicago, I’ll be developing my presentation skills to engage and inspire in the same way all of the great HOW Live speakers did this year. I hope to meet you next year in Boston if not sooner.

Like what you see feel free to email me at and don’t forget to follow on Twitter or stalk me on Facebook.

Be Forceful. Be CreativeLegislation with Brains - Zombie Uncle Sam Poster

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.


  • Zombie
  • Vampire
  • Werewolf
  • Witch
  • Alien
  • Ghost


  • Politician
  • Hairdresser
  • Banker
  • Scientist
  • Musician
  • Teacher

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.

Zombies vs. Politicians DiagramBe 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.

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.

Previously on Untapped Creativity…

I sat down to talk with my wife Nicole Dobbs, about creativity in the science field. The second part of the interview shows exactly how nerdy research scientists can get. You can check out part 1 here.

Getting back to you not thinking that you’re smart enough. Smartness is relative depending on what you’re talking about. I look at that as more of an inner critic. If you had to characterize your inner critic as being a character from a movie, novel or famous person who would it be?

I go back to, especially girls, you have body image issues. I think in that case, it’s probably the stupid valley girl that everybody wants to punch in the face. “Like, oh my gawd! Look at yer big butt!” (laughs) It’s stuff like that.

And there’s always going to be days like yesterday. I was doing an experiment, and the spazzy little critic started freaking out. “There’s never going to be enough time! There’s never going to be enough time!” I started freaking out, because I’m not sure if I did this experiment right. I don’t know that I did the best design for this, and I could have screwed up the whole thing. I had to tell myself, “You need to shut up.” (laughs) And this is probably the same one that when I was going on my interviews for post-doc positions made me start freaking out. “You don’t know anything. The simplest question will get you much further.You don’t anything.” You saw me that morning before I went to that interview, and I had to realize that I’m my own worst enemy. I need to just stop, take a deep breath, and remember that I listen. I listen a lot, and I retain a lot of information. I know a lot of basic stuff. A lot of times when you’re solving problems you start with the simplest solution. Because the simplest question you can ask will get you much further.

I think I have a lot of critics. I think they all look different. I think the most descriptive one is the self-image one who’s the valley girl that I just want to punch in the face.

So that’s the one that you’re most familiar with, but I imagine that one has been there a long time.

Yeah, but you know what? I will agree with you, and this is going on record. The older that I’ve gotten, you’re going to get uglier as you get older…

I don’t think that’s what I said, but we’ll go with it.

(laughs hard) but one of the things that I’ve realized is that I don’t care as much. It’s not as important. We’re all at different stages of our life. I’m never going to be perfect, but it’s the imperfections that make me ME. If I looked perfect, or I looked like I was in a magazine, I would be Barbie. And Barbie is pretty plastic. I’m me. I have a lot of imperfections. I’m not afraid of getting a scar. Those will define me. If I do get a really cool scar, I’m going to come up with a really cool story about how I got it. It’s probably going to involve zombies and robots.

Zombies have come up twice now.

I said Resident Evil. I didn’t say zombies!

We all now what you meant. You clearly have this obsession with zombies. Knowing that you feel so strongly about zombies, do you think zombies should be allowed to vote?

Okay, to answer your question, because I don’t know if I’ve answered any of your questions. (laughs hard) I would say no, because their vote is probably easily swayed with some brains. Then I really do think that everybody deserves the right to vote, but then I went totally the other way with it. They do deserve the right to vote, because you never know the zombies may actually elect a good zombie senator that may actually do better than the ones we have now.

So you would back a zombie-based platform.

I might back a zombie-based platform. I might be a part of a zombie platform, oh, unless project Alice is going to come kill me. But then I’d get to meet one of my heroes.

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering a PhD?

My first piece of advice for people getting a PhD would be, don’t have a fulltime job. Don’t work fulltime. It’s easier said than done, especially if you live on your own. You can’t do science and a fulltime job. It’s just too much, because then you’re never home. You might as well just live in the lab.

