When you talk about creativity, you instantly think of drawings, paintings, or any form of art materials. But creativity can be found anywhere. It is within you. It can be how you manage your workload, talk with your team or achieve your goal. That is why in this episode, we have Amy Climer who focuses on teaching teams and leaders to be creative and innovative. She uses different types of techniques and tools for better results in her teachings. Listen in as she talks to Elizabeth Bachman about being creative under pressure.
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How To Bring Out Your Creativity Under Pressure With Amy Climer
This is the show where we interview experts from around the world on subjects such as leadership, diversity communication, and anything you need to be visible. My guest is Dr. Amy Climer, who speaks about creativity and how you can do innovation on demand. Before I go on to all the details about Amy and how awesome she is, I’d like to invite you to see how your presentation skills are doing by taking our free four-minute assessment.
If you go to www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com, you can take a free four-minute assessment that will show you where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve. If you score high enough, you’ll be entitled to a free 45-minute conversation with me to discuss those results and how you can use them.
Amy Climer and I had an interesting conversation about creativity. I’ve spent many years in the arts, so creativity was always something I had to work on, and I’ve been stuck. I wanted to ask her, “What do you do on days when the muse is not sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear? How can you be innovative on-demand?” She has very useful things for teams, some tools we can use, and interesting ideas.
Dr. Amy Climer teaches teams to be creative and innovative. She’s a Speaker, Trainer, and Coach in creativity, innovation, and team development. She uses research-based practices, tools, and techniques to teach teams how to innovate on demand. Amy holds a PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University. She’s trained and certified in creative problem-solving, immunity to change, and the foresight thinking system.
She developed the Deliberate Creative Team Scale to help teams understand how to increase their creativity. Amy is the designer of Climer Cards, creative creativity and team-building tool used by thousands to deepen team conversations and generate ideas. In 2016, she won the Karl Rohnke Creativity Award from the Association for Experiential Education. Amy Climer was an interesting guest. We had a fun conversation. You’ll enjoy it.
Amy Climer, I am so happy to have you on the show. Welcome.
Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m so happy to be here.
A mutual friend told me about you. I went to your website and was like, “Why didn’t I know her?” Why haven’t I known you for years? You’re something. What we do is so complimentary, and hopefully, you can help me answer some of those questions that plague me as a creative person.
I look forward to our conversation. I’m excited.
Before we start, I’d like to ask you about your dream interview. If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?
The person that I would want to interview is Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, who was an Antarctic explorer over 100 years ago. He was attempting to cross Antarctica on foot. At that point, nobody had done it yet, and his boats had sunk. What was amazing at the time is not only did his boat sink. You would expect everybody to perish, but instead, he got every person out. There were 28 men, including him. He was able to get them all back to safety. It was a phenomenal story of leadership. He was a pretty unique leader for his time, with more modern-day philosophies.
The questions I would want to ask him, since his death, which was a few years after that incident, people have studied him and looked back, but I would want to ask him questions about his leadership as far as like, “What motivated him? How did this different approach?” Now, it doesn’t seem that different, but back then was. It was expected that if you were on an Antarctic expedition, there was a very high likelihood of dying.
Leaders expected to like, “Somebody in this group is going to die.” He was like, “No, we’re not taking that approach.” He developed this sense of deep community amongst the team in a way that other leaders, at least Arctic leaders, were not considering. They didn’t understand that the behavior amongst the group was going to impact the group’s success. I would want to ask him questions about that like, “How did that evolve for you? Why did you feel like that was important?”
That leads me to the things I wanted to talk to you about. This is for Pride Month 2022. You and I talked about how we both identify as LGBTQ, which is Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, and all the flavors along the spectrum, yet it’s not the main thing of what we do. That’s private life, but in our public lives, we are business people, trainers, and coaches. I’m curious how you decided to make creativity your thing.Stay curious about innovating and creating things. Click To Tweet
Let me give some context first. What I do now is teach teams and organizations to be more creative and innovative. I can remember being pretty young, definitely middle school, high school, maybe even younger than that, and being very curious about the concept of creativity. I don’t know if I even understood it fully in elementary school. In high school, when I heard friends of mine say, “I’m not creative at all. I can barely draw,” I would get frustrated. I was like, “It’s not about drawing. It’s way more than that.”
I don’t know where I got these ideas from necessarily because I was also very into art. I was into that side of creativity. Probably around ’98, I stumbled across the book The Artist’s Way, which had only been on at that time for two years. That was insightful to help me understand the concepts of creativity more. I started teaching it like these free classes. I was in grad school at the time.
