Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


4 Strategies for Boosting Collaborative Creativity

Businesses, industries and the people who run them are changing quickly and frequently. With so much disruptive technology and ideas, you need to be at the top of your game to keep your doors open, let alone make your way to the top. The new business model requires you to be creative, break the rules and move away from the norms. So how can you make your team think more creatively?


Recruit Good People - And Make Sure They're Compatible

Nothing can replace a great team. Bring in people from different backgrounds and different experiences so they can challenge and complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. No matter what you're brainstorming in your business, whether it's how to make your operations more efficient or an idea for your next blog post, bring in people from different departments to get a variety of perspectives. Make sure your team is open to thinking outside the box and is willing to be vulnerable and open with their ideas. A solid business starts with hiring the best people, so be sure to use them.

Looking to hire "the best" people? That's great, but be careful. I'll take a curious, eager person who's great in a team over a "super star" in most situations, so the "best" candidate isn't always best based on skills alone. Many companies are using personality testing (like Myers-Briggs, DiSC, and others) to get a feel for how people work and compare that to the team members already in place. This can be a great way to help balance out the team and prevent style and "fit" collisions before hiring.

Use Technology

To be able to hire the best people, you can't have restraints on location. With today's technology you can hire people in different cities, states and even countries. Use a tool like a virtual office desktop to have phone calls, video calls and messaging with all of the people in your company, whether they're in a conference room or across the world.

You also may want to use technology to boost creativity in your brainstorm sessions. Let people surf the web, social media and your competitors for ideas. Conduct online research to see if other people have already found a solution to the problem you're trying to solve. The internet gives you the world at your fingertips, so why not use it?

Make It A Game

There's nothing like a little competition to get the creative juices flowing. Think back to when you were a kid and what helped you come up with your craziest ideas. It probably wasn't sitting at a desk, right? Give your employees a sheet of paper or sticky notes and a pen and give them two minutes to come up with all the ideas they can to solve your problem. Don't limit them to good ideas and bad ideas, just whatever comes to mind as fast as they can write it down. Come back together after the two minutes and go through everyone's proposals and expand on them. Whoever comes up with the winning idea should get a gift card or an extra long lunch.

You also can play word association games, make your problem into a puzzle, create a scavenger hunt or any other number of games to get your employees to think creatively.

Let Ideas Sit A Bit

Even though deadlines can help your team make final decisions, sometimes they need the time and space to ponder out the big ideas. You never know when inspiration is going to strike (how many ideas have you had on your commute to work or in the shower?). Tell your team about the problem, and then let them think about it for a couple days. They can do some outside research, talk together or think separately. Then, have everyone come together to discuss their solutions. Encourage others to add onto their co-workers ideas in any way until you have a solution that works for everyone.

You don't have to do anything crazy to inspire creativity in your team. Give people the room and encouragement they need, and you'll be delighted with the results.

4 Tips To Make Your Meetings More Productive and Less Time Consuming

Meetings cost us time and money. Having numerous people in a conference/meeting hall is costly by any measurement. Moreover, what is even worse is the cost of an interrupted work flow. In the business world it is tough to do away with meetings. After all, they help an organization, big or small, realign their efforts according to their goals after a healthy discussion with other employees.

As more and more organizations begin to embrace a culture of empowerment and inclusion, managers tend to express themselves more frequently and for longer durations, often causing meetings to become more comprehensive but exhausting as well. Add to this the fact that most of them do not come down to a decisive conclusion, and there is room for improvement.

But there are ways you could keep a tab on the productiveness of a meeting. Here are 4 tips to kick start this process.

1) Have an agenda and communicate your objectives

Needless to say but according to Forbes more than 60 percent of meetings in US don’t have prepared agendas. It is important to realize that, setting an agenda before the meeting begins can cut unproductive meeting time by great extent. The meeting agenda has got to be specific, rather than be vague. For instance, “Amsterdam Project” isn’t as effective as something like “Determine priorities and workforce for Amsterdam Project.” At this point it is also important to keep in mind that the agenda is communicated with your team well ahead of time.

