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292: Jeff DeGraff – Becoming More Creative in Your Ability to Innovate

Jeff DeGraff Discusses Ways How To Become More Creative

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Jeff DeGraff Show Notes Page

While he was in college, Jeff DeGraff had a whole series of events that would change his life forever. Every time his life blew up (whether it was having no place to live or not having any money) Jeff would start looking around to what was available to him and to do everything he can with what he had. He realized that he didn’t think or act like other people did and had to do things a bit differently and creatively. It was from his mistakes that he learned to accept the various things he was naturally good at and to consider them as gifts and to stop trying to become somebody he was not.

Jeff DeGraff was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His parents, Jim and Joan, have been married for 68 years. He has three brothers, one older and two younger, and a younger sister. Most of the activities at the DeGraff household revolved around sports, fishing, theater, and the Catholic church.

In high school, Jeff excelled in athletics, earning six varsity letters, and was an all-state wrestler. He also earned a music scholarship to the Interlochen Center for the Arts. His involvement in the school choir, drama society, forensics team, and newspaper foreshadow his career as a professor, author, and public speaker.

Jeff worked his way through Western Michigan University as a Teamster. At the University of Michigan, where Jeff took his Master’s degree, he was awarded the Lloyd Hall Fellowship. Jeff completed his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in only two years. At 25, Dr. DeGraff turned down a faculty position at a top university to become the youngest executive at a little-known regional company called Domino’s Pizza where he was given the title “The Dean of Innovation” for his unique solutions to complex challenges. Five years, and several billions of dollars later, Jeff left the fastest growing company in America to return to academic life.

For the past 31 years Prof. DeGraff has taught creativity, innovation, and change courses at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. During that period, Jeff established the Innovatrium Institute for Innovation, and has consulted with over half of all Fortune 500 companies at the executive level. He is the author of nine books, including the upcoming “The Creative Mindset: Mastering the Six Skills That Empower Innovation”, which he co-authored with his wife Staney. Dr. DeGraff has had a national PBS special, an NPR program which ran three years, and has been a columnist for numerous magazines. He is one of the original 25 LinkedIn influencers. Jeff is a regular on the speaking circuit.

Among his chief accomplishments, Jeff is most proud of the positive social impact and success of his students. His contribution to important leadership theories of practice, including the Competing Values Framework, are a key part of his academic legacy. His work in building extensive innovation ecosystems, including those for the United States military, are among his most important civic contributions.

Jeff lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, only 100 miles from where he grew up. However, Dr. DeGraff has logged over 2 million airline miles. He has worked in dozens of countries worldwide.

Jeff has been married for decades to Staney DeGraff. She is originally from Indonesia. They write books together. She runs the businesses. They have three children. One girl, Marika, and two younger brothers, Josh and Justin. Marika and her husband Bryan are expecting their first child this fall. The younger two are both university students at home for the summer. They have a 16-year-old sheltie named Belle-Belle.

When the family is not traveling, Jeff is a fixture at Michigan football, basketball, and hockey games.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to @JeffDeGraff get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShowClick to Tweet

“Apathy is the death of creativity.” – Click to Tweet

“Creativity is like any other skill that you learn. You have to be able to ply the trade and practice.” – Click to Tweet

“Creativity is like any other type of intelligence. You’re going to be better at certain things than others.” – Click to Tweet

“Once you are aware of your mindset and where that mind is going, you’ll see things.” – Click to Tweet

“Really creative people often feel like they’re stealing, because all they do is see something in a different way and reapply it another.” – Click to Tweet

“It’s not about developing your weaknesses, it’s about finding the type of creative thinking that fits you and then building it up.” – Click to Tweet

“Once you figure out what something is like, then you have to ask yourself what’s missing.” – Click to Tweet

“In order to have a top economy, you have to make things better and new, and that comes from being creative.” – Click to Tweet

“Diversity matters because when you encounter other kinds of people you get different kinds of ideas.” – Click to Tweet

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” – Click to Tweet

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” – Click to Tweet

“Real innovators know what they know and know what they don’t know.” – Click to Tweet

Hump to Get Over

While he was in college, Jeff DeGraff had a whole series of events that would change his life forever. Every time his life blew up (whether it was having no place to live or not having any money) Jeff would start looking around to what was available to him and to do everything he can with what he had. He realized that he didn’t think or act like other people did and had to do things a bit differently and creatively. It was from his mistakes that he learned to accept the various things he was naturally good at and to consider them as gifts and to stop trying to become somebody he was not.

Advice for others

Listen and be patient with people who may not be able to keep up with you.

Holding him back from being an even better leader

I become very intolerant with people who are incompetent and are not trying harder to be competent.