I would put up flyers, teach these classes, and get people together. Eventually, fast forward several years, I studied it as part of my PhD dissertation. Meanwhile, I was very interested in teams. For my dissertation, I looked at creativity in teams, which we can get more into. I’ve always been very curious about creativity, even when I was pretty young.
Having spent 30 years in the opera business, you are creative within a format. Most of the time, you’re working with material that’s been around for a couple of hundred years, and the creativity is how you put your stamp onto it. I am curious. One of the things that you talk about is how you find what you’re going to be creative about. How do you find topics? How do you get your ideas? Much of what I do is help people speak about ideas so that it will raise their profile. I know you talk about this. I wanted to pick your brain. I’ve got to take notes. How do you find these ideas?
Thinking specifically about people trying to become either professional speakers, or maybe they need to speak as part of their jobs, they’re CEOs or C-Suite or whatever their role is. Most people who are professionals who have a professional job, at some point in their career, they will be asked to stand up and speak and talk about so and so, whatever they’re good at. One way to think about what those ideas or topics that you might talk about are is to think about when are those occasions when people reach out to you and say, “Elizabeth, could I take you out to coffee and pick your brain about something?”
For me, sometimes, the responses in my head internally, I’m thinking, “Sure, I didn’t even think of myself as being good at that.” I realized that other people see something in me that I’m not seeing. That’s a real sign that, “Other people are onto something.” Pay attention to that because sometimes it’s the things that come easy to us. It doesn’t even occur to us that someone else might not understand or might not know. That can be a helpful place to move that thought leadership in that direction.
How can we within teams be more creative? Where does that play in the teams and leaders? How does that work together? People talk about innovation all the time. How do you find the new thing? How can you do that?
We’ll talk about the teams first and look at leaders for a moment. In the dissertation research that I did a few years ago, I was very curious about this question. You probably have had these too, probably many people reading, where I’d been a part of some teams that I felt creative, and collectively we were highly creative. I’d been a part of other teams where I felt like when I sat down at a meeting, all my creativity drained out.
I felt that individually I was less creative, and collectively we were. I was very curious to like, “What is the difference between these two teams? What’s going on here?” I was able to identify three elements that teams need if they want to be creative together. I call this the Deliberate Creative Teams Model. First of all, I am a huge proponent of this concept of deliberate creativity that creativity will not happen by accident. I could pretty much guarantee you.
When you hear those incidences, you think like, “They randomly had this idea.” If you dig back, it’s not that random or accidental. It’s much more deliberate. I created this model. There are three elements the teams need. The first element is the team needs to have a shared team purpose like, “What is our purpose as a team? Why do we get together?” Most teams are pretty good at that, but I have worked with teams before where they could not answer the question of what their team purpose was. It never occurred to them to talk about it. That’s the first thing. They need to have a clear team purpose.
The second thing is they need to have strong team dynamics, meaning they need to communicate well. They need to be able to engage in some conflict. They don’t want to avoid conflict completely, but you also don’t want to always be in conflict. There’s a nice, happy medium there. They need to be able to trust each other at least enough where I trust that if I put an idea out on the table, I’m not going to get smacked down for that.
I can be vulnerable enough to share an idea, even if I’m worried that it might be a little silly or stupid. My team’s going to embrace me for that or embrace the idea at least for a minute. It doesn’t mean you’re going to take the idea, but I’m not going to be made fun of or whatever. It’s team purpose and team dynamics. The third element is called Team Creative Process. That is where the team needs to know and use the process for how they’re going to be creative together. This is the area that most teams struggle with because most teams don’t even know that there’s a process. There are many out there you can use.
The one that I teach the most is called Creative Problem Solving. There’s also design thinking and human-centered design. Some that are less popular are Synectics or TRIZ. There are so many processes out there. They’re all very similar, and it could even be something you’ve come up with internally. The point is that everyone on the team knows it, and you’re collectively using it.
I know that we have some people watching via video. This Venn diagram of the model shows the three elements, which are team purpose, team dynamics, and creative team process. It’s in a simple Venn diagram. That’s the big picture of how teams can be creative together. You can dig in a little deeper if we want, but I also want to pause there and jump to leadership.
It’s the whole thought that there is a process. I was telling somebody that when I was learning the art of public speaking and speaking to get a result, I was raising money for my nonprofit to start to launch my nonprofit. I learned from a public speaker trainer who called me up after seeing me do a disaster where everybody walked out with their credit cards still in their pockets. She called me up and said, “There are tools and techniques you can use.” I was so happy to discover that, “There were tools? I could do this. Can someone could teach me how to do this?” You’ve got a process.