Everyone who enters the meeting room should know, in advance, the objective for keeping the meeting, apart from why they were invited and how are they expected to contribute.

2) Start to time to end it on time

Don’t make exceptions is the first thing that should strike you when beginning the meeting. If one of your colleagues arrives late, instead of starting late or starting all over again, explain to him or her on which pointer the team is currently at. Resist the temptation to delay the meeting summarize the progress for late arrival(s). Unless and until the person’s role in the missed out pointers is critical, ask them you’ll update them once the meeting is done. Remember time is money, and in meeting the time of your team is at stake.

3) Avoid multitasking and stay focused

As the meeting progresses, determine time limits for each pointer and make sure to stick to each of them. In other words, avoid too much dynamism when the meeting is under progress. Reschedule anything that not on the agenda, for a discussion sometime later. One hack that does wonders in keeping to the time allocated to the meetings is placing priority items that are bound to have minimal discussion right at the beginning of the agenda and consequently that is where your meeting should begin. Needless to say the contentious items are bound to go down the agenda.

Another factor that hampers the productivity of your meeting is multitasking. It is technically impossible to check your mailbox and listen at the same time. So make sure to make a formal announcement asking your team to switch off the phones and pagers before you begin the discussion. Only then will your team participate wholeheartedly in the meeting.

4) Inculcate a process of for anonymous feedback

What’s the point of conducting a meeting when other’s opinion is not taken into consideration? This opinion is different from the one you look forward to while discussing a problem in a meeting. Most of the times it is important to take note of what your seniors and juniors thought about the meeting as a whole and what else could be done to make it better and productive. Based on the recaps and responses to the meetings, assess your and your teammates’ performance. Maybe someone needs to listen more, someone needs to express more. Anonymous feedback from fellow employees will help you run more meetings that are more effective, and will help you and your staff get. Anonymous feedback from your employees will not just assist you in running more effective meetings, but will help you and your staff reap more results out of the shared time.

Meetings are powerful, irrespective of the fact that they have small teams or large ones. They help in disseminating important information and help shape the direction of the work your company is into. Productive meetings not just help in setting up efficient, effective organizational processes but your staff ventures back into the office way more informed and empowered. If you are struggling with low productivity in meetings give a shot to the above steps to set a culture of clear direction and plan of attack.

Guest Author Bio: Chris Jordan is the Marketing Manager at Weekplan, a weekly planner web application, used by over 300K users. Read more about Weekplan here.

4 Great Lessons to Be Learned from an Entry-Level Job

College graduation time is here. Around the country, hundreds of thousands of fresh-faced 20-somethings are raring to go out and make a difference in the world. For many, this includes getting an amazing job with a killer salary and lots of benefits.

While this is a great dream and certainly a reasonable goal to strive for, the reality is that most grads will be hired for an entry-level position — one that will pay the rent and not much more. But as it turns out, these basic jobs can provide you with all sorts of invaluable lessons that are worth far more than a beefy paycheck.

My son happens to be graduating in a few weeks, and that gets me in the 'pondering' mode about what's next. He and I have spoken about entry-level jobs, and he is definitely pragmatic about getting into a "grunt work" kind of job in order to prove himself.

So - what are the benefits of an entry-level job anyway?

Entry-level jobs offer a peek into the industry

A low-paying position in an industry that you are interested in offers an insider’s look at the company and the way that the business handles the executive roles. In some cases, you may realize pretty quickly that what you thought would be your dream job is actually a nightmare position. You may hear stories from your boss about 90-hour work weeks, endless business trips and very little time with his or her family. Starting at the bottom rung often helps you realize that you don’t want to climb that ladder any further.

One of the things I've noticed is that there are an awful lot of people who end up doing something totally different than what their degree area - an entry-level job can be a great way to figure out if you really want to focus where you once believed you would.

