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Lateral Thinking: Find More Innovative Solutions Faster!

Lateral thinking has two functions: to generate creative ideas and to solve problems. The more we exercise it, the more and better solutions we find to all sorts of challenges. Don’t miss this mind bending post!

What is lateral thinking?

“There are six eggs in one basket. There are six people. Each one takes an egg. How is it possible that in the end there is still an egg in the basket? ”

(Answer: The last person was left with the basket with an egg.)

This is a typical challenge that requires the use of lateral thinking. Why? Because more than data or logical reasoning, this problem demands mental processes related to insight, creativity and ingenuity.

Family, education and culture stimulate memory and vertical thinking, based on logic, which is a necessary but insufficient skill. We have two cerebral hemispheres, each specialized in one type of processing: the left is rational and the right is creative. We need to develop both sides and integrate them to be more effective in solving problems.

To incorporate lateral thinking into your life you simply practice specific creative techniques that allow you to use it at will. It’s like going to the gym, but in this case, to keep your mind in shape.

Lateral thinking allows digging wells in different places instead of deepening the same well (solution, idea.)

Lateral thinking allows digging wells in different places instead of deepening the same well (solution, idea.)

Two styles of thinking: vertical and lateral

The term lateral thinking was coined by Edward de Bono in the 1960s to differentiate it from conventional or vertical thinking, the type of thinking based on experiences, assumptions, and deductions. Using memory and vertical thinking means applying a higher dose of the same solution to a problem. In other words, they lead us to dig deeper into the same well.

Instead, with lateral thinking we dig a well in another place. And if it doesn’t work, we try another, or instead of a well we dig a tunnel, or rethink the basic approach. Because in addition to a type of mental processing, lateral thinking is a method for using information that considers that there are always several possibilities to approach a situation. Different from vertical thinking which assumes there’s only one correct way.

The aim of lateral thinking is not to come up with correct ideas, but to generate a great number of them. Then, at a later stage, you can apply vertical thinking to analyze the ideas you came up with, improve them, discard the invalid ones, choose the best ones and test them.

In a first stage the focus should be on producing lots of new ideas. In a second, you analyze which can be put into practice. You have to know when to use lateral and vertical thinking.

In a first stage the focus should be on producing lots of new ideas. In a second, you analyze which can be put into practice. You have to know when to use lateral and vertical thinking

Want to develop this type of skills? Join our Step Up Plus program!

The 3 types of problems

You could define a problem as the difference between what you have and what you want to have.

By breaking down established models, lateral thinking liberates the information these models contain challenging assumptions and prejudices. This facilitates the creation of new models and mental structures, connections and processing styles. Not in a fixed way, but rather so that they can be decomposed as often as necessary.

According to Edward De Bono there are three types of problems:

1 Those that require more information. They are solved by vertical thinking, such as mathematical problems and police puzzles, which involve a logical sequence that increases with new data. Its a linear approach to a single possible solution.

2Those that do not require more information, but a reorganization or restructure of the available information. They are resolved through the use we make of data, new associations or connections, imagination and even questioning our vertical thinking. These problems are usually are based on a new perspective, a new mental process, a discovery or a series of partial ideas that bring us closer to the best solution.

This is the case of the classic lateral thinking conundrum: a gardener is instructed to plant 4 trees so that they are all equidistant. How can you plant them?

I won’t post the answer here to help you force your methods of rearranging the data I gave you. If you want to know the answer you can send me a note: bbensignor@gmail.com.

3Those that are not recognized as a problem. They have to do with perception and can’t be resolved until they are detected. They may also require a change of perspective, as in the previous case. Here we don’t even realize that we have a problem to solve. In this case, you need an increase of focus and sensitivity to the unexpected in order to perceive what you don’t know.

 

Prejudices are persistent and difficult to disintegrate. For that you can use lateral thinking.

Prejudices are persistent and difficult to disintegrate. For that you can use lateral thinking.

Impossible cube

Most people see a cube in this image of Escher. But it is a virtual figure: the front and back edges intersect. It is an example of a problem that goes unnoticed.