It is a relief. You think you have to come up with this all on your own. You’re like, “Use this process and use that creative energy for whatever you’re trying to be creative on.” Don’t use it to come up with a process. That’s already been done.
Where did the leaders come in?
I want to say good news and bad news for leaders, but that’s not quite fair. Let me start by saying this. The most important factor of a team’s success around innovation is all those three elements I talked about, which is about within the team. The leader’s job becomes to support the team, develop their creative skills to guide them, and sometimes provide that process. It can vary a little bit. Is the leader also a team member? Are they a leader overseeing the team but isn’t necessarily involved in the day-to-day work of the team?The classic brainstorming approach is a great way to organize your ideas. Click To Tweet
Mostly, it’s supporting, guiding, and creating a culture. I almost hesitated to say rewarding, but rewarding as a whole complication. It can backfire at times, but you want to make it clear like, “We care about you all being creative,” which means you got to be okay with some failure at times. Creativity is about going into the unknown. It’s about taking risks. If you only want your team to succeed, and you’re only okay with them succeeding, they’re not going to be creative because that’s too risky for them. They need to know that if we mess up, it’s going to be okay.
Say that again about being okay with failure. That’s important.
If you think about it, creativity is you’re doing something that at least hasn’t been done in this particular context that you’re doing. There is a possibility that it’s not going to work. There are all these ways you can mitigate that. You can do some testing, prototyping, and starting small, which are all good ideas. Those are good approaches. Still, it could be that you put a bunch of time, maybe a month or a year, into something that doesn’t work. What’s the leader’s response going to be? If his response is, “Thanks. We don’t need your part of our team or an organization anymore,” there’s a fear of repercussion. The team’s not going to be creative like, “I need the safety and security of my job.” The leader plays a big role in that.
I love being okay with failure. Here’s the other question. You have this wonderful tool called the Climer Cards. I’m wondering if this is the answer to the next question. This makes me think of years ago. The blues singer Loudon Wainwright III wrote a song called the Muse Blues where he says, “Muse, where are you? I’m sitting here.” I have sure spent those days where I have to write something. I’m supposed to be writing a newsletter, a blog, or a script. That muse, she’s off whispering into someone else’s ear. It’s not inspiring me at all. If you have some way of bringing the muse back to talk to you, I want to know it.
You’re not alone. We have all been there. We’ve all been stuck. In the creative problem-solving process, there are four stages. There are a number of techniques for each of the stages. One of the helpful things is to try a new technique. I developed this deck of cards called Climer Cards. They’re the size of playing cards, 52 in the deck, but the images are all these little hand-drawn iconic paintings that I drew.
There’s a telephone, a tent, and a puzzle piece.
There’s a cactus, butterfly, window, these simple, very familiar images. There’s this concept in creativity called associations where we might, for instance, look at the cactus and think like, “What are some qualities of a cactus?” They’re prickly and thrive in the sun. They don’t need much water. From there, you might make some associations to whatever problem or challenge you’re looking at. That might spur some more ideas.
One of the things that I do when working with my clients is whatever challenge we’re looking at, we’ll usually craft a particular question. I’ll tell them, “We’re going to put out these cards.” If we’re in person, we use the physical deck. If we’re virtual, I have an app that I created. We put out the cards, and it’s, “What ideas do you get from these images? What ideas are sparked from these images?”
It’s interesting because some people love the images. They’re like, “This is super helpful.” Some people don’t as much. What I try to do is always use several ideation techniques because we all respond to different things. Sometimes we need a different technique for a different type of problem. We mix it up. That’s in part how I use Climer Cards and how they evolved.
That makes me think about the people who are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. The great thing about the cards is it gives the kinesthetic learners something to do with their hands.
It’s helpful for the visual folks as well.
I’m an auditory learner. It took me a long time to figure out why people used flip charts and slide decks until I finally realized, “That’s for the visual learners.” For me, I have to hear it and say it back. What do you do for the auditory learners?
For instance, in this technique, let’s say a group is working together with 4 or 5 people huddled around a table working on this particular problem. There’s also an auditory component to it. Someone might say, “I’m looking at that old-fashioned telephone. That’s making me think about so and so.” The auditory person might say, “That idea sparked this for me.” Part of the process is about building on each other’s ideas.
A lot of it is through that conversation. I also try to put all the ideas in writing as well. The challenge with the auditory is that only the people present there could hear it, and it’s going to be impossible to remember everything. Often, we’re getting dozens, if not hundreds, of ideas in a pretty short amount of time. There’s that auditory piece as well.