Additionally, you'll learn a lot about the culture of a company from the way they treat the inexperienced new employee. If you don't like the culture, you can always look for another place.

Entry-level jobs provide great lessons in self-discipline

Entry-level work offers an outstanding opportunity to learn self-discipline and persistence, especially if the job is with a company that you really like. It can be time consuming and challenging to move up in the corporate world, and these first jobs really help hone those skills of striving to do more than is required and putting in extra hours to make a favorable impression on the managers. If you want to take a more self-directed and entrepreneurial route, look for entry-level positions in companies like Amway that offer these types of opportunities.

Entry-level jobs are an excellent vehicle for learning the basics like: showing up on time; listening well before acting; figuring out how to meet and learn from experienced people; determining what you'll tolerate for a commute; and so forth.

Entry-level jobs help you learn “soft skills"

Higher level positions may include some major training and learning significant skills like heavy duty software systems and more, but the “soft skills” one learns in entry-level jobs are also incredibly important. Never discount how crucial it is to learn how to communicate with managers, work in a group, speak with customers and be on time for work every day. In many ways, these basic-yet-invaluable skills will be used far more over your career than a more specific task.

Entry-level jobs help you learn to see the big picture

Sometimes, when young employees are getting started in their careers, they are so focused on making the big bucks that they forget that jobs are about much more than a fat paycheck. In many cases, the happiest people are those earning a small salary doing a job that they genuinely love.

Jobs that people may consider to be menial or not important can be immensely rewarding, and they are also positions that have a lot of merit and are important to the company. The ultimate goal should not be a certain title or annual salary, but rather to find work that makes you feel good about yourself.

When I think about my early jobs, I still remember some key things from my first couple of jobs:

McDonalds: I was lucky enough to work in a franchise owned by the Valluzo family in Louisiana. They insisted on quality, cleanliness, and customer service in their restaurants and drilled it into the employees' (and managers') heads - and their McDonalds locations stood out. If you didn't have high standards, you didn't last in the Valluzo's franchise. I started out mopping floors and ended up doing just about every job at the restaurant over time.

A lot of the things I learned there still stick with me, including how to treat your employees like team members, not subordinates.

In short, embrace the entry-level job - it can be a great foundation for your future.

[Updated] Creating job descriptions with MindManager

I recently wanted to revamp a position description, and decided to pull out my trusty ol’ MindManager Pro to help get the job done.

First, I created a basic templatePositionmap_1 to help organize various aspects of a position.  I then used MindManager to populate details and fill out the template with things that articulated what I’m looking for in a candidate for that position.  I find that using MindManager to brainstorm makes it easy to quickly create a crisp view of the things I want and need.

I also took this opportunity to roll in the view of “What do you hire on?” and “What would you fire on?” as discussed in my post on that topic a couple of months ago.

When I’m done with fleshing out the mind map, I create a more traditional job description based on what I’ve come up with.  Of course, I don’t just type in everything verbatim from the mindmap.
For example, the “Things I’d Fire On” doesn’t get put directly into the job description.  However, I do ensure that I have requirements and experience elements that minimize my chances of hiring someone I’d fire. 

The “…Fire On” list also provides great fodder for building a strong interview guide so you can ask questions to drill on specific areas of concern.  This will allow you to discover whether candidates may be incompatible or unacceptably deficient in comparison with your requirements for the position.

For example, if I determined that I’d fire someone if they couldn’t predictably manage and complete complex projects on time, I’d do things like:

  • Add requirements and key success factors describing the need to manage complex projects and meet committed delivery and completion dates;
  • Add experience requirements targeting candidates with a proven track record on-time projects;
  • Add interview questions probing for examples of when they’ve done what I’m looking for – and examples of when they haven’t, so I can find out what they’ve learned from that;
  • Add questions for use during reference checks to drill for the ability to satisfy my requirements.