Best Leadership Advice

Walk a mile on someone else’s shoes. Be empathetic to the challenges they have.

Secret to Success

Listen to the soundtrack in your head. Stop listening to people, listen to the authentic voice in your head.

Best tools in business or life

The Eisenhower Grid.

Recommended Reading

Daniel Boorstin Trilogy:

  1. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself
  2. The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination
  3. The Seekers: The Story of Man’s Continuing Quest to Understand His World

The Creative Mindset: Mastering the Six Skills That Empower Innovation

Contacting Jeff DeGraff

Innovatrium website: https://www.innovatrium.org/

Jeff’s website: http://www.jeffdegraff.com/

Jeff’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/degraffjeff/

Jeff’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/JeffDeGraff

Jeff’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deanofinnovation

Resources

Jeff’s Other Books:

The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict

Certified Professional Innovator Workbook

The Enlivened Self 

Making Stone Soup: How to Jumpstart Innovation Teams

Innovation You: Four Steps to Becoming New and Improved

Leading Innovation: How to Jump Start Your Organization’s Growth Engine

Competing Values Leadership: Second Edition

Creativity at Work

Show Transcript

Click to access unedited transcript

Unedited Transcript

Jim Rembach (00:00):

Okay, Fast Leader Legion today. I’m excited because we have somebody on the show today who is going to set your mind, right? As well as give you some tools to help you meet, be more creative in your ability to innovate. And we’re going to talk about why those two things are so different and where innovation actually comes from because Jeff, DeGraff um, who was raised in Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, is going to help us with this. His parents, Jim and Joan had been married for 68 years. He has three brothers, one older and two younger and a younger sister. Most of the activities at the DeGraff household revolved around sports fishing theater and the Catholic church in high school. Jeff excelled in athletics, earning six varsity letters and wasn’t all state wrestler. He also earned a music scholarship to the Interlochen center for the arts, his involvement in the school choir, drama society, forensics team, and newspaper foreshadow his career as a professor author and public speaker.

Jim Rembach (01:01):

Jeff worked his way through Western Michigan university as a teamster at the university of Michigan, where Jeff took his master’s degree. He was awarded the Lloyd hall fellowship. Jeff completed his doctorate at the university of Wisconsin in only two years at 25, dr. DeGraff turned down a faculty position at a top university to become the youngest executive at a little known regional company called Domino’s pizza, where he was given the title of the Dean of innovation for his unique solutions to complex challenges, five years and several billions of dollars later. Jeff left the fast growing company and the fastest growing company in America to return to academic life. For the past 31 years, professor DeGraff has taught creativity, innovation and change courses at the Ross school of business, university of Michigan at the university of Michigan. During that period, Jeff established the innovator BREEAM Institute for innovation and he consulted with over half of the fortune 500 companies at the executive level.

Jim Rembach (02:05):

He is an author of nine books, including the creative mindset, mastering the six skills that empower innovation, which he coauthored with his wife. Stainy dr. [inaudible] has had a national PBS special and NPR program, which ran for three years and has been a columnist for numerous magazines. He is one of the original 25 LinkedIn influencers among his chief accomplishments. Jeff is most proud of the positive social impact and success of his students. His contribution to important leadership theories of practice include the competing values frameworks and are a key part of his academic letter legacy. His work in building extensive innovation ecosystems, including those for the United States, military are among his most important civic contributions. Jeff lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan only 100 miles from where he grew up. However, dr. Groff has logged over 2 million airline miles. Jeff has been married for decades to Stanny digraph.

Jim Rembach (03:01):

She is originally from Indonesia and they write books together and she runs the business. They have three children, one girl Maricka and two younger brothers of Maurica are Josh and Justin, Jeff, DeGraff are you ready to help us get over the hump? And man, I’ll tell you, I’m looking really forward to our discussion because for me, I have probably had over 20 plus people on the fast leader show as guests talking about this particular topic. Um, it is one of those passions of mine because I th I think for us as a society, as a whole, um, we have really lost our ability to be, you know, more creative, uh, and therefore it has negatively impacted innovation. But if you could tell us a little bit about this passion of yours so that we can get to know you even better.

Jeff DeGraff (03:51):

Well, one of the things I grew up in a very particular time, in a very particular part of the world, I grew up in Michigan in the 1960s with a real sense of destiny. And my grandfather was an immigrant from shell prawn, Hungary. He worked, uh, on, on the space program. He worked on not only the Apollo missions before that he worked on the atomic bomb. So I grew up in a world where Americans thought it was part of their patriotic duty to make things better, a new, um, everybody tinker and everybody always look for work arounds. There wasn’t a lot of support. So you had to figure out a lot of things for yourself. So to me, I grew up in sort of this golden age of innovation, and it’s why we have the tech economy, which I worked on very much early in my career. That’s what my PhD area said. So, so what happens in, in my youth is that we have this sense of obligation to society to be better and new. And part of the reason for writing this book is a real deep concern that we have lost our sense that we’re here to make things new and improved.