 

 

A perfect example of a problem that goes unnoticed.

A perfect example of a problem that goes unnoticed.

5 techniques to develop creativity

Lateral thinking can be trained by practicing specific techniques to develop your creativity.

Some of them are:

1Search for alternatives

An example: how can a square be divided into four equal parts? (Take a few seconds before viewing the following pictures.)

Solution: alternatives, from the easiest to the less usual:

Solution 1 to divide a square into four equal parts

Solution 1 to divide a square into four equal parts

Solution 2 to divide a square into four equal parts

Solution 2 to divide a square into four equal parts

Solution 3 to divide a square into four equal parts

Solution 3 to divide a square into four equal parts

2Assumptions review: lateral thinking does not accept or reject the validity of assumptions about a topic, its objective is to question and restructure them as often as necessary.

An example: two players, O and X, mark the spaces of a 3 × 3 board alternately. A player wins if he manages to have a line of three of his symbols: the line can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. (Take a few seconds before you see the next image.)

Solution:

Reviewing assumptions

Reviewing assumptions

Surely, the first thing you thought about was that I cheated. I would have done it if I had explained that it was the Tic Tac Toe game. That is your assumption: at no time did I clarify that it was the traditional game and that therefore the limits of the board should not be exceeded.

3Redefining the dominant idea: a dominant idea is the theme or principle around which a situation or problem revolves. If it is not grasped, it will influence the thinking that will limit possible solutions. It is easier to escape the influence of something that is known than that which is ignored.

An example: a man lives on the 10th floor of a building. Every day he takes the elevator to the seventh floor and then climbs up the stairs the remaining three floors to his apartment on the tenth. Why does he do this? (Take a few seconds before reading the solution.)

Solution: he was little person.

The dominant idea of ​​this riddle, as in most, is that it is a person of a standard height. And it is that idea what limits the possibility of resolution.

4Dividing technique: if a situation is divided into parts that constitute it, it is possible to restructure the situation by reordering the parts. It is important not try to find preexisting elements, but to create parts, breaking up the situation in an artificial way. This also facilitates the generation of new models, applicable to future (not necessarily similar) situations.

An example: if we are trying to solve the problem of “transportation by bus”, we could divide the situation as follows:

  • Selection of itineraries
  • Frequency of services
  • Comfort of the service
  • Total probable number of travelers
  • Probable number of travelers at different times of day
  • Bus capacity
  • Other means of transportation
  • Cost and income
  • Number of travelers who depend mainly on the bus service and number of them who can easily use other forms of transportation

5Inversion method: this technique is more lateral in nature than the previous one. The problem is considered in its real structure and is inverted in one direction or another, from top to bottom, from outside to inside, causing a forced rearrangement of information.

Example: In the famous fable of Aesop, the water in the vessel was too deep for the bird to drink. The bird began to imagine means of extracting the water from the jar, without reaching any satisfactory solution. Then she reversed the focus of the problem and instead of thinking about the means of drawing water, she thought she could introduce elements into the vessel to bring the water up. In fact, she began to throw stones until she was able to drink.

Want to play and practice your lateral thinking?

Here are 3 classic riddles of lateral thinking. With this exercise you can start your training. Go ahead!

1Two chess players. Two excellent chess players played five games in one day, and each of them won three. How is that possible?

2Coal, carrot and cap. Five pieces of charcoal, a whole carrot and an elegant cap are thrown in the garden. Nobody has lost them and they’ve been in the grass for the same amount of time. How did they get there?

3You are driving your car on a terrible storm night. You pass by a bus stop where three people are waiting:

  • An old woman who seems about to die.
  • An old friend who saved your life once.
  • The perfect man or the woman of your dreams.

Who would you take in the car, since you only have room for one passenger?

Solutions:

Answer 1: They did not play with each other, but against other opponents.

Answer 2: They are the remains of a melted snowman.