If this sounds useful to you, I’ve provided a copy of the basic template for your use here, and would love to hear about any useful iterations, improvements, or similar tools you use.

Note:  After you’ve hired someone and it’s time to review their performance, you can also use MindManager to collect and organize your thoughts and feedback from their co-workers.  Find out more here.

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4 Entrepreneurial Traits That Can Help You Land the Perfect Job

Last week I spent a Saturday with a bunch of existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. Their passion, optimism, and thirst for success was inspiring. Right now, I'm working in a company and not really looking to embark on an entrepreneurial journey just yet (though I think I will at some point in the next few years). So I was curious - what does it take to go alone, and make your way in the world? And can you be entrepreneurial within a company?

The path of an entrepreneur is fulfilling and rewarding, but never easy. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 14 million Americans were self-employed in 2015, while another 29 million were hired by the self-employed. Every man or woman with the American Dream in sight seeks that self-owned, independent career, but it's not a reality for everyone. Taxes, costs, health insurance, competition and plain bad luck are just a few of the barriers keeping millions in their 9-to-5 jobs. But there is a better way.

Just because you can't (or choose not to) own your business doesn't mean there isn't a place in the workforce that is ready and willing to embrace your entrepreneurial spirit. More companies are ditching the three-piece suits and cubicles for a more modern and contemporary working lifestyle. Google is probably the most famous example of this new ethos, where employees are encouraged to dress comfortably, work their own hours and take advantage of a multitude of amenities to make office life fun.

If you want a career that's less like a cage and more like a playground, hone these entrepreneurial skills to score a job and lifestyle that you love.

Find the Right Company
(or the right place in your company)

When starting a job search, you'll be amazed by how transparent companies can be when asking for entrepreneurs — the key is finding the businesses that really mean what they say. Auto retailer DriveTime has it front and center on its career page. It states, "If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, welcome a challenge, have high personal standards of achievement and are extremely motivated, we have endless opportunities for you to succeed."

If your skepticism doesn't stop at the front page, find a few of the company's employees on LinkedIn and ask them what life is like in the office. Some may give you the company speak, but others will be surprisingly candid.

Create an Unsolicited Project

Some companies will ask you to complete a sample project during the interview process, but this is something you can provide without being asked. Study the company's website, business, clients (if they're listed), and create your own version of a project that could fit a real business need. This could be a marketing campaign, editorial calendar, social media strategy or financial plan. The point is, your future employer will probably be wowed by an initiative not taken by other applicants.

If you're in a company already, think about a way you can innovate beyond the world of "what's expected" in a way that will build your experience, as well as add value to your company. Figure out a way to get this done, and you'll have a blast.

Calculated Recklessness

While reckless carries negative connotation, calculated recklessness is a quality more businesses crave. What is calculated recklessness? It's simply the willingness to take risks in the better interest of the company. The why doesn't matter — calculated recklessness could be in pursuit of a bonus or promotion — but if the boss benefits, you'll be given more freedom to try new things in the future, and that's what every entrepreneur wants.

Say Goodbye to the 9-to-5

The traditional workday is dying, and with good reason. A set 9-to-5 schedule can hinder productivity, erode trust in management and cause distractions while employees watch a clock for eight hours, just waiting for 5 p.m. to roll around. Your company should work like you do, and more startups are adopting this culture. Don't be afraid to tell hiring managers you prefer to set your own hours, and you'll be pleasantly surprised with how many are receptive to the notion.

Find Some Mentors or Guides to Help

One of the things that stood out from last week's collaboration was that a lot of the entrepreneurs I met were involved in "Mastermind Groups" which are information sharing and support groups where entrepreneurs can share their business challenges and get advice from others who've walked the path before them. It is a great concept and everyone I met recommended it. You can find out about Masterminds by word of mouth, or check out resources like "The Success Alliance" for a list of groups you can approach.

Are you an entrepreneur? Are you on the journey to become one? I'd love to hear what you're learning - leave a comment below if you have anything to add to the conversation.