Your going to have days where you feel like everything you touch turns to shitDon’t give up. If you really love it, you’re going to have bad days. Everybody knows that if you love something that you do there’s always a downside. I think that the careers we end up in have more of an upside than a downside. The upsides are so much better that we can get through the downside of it. You’re going to have days where you feel like everything you touch turns to shit. (laughs) You need to step away from it, and go for a walk. Take the dog for a walk. You’re going to have hard times, but it’s worth it if you really want to do this. You’re going to have to be able to get through those hard things. You going to have to learn things that you don’t want to learn.

The best advice that I ever received was from Dr. Simecka. “What is the question your trying to answer?” Take that and make it into a story that you can follow. You can explain to people what it is that you’re trying to study.

Just remember if you’re going to do this, it’s not easy. It’s going to take a chunk of your life. Most people will not understand why it’s taken you seven years to get through this, and you can’t really describe it to them because they don’t know unless they’ve been there. Just stick with it, because in the end it will be worth it.

So do you find that getting out of your normal routine or going outside rejuvenates your creativity?

I think so. I have several friends that were freaking out about taking their medical boards, and I understand because I am SO not a test taker. They were doing the same thing that everybody does — locking themselves in the house and studying. I told them, “Okay, you need to go outside, and you need to take a thirty minute walk. I know you’re freaking out, because you’re thinking oh my god, oh my god. You’re brain will thank you.” Exercise I think is probably the best thing in the world. I think it’s almost the cure-all for a lot of diseases. You know if people actually got out and exercised more their body would thank them, but your brain I think really resets. There’s something about it. I don’t know if it’s getting away from what you were doing, but you’re outside, you’re walking, you’re exercising and for me, if you can’t already tell, I talk 15 miles an hour. I’m a little bit of a spaz.

You’re a little calm this morning.

That’s a five mile run, baby!

I am a spaz. My brain goes a million miles an hour. I think we’ve joked about this, that I’m probably a little ADD. What I’ve noticed is that when I get out there my brain is all over the place. It’s thinking about everything. It’s playing back scenarios. It’s playing back conversations. It’s thinking about what I watched on TV. It’s thinking about what I’m going to do next week, in a year, in 12 years. And it’s going all over the place, which I think is kind of good, but then at some point it starts to slow down. And then it reorders itself.

If you have a problem that’s on your mind that you’re going around 50 million ways, sometimes when you comeback from that walk you have that solution. Or you have a place to start, or new way of looking at it.

My previous guest Jeni Herberger has a question for you. Was there ever a moment during your PhD that you wanted to throw in the towel? How did you end up overcoming it?

Yes! (laughs) There’s been a number of occasions where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel. Every step of the way was scary. You were there with me going up in the elevator when I was going to my oral exam. It felt like going to the guillotine.

For those of you that don’t know, I have a 45 minute commute to get to the school. Tad had to drive me on that day, because I was so freaked out. I was going up in the elevator, and I’m pretty sure I was having a panic attack. I ran into the chair of my committee, and he looked at me, which I’m sure I looked horrible. I said, “Dr. Easom, I don’t think I can do this.” He said, “Take a deep breath. All we want to know is what you know. That’s it.” So, that helped me get past it.

Then for my grant writing exam, I was able to drive myself. But it once again felt like I was going to the guillotine. It was weird though. I don’t what happened, but I relaxed more. I gave my presentation, and I guess I realized that I was really doing it, that I actually am a scientist.

I think during grant writing there was a point where I thought I was having a panic attack, too.

That’s the one that I most vividly remember. You were just so upset on my office floor, and you couldn’t put together a sentence. You were just hysterical. I’ve never seen you that stressed out.

It’s because when you go for many days without sleep, or with only little bits of sleep you really can’t focus.

Sleep is really important everyone.

I’m really good at not getting sleep, but you really should make sure that you get sleep. That’s probably where a lot of that came from, and the stress of everything. It was crazy. Me and Sheetal, my good friend, talk about grant writing as if it was the Vietnam War. Like we’re veterans. (laughs) It was a really important step in our career, and we got past it. I really feel like once you get past it you should get some kind of girl scout badge or boy scout badge for that.