Answer 3: Unlike the previous ones, this is an ethical-moral dilemma that was once used in a job interview. You could take the old lady, because she’s going to die and therefore you should save her first. Or you could take your friend, since he saved your life and you are indebted to him. But if you take these options you may never meet the lover of your dreams again.

The candidate who was hired from 200 applicants did not hesitate. What did he answer? Very simply: “I would give my car keys to my friend, and I would ask him to take the old woman to the hospital, while I would wait for the bus with the woman of my dreams.”

We can always overcome the apparent limitations of each problem by learning to think creatively.

How do you plan to deal with problems after training in these creative techniques?

Be a great leader in difficult times and expand your influence

In times of social, political or economic uncertainty, everyone looks for a great leader. If you stand up, you will not only lead your people but expand your influence in the process. Here’s how.

There’s an enormous amount of discord, improvisation and overall uncertainty in America and the world right now. So what do you do if you are in charge of an organization or a group of people who are increasingly nervous? It’s not easy or simple to be a great leader in times like this. After all, you have to protect your employees and your stakeholders’ interest and those two things can often be at odds. Yet this need not interfere with the role you can play as a great leader who inspires confidence and trust.

Case in point, in the face of the current negative narrative being built around immigrants and women, you have an opportunity to become a beacon of stability and stand out as a great leader. You have a chance to inspire unity at a time when many of your employees  dread getting out of bed in the morning. If they feel their workplace embraces their uniqueness, respects differences, and encourages an ongoing dialog about difficult topics, they will feel safe.  As a result, not only will you retain your best talent, but you will also attract employees and customers who value a company that stands for true diversity and inclusion.

If you want to be considered a great leader, you can't hide in difficult times. You must take a stand.

If you want to be considered a great leader, you can’t hide in difficult times. You must take a stand.

Learn more on leadership from Sergio Kaufman of Accenture

How do you show you are a great leader?

There was never a better time to double down on your diversity and inclusion efforts. To make sure they don’t stay as mere rhetoric but that they are real, palpable initiatives, procedures, mindsets, etc. Here are a few ways to do it.

1Get sponsorship for your D&I initiatives from the very top. Be consistent. Get your C-suite team behind any initiatives wholeheartedly.

2Establish clear D&I goals and tie them to executive compensation. When you tie in performance and compensation, you create a shortcut for getting people behind initiatives they may have considered “nice haves.” Suddenly, these become business priorities.

3Measure your initiatives, scale up and expand those that work well. We all know the saying, “That which gets measured gets done.” So find the right way to measure the success of your initiatives so you can quickly build on them.

4Offer opportunities of exposure to women and minorities. If you’re promoting the virtues of more inclusion at the top, you must offer your diverse talent opportunities for visibility. Again, consistency is the name of the game. If you offer people training and development programs and then fall short of bringing them along for the ride, you’re not putting your money where your mouth is.

5Highlight publicly the work your women & minorities do. Public praise goes a long way to attracting visibility to people who might otherwise go unnoticed.

Great leaders like Richard Branson understand that his role is to impact people's lives.

Great leaders like Richard Branson understand that his role is to impact people’s lives.

Expand your leadership reach

A great leader exercises leadership both inside and outside of their organizations. So flaunt your leadership by sending strong inclusion messages to your current and potential clients on traditional and social media.

1Create marketing campaigns directed to women and minorities. They must underscore respectful, empowering, positive, optimistic messages regarding people with different backgrounds, religions and points of view.

2Clearly condemn messages that stereotype different groups and messages that promote fear  of the other, or hatred.

3Support the work of other organizations. Align yourself with organizations like the Red Shoe Movement that promote issues of equality in a positive way.

By taking these very simple steps you will be standing out as a great leader. One who stands on the right side of history.

 

 

 

How to give constructive feedback to a colleague effectively

As a Human Resources Executive, people frequently ask me: How can I give constructive feedback to a colleague without hurting them? Today I share with you how to do it successfully.

There’s no doubt that our current networks of multidisciplinary and diverse teams enrich our work and promote innovative solutions. The constant interaction with others to reach common goals, however, has its own challenges. One of them is evidenced when we know a colleague could benefit from some constructive feedback about a behavior that affects their work, and we don’t know the best way to deliver it.