How do you ensure that everybody gets a turn?
I am not a big fan of the classic brainstorming approach. To reiterate, if anyone’s not familiar, you’ve probably done this, but the approach is that everyone may be huddled around a table again, and people are shouting out ideas. They’re verbally sharing ideas. There’s no order or anything. It’s whatever comes to mind. There are a number of problems with that approach. It does work in a few cases, and we can get into that if you want. The point is there are other techniques.
I always start out and invite people to take a little pad of Post-it notes. Everybody gets a pad and quietly writes their ideas. It’s one idea per Post-it note. It’s very basic and simple. Pretty soon, everybody has 4, 5, or 6 ideas in a little pile, and then I have them start sharing. They go around in a circle and start sharing their ideas initially.
Sometimes if there’s a need to make it more anonymous, we’ll put them up on a wall, and people can read them. It democratizes the process a bit so that the loudest voice doesn’t always win. That’s not necessarily the best way to be innovative because sometimes the quieter person is thinking up this genius idea. That’s one way to make it more inclusive.Leadership starts with yourself. Start by paying attention to your team and the dynamics within the team. Click To Tweet
Tell us a story of how you’ve done this with a client. How has this worked with a client whose team or department was stuck?
One of my clients was a very large well-known hospital, and I worked with their IT department. Their IT department was going through some massive changes. They were a bit antiquated in their technology and needed to make some forward strides. They were stuck in the process. I worked with them for a few months. This was during the height of the pandemic. We did this virtually and taught them the deliberate creative team model and the creative problem-solving process.
We used that process to look at some of the challenges they had. I taught them some other tools where it wasn’t just the team coming up with ideas, but they were also reaching out to other stakeholders from the bottom all the way to the top of the organization so that they could get some more input. Depending on your challenge and what you’re looking at, it can be very dangerous not to solicit input from different stakeholders, particularly those who are going to be affected by whatever you implement. It’s also a common mistake.
Create something and not ask the people who are going to use it what they need.
It’s funny. Here we are talking about it. It seems basic and simple, but it can trip teams up. Over time, they developed a lot of innovative ideas. It was small, subtle stuff that was going to change their approach. I don’t remember all the nuances of the specific ideas, but what they came up with and be more collaborative. They had a lot of processes that were being duplicated or become overly cumbersome over time. It’s like, “Ten people need to approve this.” I was like, “That’s ridiculous.” They were able to streamline things and make them clearer and easier.
How do you go from idea to implementation?
I am a big believer in the concept. Ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re pretty worthless until you start doing something with them. If we had ten entrepreneurs here who all were given the exact same idea and said, “Come back in two months with this idea developed and implemented,” we’re going to come back with ten different approaches and things. It is that development and how you implement it that’s going to make a difference.
Part of that developing the idea is looking at, “Do we even want to do this? What does it mean?” It might only be a sentence on a Post-it note. It’s looking at, “If we were to do this, what would happen? What are some potential impacts of this? What would this look like? What are the steps? Where do we get started? Who needs to be involved?”
Having those conversations and figuring out all those details is important. There will be some people in your team or within your organization who will love doing that. That’s their strength. Other people want to know why we’re spending so much time talking about it and why we can’t get started. You want to bring the people in that love developing into this phase of the process.
It makes me think about how we can support. If you know what part you’re good at, make sure you have people on the team who are good at the parts you aren’t good at. One of the things that I’ve seen a lot is a leader at the top getting excited about a cool idea. They don’t want to hear from the other people who say, “The department down the hall has been working on that for six months. Do we even know if the client wants this?” I’m sure you’ve seen that. Do you have any thoughts about how to deal with that situation?
There are a lot of elements going on there. One, it might be simply ego, like, “I want to take credit for this.” For team creativity to work, the more you can leave ego out of the room, the better, to some degree. This is a collaborative team approach. A mistake that leaders make, and I have made this mistake before, is not listening to the naysayers. Sometimes those naysayers, or we might call them resistors, are very resistant to the idea. They’re like, “This is never going to work. Here’s why so and so.”
You might be someone that sees potential. Ignoring the naysayers has a couple of problems. One, they might be right. They may not be 100% right, but there could be something that you want to pay attention to. Paying attention to those resistors or naysayers can be helpful. The other thing is if they are fairly vocal or influential in the organization, and if the idea needs some champions throughout the organization, they can do a good job of making sure that idea doesn’t move forward.
They can sabotage the idea if they are naysayers.