It was even worse towards the end. Not so much writing my thesis as much as doing the experiments, because I think we were still going in one direction in March, and I couldn’t prove what I thought I was trying to prove. I was so unhappy. “Why is this not working?” I even made Dr. Simecka miss his poker game, because I was like “This is not working!” He said, “We can try this.” And I was like, “THAT’S GOING TO TAKE ME ANOTHER MONTH!” That was the day that I walked to my car and I put on one of my anthems — Broken Social Scene’s “It’s All Gonna Break.” I cried walking all the way to my car. I cried all the way in my car on the drive home. I think I got home at 8 o’clock that night. When I came in, you looked at me, and I had big puffy eyes. You were like, “It’s gonna be okay.” I guess it looks like a funeral when I come in like that.

Sometimes you’re going to get to the point where you just have to let it out. You can’t be tough all the time. When you’re in the car and nobody else is around, you can cry all the way home. And go to sleep, because the next day is going to be another day. Today is the day you’re going to figure it out. The story still came out good.

How did I overcome it? I think it’s a life lesson that my parents taught me a long time ago. You’re going to get knocked down, and you have to get yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. Ultimately, at the end of it, just like with Frodo’s journey, although it did result in Frodo’s death… STOP LAUGHING!

I’m just laughing at how much of a nerd you are, because you brought up The Lord of the Rings and Resident Evil in the same interview.

Oh, my god. That was a long journey. I was like, “Oh my god. Are you going to get to Mordor? Would you just throw the damn ring!” (LAUGHS)

The longest journeys, the stuff that is the hardest to do is the stuff that’s worth doing. That’s really what I believe. That’s probably what’s kept me going. I think I’m going to get to the end, and at the end I’m going to figure it out. I hope that when I die that I get to go to heaven, and they’re going to tell me all the reasons why those experiments didn’t work like they were supposed to. (LAUGHS) They’re going to go, “Okay. Here it is, and here’s the book.” Or as my mom always tells me, it’ll be all the things that you’ve ever done wrong. (LAUGHS) It’s going to be the library of black books. And I told her one day when she told me that, that there are volumes on me. (LAUGHS)

Be sure to check back soon from Creative Exercise 2.

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.

Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty hard to schedule time to sit down and interview your spouse. My wife, Nicole Dobbs, has been one of the biggest influences behind the topic of this blog series. When people first meet us and discover what we do for a living, they often assume since Nicole is a scientist, more specifically an immunologist, that she isn’t the creative one. We almost always respond by explaining how similar the thought process is for designing experiments and designing brands. I know that she’s just as passionate about the creativity in everyone as I am, so I’m thrilled that she gets to talk about her own approach to science in my next couple of posts. If you know her, it’ll come as no surprise that Nicole had a lot to say. It’s all great stuff, so I’ve split the interview into 2 posts.

Tell us a little bit about your background and your journey to get to where you are today.

I think I was always a weird kid. It goes back to what you talked about, you exhibit certain signs at an early age. And I think that I was always a great observer of small things like realizing that plants are actually living, and they move. But I think what really tipped my parents off more than anything else was in 6thgrade when we learned about the cell. You’re a mosaic of different kinds of cells. So your heart cells, your liver cells, your skin cells, they all work together. Within each one of those cells there are components that keep them running. We had to do a model of a cell, and it had to have all of the components that make a cell work. I was really into music, so I made mine like a little punk rocker cell. I ended up making a 98 or a 100 on that test just because I just found it so interesting.

I think my parents always knew I liked science, and before I went off to the University of North Texas they made me pick a major. (laughs) So, they sat down — actually it was just my mom that sat down — and started reading majors to me. It was so funny, because she got to Biology and said, “You’ve always been good at science.” So, she read the description for biology. “It’s the study of life, but it’s also classifying things in their kingdom, phylum, class, order, blah, blah, blah.” And I found that really boring, but when she got to biochemistry, which talked about the components of the cell, RNA and DNA, I was like “Okay, that sounds cool!” And then I just started down that path. The further I went down the path the more interesting it got. At UNT there were a lot of people working with micro-organisms — manipulating their DNA, which I thought was just the coolest thing on the planet.