One of the Red Shoe Movement’s 7 Principles is anchored around the value of feedback. It encourages us to give honest feedback to other women in our network avoiding hurtful or unnecessary criticism. And the core RSM methodology (the RSM Circles,) is partly based on ongoing feedback among colleagues.

Giving constructive feedback is a cornerstone of the 7 Principles of the RSM

Giving constructive feedback is a cornerstone of the 7 Principles of the RSM

In fact, due to our social nature, humans tend to look for external validation and are motivated by what others have to say. There is plenty of research around this. One survey conducted this year by the international leadership consulting firm Zenger/Folkman found out that 65% of the people surveyed would like to receive more feedback, and 57% said they preferred to get feedback about what they need to improve rather than what they do well.

To give effective feedback is one of the most generous gifts one can offer a colleague. To give feedback in a constructive way, however, you must keep in mind certain rules. The secret for feedback to be delivered effectively can be found in the answer to these three questions.

Three questions help you provide constructive feedback effectively

Three questions help you provide constructive feedback effectively

1Is my colleague open to receiving feedback?

The first thing to consider when thinking about giving feedback to a peer is whether they are emotionally open to receiving it, particularly if your feedback is about something that they need to improve or change in the future. Despite a positive intent to help, your feedback might be touching on a sensitive topic. It is worth noting that often at work we get to know only one aspect of the other person’s reality. We are usually unaware of other areas of their personal history, past experiences, beliefs, and limitations. That’s why it’s important, s to ask if the other person is open to feedback. Here’s how you could frame the question,, “Louise, I have some observations related to the presentation you gave on Monday. Would you be interested in discussing them?”

2Do I have specific and objective information to give constructive feedback?

If our colleague is willing to receive feedback, it is important to offer it properly. For that to happen you must have thorough information about the situation you wish to address in order to frame it correctly. The more objective and specific the information you have, the better. Try to avoid vague observations that will not allow the other person to know what they need to change moving forward. For example, avoid a comment such as, “Louise, I think your behavior is unprofessional in team meetings”. This type of feedback is not only too generic but also it focuses on personality, which will make the other person more defensive and less likely to hear what you have to say. The correct way to give constructive feedback would be: “Louise, I noticed that in team meetings you tend to speak over other people which is not well received and affects the mood of the meeting.”

3Is my feedback constructive and will it help my colleague improve?

The third Red Shoe Movement Principle talks about the spirit in which feedback should be offered. “Provide honest feedback to the women in your network and avoid hurtful comments or unnecessary criticism.” Emotions play an important role in giving and receiving feedback. My advice is to keep them under control, especially if you are giving feedback around a behavior that has frustrated you in the past. When it comes to non-verbal communication, it is better to sit side by side (to level the playing field,) speak in a direct and pleasant tone of voice and be aware of the other person‘s reactions to your words. If you notice that your feedback is not being well received, invite your colleague to express their own point of view rather than imposing yours. For example, you could say something like: “Louise, I can see that you have a different view of the situation. Would you like to share your point of view?”

Learn how to frame your feedback and you will not only help a colleague but also strengthen the relationship.

Learn how to frame your feedback and you will not only help a colleague but also strengthen the relationship.

Giving feedback to a colleague who is a peer requires certain level of maturity and sensitivity to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings or negatively impacting the working relationship. You should not refrain from offering honest feedback, however, since doing so could deny your colleague of a valuable learning lesson and an opportunity to adjust professional competencies that could contribute to their future growth. Genuine, timely feedback that is delivered properly can not only work magic for the professional development of your colleague but also strengthen your working relationship. After all, taking the time to give constructive feedback to your peers is a concrete demonstration of your interest in their career success.

 

3 Networking Strategies Shy Professionals Can’t Miss

No matter how you slice it, your career health depends on your relationships. Here are three powerful networking strategies that work even if you’re shy!