Ninety percent of the time, those naysayers are doing this from a place that they believe is the right thing to do. They’re not doing this because they’re being a jerk. They’re doing this because they think it’s not going to work and don’t want to see the organization fail. They’re doing it from a place of protection. The best approach is to bring them in. Sit down and listen to them and maybe incorporate some ideas or talk through like, “This is a great point. Here’s what I’m thinking of how we might approach that. What do you think?”
I have seen situations where the naysayer has turned into the biggest advocate for the idea and be on stage in front of her, would say, “I was resistant at first, and then I saw how valuable this could be.” That can be powerful. For that leader who wants to ignore the naysayer and pretend the team down the hall didn’t have the idea first, you have to decide. Are you in it for yourself? Are you in it for the success of this idea?
I want to circle back. That goes back to what we talked about what’s getting rewarded in the organization. A lot of times, organizations will reward individual behaviors, but they’re saying they care about the team. For instance, people get individually promoted or individual bonuses, but they’re like, “We want you all to work together as a team,” but it becomes this talk versus what’s the action. How are you showing that you care about the team’s process rather than the individual?
It takes me to one more question, which is a lot of the clients who come to me are problem solvers. They tend to be people who are very good at getting things done and solving problems before they become a problem. They aren’t noticed. It’s the loud person who has a brilliant idea, which might not solve the problem, but flashy talking about that idea. They’re the people who get rewarded. The person who’s plugging along and doing a good job is ignored. Any thoughts on how to break somebody out of the challenge of how do you show the value of things not going wrong?
Seeing something prevented about something as massive as a pandemic, if it had been prevented and never happened, would we even know? Would we even be able to give credit? We wouldn’t know. This is a big challenge. In some ways, I don’t have the answer or if there is even an answer, but some thoughts are, how are you showing yourself as a thought leader within your organization? How are you talking about the work that you’re doing?
When we can start having ideas and talking about those thoughts and thought leadership, a part of that is the leadership part. You could have some brilliant ideas, but they don’t get shared or discussed. There’s not that leadership part there. That can be in a lot of forms. It could be speaking, writing, blogging, or podcasting. There are all approaches for how you might do that through conversations. I do find that in a lot of cases, at the end of the day, the person who is doing the hard work does eventually get rewarded. The question I’m hearing is more like, “How do you see that more immediately?”
How do you show up as, “I am a thought leader?” I could go on for hours with you. I’m so glad to have met you. I will be following you. It would be fun to do something together.
That would be fun.
Thank you so much for being on the show. What’s the first thing someone could do? Having read this and they say, “I’m going to take action,” what’s the very first thing to do to be more creative?
I’m a big believer that leadership starts with yourself. To start paying attention to your team and the dynamics within the team, and specifically, how do you personally impact those dynamics? How are you showing up? Are you the one who an idea is brought up, saying, “We did that in 1985, and it was a complete disaster?” We’ve all been there. I’ve made the mistake of saying not exactly 1985, but I’ve said that before.
I’ve made the mistake of shooting down an idea. I’ve also been very cognizant of being more open. I’m like, “That’s interesting. What are the other people think?” Pay attention to your own behavior and how you might be either supporting creativity or maybe inadvertently diminishing it. That’d be a tip, something simple you can do.
Thank you so much, Amy. I’m excited to talk to somebody doing good things around being creative and innovative.
Thank you. Can I share one other little freebie for everybody? This is not necessarily related to creativity, but what we talked about at the beginning was Sir Ernest Shackleton. If anyone is interested in learning more about him, there’s a podcast I’ve recorded about him and a blog post, but I also have a free cheat sheet download of the five top leadership skills that he exhibited that apply to us in the modern world. You can get this at ClimerConsulting.com/Shackleton. Check that out if you’re curious or to learn more.
I’m going to download it right away. Thank you so much, Amy Climer, for being on the show. Let me remind you. If you’re curious about how your presentation skills are doing, you can take our free quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. It’s a four-minute assessment of where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition you deserve. I’ll see you at the next one.
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About Amy Climer
Dr. Amy Climer teaches teams to be creative and innovative. She is a speaker, trainer, and coach in creativity, innovation, and team development. She uses research-based practices, tools, and techniques to teach teams how to innovate on demand. Amy holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University. She is trained or certified in Creative Problem Solving, Immunity to Change, and the FourSight Thinking System. She developed the Deliberate Creative™ Teams Scale to help teams understand how to increase their creativity. She is the designer of Climer Cards, a creativity and teambuilding tool used by thousands to deepen team conversations and generate ideas. In 2016, she won the Karl Rhonke Creativity Award from the Association for Experiential Education.