So, I got into that, but ultimately I arrived at where I am now which is studying cellular immunology. Micro-organisms are awesome, but pathogens are even cooler! If you get infected by a few pathogens, they can make you sick and kill you. That’s pretty crazy! On the other side, your body has these awesome mechanisms to fight them off.

That’s how I got to where I am. I love immunology, and I love pathogens. And I love them both equally.

Recently you finished graduate school. What was your degree in specifically?

Well, on my actual GIGANTIC diploma, I believe, it’s a PhD in Bio-Medical Sciences which sounds SO generic. But it’s actually the study of immunology, particularly micro-biology and immunology. That’s what I study.

What are you planning to do now that you’ve got your PhD?

Well, I find that I’m most interested in staying in academia. You pretty much get to a point, at least as a scientist, in your career where you have to decide, “Do I want to go into industry, where I work for a company? Or do I want to stay in academia?”

I decided I wanted to stay in academia, and I came to that conclusion, most importantly, because to me, it is actually more creative. You may be doing your studies, but then you come across a weird idea, and maybe you can follow that for a little while. You never know where that’s going to lead. So, that’s the route I’m going.

You’ve touched on an interesting idea that academia is a little more creative. People generally are not going to think of science as creative. What is it specifically that you find creative in science?

It’s so funny, because I just had a conversation with one of my colleagues who was insistent that she wasn’t creative even though she’s a bio-physicist. She insisted that creativity is like a Van Gogh or a Francis Bacon where you physically look at the products they come up with, and you have a strong emotional reaction. I was telling her “No, you don’t understand. We’re just as creative.” It’s just we’re creative in more of a “Hey! Here’s a bunch of Legos, why don’t you start putting them together and see what you can make out of it or see what comes out of it.” We’re creative, just differently. (laughs)

How would you define creativity in its most basic terms? What to you is creativity?

I’ve thought about it, and that’s a really interesting question. It’s difficult to answer, because everybody thinks creativity is like a Jackson Pollock painting. You look at it and you’re like “Wow! That guy really knew what he was doing, but I could never come up with that. Or I could never paint that.” I think in the science field, it’s more about… So this is how I described it to the lady I was talking to. I said, “Haven’t you ever been in the Creativity is figuring out what you can do to answer your question.middle of an experiment and something goes terribly wrong?” because you weren’t paying attention or because you just didn’t expect it. So, literally, you’re jogging down the path, and BOOM something goes wrong. What are you going to do? You can’t scrap this entire experiment that you spent 2 months working on. All you can do is come up with some solution on the fly to figure out how to salvage whatever kind of data you can salvage. That’s on immediate terms, but in the long-term it’s, “We’re thinking about our problem, and we’re thinking about what kind of question we want to ask about this problem that could lead us down a path to the answer for something.” The problem is we don’t know how to answer it, so we have to design experiments to answer a question. I mean there are some basic experiments that have already been designed, or have been put through the mill. Everybody does those. Flo-cytometry. Oh yeah, that’s great! Everybody believes it. But sometimes you have to be more creative than that. You have to figure out what you can do to answer your question. That involves a lot of design of the experiment and creativity in and of itself.

Do you think creativity defines you, or do you define your creativity?

I think that you define your own version of creativity. I think it fits whatever solution. You use it how you use it. You just don’t realize you’re doing it. And when you realize you’re doing it you’re like “Oh!”

Would you say it’s a trait that has to be taught or is it a talent you’re born with?

I think it’s a little bit of both. Some people are more gifted. Thelonius Monk was clearly musically gifted. Now, we can also say that maybe some of that was enhanced by drugs just like Coltrain, but some people are just naturally talented. Some people can draw better than others. You can learn to draw, but some people don’t have to sit down and think about it. They can just do it. I think that everybody to a certain degree is born with it, but I think you learn to use it. In other cases, like the person I was talking to, when you point out to them “You know you’re being creative.” They kind of freak out “No, I’m not!” and then the magic’s gone. The magic that they used to answer whatever the question is gone.

Were you born with creativity or did it develop? Do you think hard about what you do or does it come naturally?