A lot has been written about developing your network. But if our monthly Step Up Plus coaching sessions are any indication, this continues to be an activity most of us could learn a bit more about.

One of the most effective networking strategies: find ways to support the people in your network!

One of the most effective networking strategies: find ways to support the people in your network!

Steal these Networking strategies

I’ll keep it short, sweet and to the point. Let’s look at three particularly effective networking strategies you can start implementing right away.

1Be the organizer

No doubt, this is one of my favorite networking strategies. Nothing beats the opportunities to expand your network like being the organizer of anything. Think about it. Just for starters: The organizer manages the agenda, the guest list, and the communications. Three great touch points for networking. So whenever in doubt, organize. Conferences, webinars, workshops, after-hours, small get-togethers where you can introduce people to people, anything of value. And if you are shy or introverted, partner with a colleague who’s more outgoing or extroverted. You can divide the activities and conquer.

The day of the event, it’s always easier to network alongside another person who knows you well. You can take turns to introduce each other and to highlight the other person’s virtues. In this case, not only would you have your co-conspirator with you, but also people will approach you, as you will be their hostess. This makes it easier to meet people. It saves you from having to approach them yourself.

Among the best networking strategies you can practice is to be on the organization side of things.

Among the best networking strategies you can practice is to be on the organization side of things.

2Make yourself useful

Whenever I’m invited to a party or to an event where I don’t know many people I find my way to the kitchen or any other “behind the scenes” area to offer my help. When I’m more engaged with the organizers of the party or event I feel less anxious about not knowing anyone there. It’s easy to make friends when you’re helping out. The secret is to do it tactfully so your host feels grateful for the extra pair of hands rather than annoyed that you’re overstepping. For this networking strategy to really work, you can’t just make a general offer such as: “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Because most people will respond with: “Thanks, but we have everything under control.”

My approach is to identify the people who are actually busy preparing, guiding guests to the coatroom, setting up any event materials, and clearly say: “Give me something to do.” Or, “tell me what I can do to help.”

Being on the helping side of things has many advantages:

  • Exposure: It’s easier for others to notice and remember you.
  • People get to know you as you’re working alongside them.
  • Playing a role takes away from standing awkwardly waiting to “meet” people.
  • It gives you an excuse to talk to strangers: “Are you looking for the coatroom? Let me show you were it is. By the way I’m so and so, nice to meet you.”

Here’s the caveat: Don’t become “the help” in the way in which often the help is invisible. Use this role as a chance to meet others reducing the stress that you may feel in these situations.

A great example of this took place in Argentina a few months ago. We invited Nathalie Stevens, the founder of La Fundación de los Colores (an NGO that trains women in vulnerable neighborhoods to do professional make-up,) to join us at an event we were doing at Universidad Austral. Rather than coming on her own, Nathalie asked if she could bring three of her women to do our team’s makeup. They had a chance to become acquainted with the Red Shoe Movement team, we introduced them to journalists and key contacts, and they interacted with others at the event from a completely different place than they would have, had they just attended as participants.

We invited la Fundación de Los Colores to one of our events. Instead of just attending they asked if they could do our makeup. Making yourself useful is a great networking strategy.

We invited la Fundación de Los Colores in Argentina to one of our events. Instead of just attending they asked if they could do our makeup. Making yourself useful is a great networking strategy. https://www.facebook.com/lafundaciondeloscolores/

3Amplify others’ agendas

Not your traditional networking strategy, but one that proves infallible and that you can carry out regardless of how shy you are. You do have to be active in social media, though.

This is how it works:

  • Identify the people you’d like to actively network with.
  • Start interacting with them via social media by amplifying their messages, and commenting and sharing their posts. Be careful not to cross the line and become a stalker. 🙂
  • If you have a chance to help them, do. Whether it is by introducing them to someone useful, bringing them as panelists to one of your company’s events, etc.

It doesn’t really take much to be noticed by someone who you’re helping them. As long as you remain professional, it won’t be long before you can establish a connection that can easily be moved into the real world. If that’s what you want.