It’s both. I think where I’m probably most creative, and I think a lot of people would agree with this, is probably where I’m not trying. I LOVE to make people laugh, especially in awkward situations or when weird stuff happens. I love to tell stories. I might embellish my stories a little bit and do people’s voices. The wit comes to me. It just kind of happens, but it’s because I LOVE to make people laugh. I get on a roll, and I start telling stories.

When I use what I consider my creativity for my experiments, I spend a lot of time thinking about them. I think about them on paper, and I write them out. A lot of times I find when I sleep at night that I probably spent most of the night thinking about whatever problem that I’ve been focusing on. It almost overwhelms me to where I stop paying attention to conversations, because I’m thinking so hard about this one problem.

So it’s kind of both. I think when I’m relaxed and making people laugh, it just kind of rolls out of me. But when I’m applying it to science, it’s actually something that I’m using, and I have to think really hard about.

Do you consider yourself to be living an outwardly creative life?

No, I don’t think I necessarily live an outwardly creative life, because I think in general if you put you and I side by side everyone will go “Oh yeah! He’s the creative one.” Especially with my mom. My whole family thinks that you’re Jackson Pollock and you throw paint at a canvas. (laughs)

And we both know that’s not true at all.

NO! I do find it really nice, because a lot of times when we’re decorating I get so overwhelmed. Even when I shop for clothes, because there are too many choices and too many colors. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to do and where to go. A lot of times I have to rely on you to go “Okay, well what do you think about this.” You can find something that I think sticks out, or that you know I’ll like. Then we can start there. When we start there, it’s like “Okay! Now I understand.” So, that kind of stuff I like doing, and I don’t like doing.

I guess most people wouldn’t say that I live an outwardly creative life. But I think living with a graphic designer has made my life much easier and much more interesting.

How does it feel to have recently completed your PhD?

It feels like I climbed Mt. Everest. (chuckles) It’s so weird, because this is really only the beginning of my career. I’ve been in school for seven years, but about ten years ago was when I was seriously thinking about going back to get a PhD.  When you get an undergraduate degree in something like BioChemistry, and you’re like “All right! Now I’m going to go and get a job!” You get paid very little to be a technician. Though that was probably the smartest thing that I ever did, because the two years being a technician allowed me to understand how to work in a lab which is really important. But I have to be honest with you, and maybe you know this, I really didn’t think that I was ever going to be able to do it.


I didn’t think that I was smart enough. I thought to be a scientist that you had to be a super-genius, maybe a mad scientist. That you had to understand what a flux capacitor was. (chuckles)

Why would you pursue something that you didn’t think you could accomplish? Are you that glutton for punishment or is that just what you told yourself?

Yes! (laughs)

There was that little glint that was like “You don’t know if you don’t try.” I still love it. It’s kind of hard to describe.

90% of the time our experiments are going to fail. It’s not the failure of the experiment. You shouldn’t be upset by that. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the experiment and the data telling you that is NOT the answer. You need to try something else. I did a bunch of experiments. I got a bunch of data. But the day that you do the simplest experiment, and then everything you’ve ever done comes together that feeling will top no other feeling in the world. When you do little accomplishments, little experiments that work, it’s like solving a mystery. It’s very much like when we were in college, and we had the Salvador Dali poster on the wall. I don’t even remember what it was, but it was the craziest picture in the world. It had the elephants with the stretched out legs. It had the melted clocks. It had the baseball player with the baseball for a face. It used to aggrevate me. Every morning I’d wake up, and I’d sit up and look at that poster. And I would think, “Today is the day I’m going to figure out what this poster means.” By the way, I have never figured out what that poster means. One day I came up with a good theory (chuckles) as to what it was.

I remember you had several “theories” which you explained quite often, but I don’t know that there is an explanation.

There probably isn’t, but I was going to make sense of it. (laughs) Because it AGGREVATED me, and I think that’s what drives me. Somewhere there’s a little voice in my head that everyday says, “Today is the day I’m going to figure it out.” For me, life is one giant detective mystery, and today is the day that I’m going to figure it out. I hope that I never lose that, because I think that’s what keeps me going.

Be sure to check out the exciting conclusion of my interview with 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.

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