Here’s the caveat for this networking strategy to work: Even though you’re approaching someone via social media, it doesn’t mean you can skip the natural steps you’d take to build an in-person relationship. Build trust before you expect anything else. And always be the first one to offer help.

Sharing via social media a presenter's slides supports their agenda by amplifying their work. It's hard not to get noticed when you're helping someone.

Sharing via social media a presenter’s slides supports their agenda by amplifying their work. It’s hard not to get noticed when you’re helping someone.

Now go out and practice these networking strategies in real life. I’ll be waiting to hear how you do. And if you have some amazing tips, please share them here!

 

Climbing the ladder: What women don’t know

Why aren’t more women climbing the ladder at corporations and organizations of all kinds? It’s the million-dollar question. If you really want to change the status quo, read on!

We’ve been debating this question for a long time. Mostly because it’s unfathomable that so little change has happened in decades. Are women not climbing the ladder because of a personal decision or because of organizational biases?

Climbing the ladder: Three responsible categories, not two!

Let’s look first at two, broad categories that most commonly take the blame for making it hard for women climbing the ladder.

Organizational responsibility 

There is an array of factors that deliberately or inadvertently impact the number of women at the top in a negative way. These include barriers such as unwritten rules, policies, expectations, and perceptions of what constitutes leadership potential, executive presence, etc.

For instance:

  • Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Expectations that in order to reach the C-suite you must be available 24/7. Or work late every night to entertain clients.

  • Expectations that women are still mostly responsible for family matters.
  • Perceptions of men being more competent or having more executive presence.
  • Regular skepticism, push back and challenges of women’s ideas and competences.
  • Fill-in positions through recommendations of current executives in office. (These tend to be white men and have a network with a similar make-up.)
  • Value face-time in the office for promotions(penalizing people who are mobile.)

Personal responsibility

This group of factors includes your own behaviors and decisions that impact your career trajectory.

For example:

  • How assertive you are in your communication and leadership style.
  • How strong your network of sponsors is.
  • How hard and often you negotiate for yourself along your career.
  • How visible you and your accomplishments are to key people.
  • How comfortable you are taking risks.
  • How important other pursuits outside of your career are for you.

Now, in trying to figure out which of these two categories is more responsible for women not climbing the ladder, we keep pointing fingers with little visible results.

The truth is that here’s a third category that connects Organizational and Personal. One that we haven’t paid as much attention as it deserves. One that can really make the difference.

Joined Responsibility

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

This category is the space where both individual women and organizations share responsibility for more women not climbing the ladder. Due to the way in which organizations have traditionally perceived and promoted men and women, and social norms affecting both genders, some advice and training fell through the cracks. Companies didn’t offer it. Women didn’t ask for it.

This advice refers to the expectation that a person must have certain abilities in order to reach C-level. Advice that hasn’t been verbalized as often to women as to men. And women haven’t asked about it either. Here are the areas that may be holding you back at any level:

  • How focused you are in business outcomes. (Both the outcomes of your own role and on how they impact the overall outcomes of the business.)
  • How closely you align your role in the organization with the business strategy. (Can you answer why the company is paying your salary? Hint: Think of the “why” you do what you do.  Not the “what” it is you do.)
  • How much financial acumen you have. (Do you know how to affect the company’s bottom line within your own role? At any level, it’s important to understand how what you do affects the financials of the overall company.)
Check out Susan Colantuono’s brilliant book on this topic!

Mastering these three aspects will make it easier for women climbing the ladder to get to the very top. If you are a manager, supervisor or an executive, you may need to start sharing this type of advice with your subordinates. Offer them coaching and training programs to fill-in any gaps in knowledge. If you are an individual contributor, this is your call to action. Don’t let one more day go by without seeking help in this area. Here is a great, very inexpensive Business Foundations online course, taught by Wharton Business School.

It's important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

It’s important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

As women, we already have many of the advantageous characteristics that make for a successful 21st Century executive. Make sure you don’t overlook the business, financial, and strategic abilities that are taken for granted at higher levels. You may not have thought about them much along the way and they may be the one thing that’s holding you back.