Jim Rembach (04:55):

Okay. So that’s really interesting. And in a book you talk about, um, and I was going to wait to discuss this, but I think you just teed it up for me. You talk about creative icing, which is a word that you created. So if you could tell us a little bit about what creative idea,

Jeff DeGraff (05:10):

Well, the creative advising is a made up term. It’s coined term, it’s a neologism and it’s like winterizing or Martinizing. But what I wanted to emphasize was we’ve made creativity too lofty. We’ve made it so that it sounds like only the great, only the greatest among us can do it. And that’s not the world I grew up in. I tell them, I think I tell a story in the book. I don’t know whether I do or not, but my father is one of the, one of those great creative visors who take the ordinary, which is what creative icing means. And using creativity make it extra ordinary. That’s who create devising is the ordinary to the extraordinary. And I remember, you know, when I grew up, we didn’t have a lot of money. A lot of kids, uh, I grew up in a HUD house, right?

Jeff DeGraff (05:55):

The whole shebang. And my dad would do things like for Halloween, we couldn’t afford a costume and he would, you know, he’d find an old bucket and he cut the, cut it out. And that became the helmet. And then if you’d paint it and you know, something from the duster would become the Pope. And he did this all the time. My grandfather did this all the time. My mother did this all the time. So to me, what I started noticing is most of the creative work in the world happens from ordinary people. And occasionally, occasionally they figure out how to do that in their own life, in a way that they make their job better, or they start a small business or they take, they do something better at church. It’s not Homeric Jim, it’s small acts of real, uh, making things really quite different, but using their own, um, self authorizing behavior, their own power that they have to actually affect their world.

Jim Rembach (06:52):

Talking about the world that I live in. It’s about, you know, doing something such as what you’re referring to there and improving and impacting the customer experience and the employee experience and having it to be an impact to the bottom line and to the cold customer retention. And there’s a lot of opportunity for that. And one of the things that is always a focus that people talk about, whether they execute it is a different story, is being able to connect with the frontline people who are interacting with the customer all day long.

Jeff DeGraff (07:20):

Yeah. Now you have to understand there’s a really important connection here. And that is, um, you know, most of my work is with very large companies. You know, I started by building a company from the ground up. Really? This is the Domino’s, you know, but one of the things, when you work with a very large company, you’re going to see like a pyramid and there’s two places that creativity has to happen. And it normally does one it’s the very top because people get paid out of options and capitalism requires capitalists. So you’re always trying to grow. There’s a lot of problems with the way economies are set up in the United States. But one of the things that really works is, you know, you’re, you’re trying to improve the business at the top. And then the second place is the front line. Just what you’re saying.

Jeff DeGraff (08:01):

And the reason is they have to figure it out in real time. And particularly the farther away you are from headquarters, the middle layers, and there’s nothing wrong with them. The middle layers are designed to maintain, they’re designed to maintain it. In my previous book. One of the things I talk about in the innovation code is the creative power of constructive conflict that you’re supposed to have conflict. So when I go to organizations, if people are arguing, I feel very good. I’m like, okay, we got passion here. We’re going to build it’s apathy. That’s the death of creativity. Apathy.

Jim Rembach (08:36):

I even had that type of conversation with my pastor when he was saying, Hey, I don’t, I don’t, it doesn’t bother me about the people who are, you know, really, you know, pro religious or those that aren’t, it’s the ones in the middle.

Jeff DeGraff (08:48):

Yeah.

Jim Rembach (08:49):

Okay. So not in the book, you know, and then you talked about, and you even mentioned it here that anybody could be creative. We’re going to talk about that in a second, but, but you refer to six minds or you refer to six skills that we need to develop in order to have this creative mindset. And they are, um, apropos, you know, appro appropriately, um, and an acronym called create. And there are clarify, which is getting the challenge, right? Replicate, mimicking, and reapplying ideas, elaborate multiplying ideas by adding new ones, associate connecting ideas. And with analogies translate, creating stories from ideas, and then evaluate selecting the best ideas. Now, your book is that workbook that you claim anyone can, can use to be more creative, but what kind of effort is required?

Jeff DeGraff (09:39):

Well, creativity is like any other skill that you learn. You have to be able to apply the trade in practice. And it’s also like any other type of intelligence. You’re going to be better at certain things than others. So you’re going to be right handed or left handed. That’s part of the, the key here, full disclosure, Jim, the original way I had approached the publisher when they asked me to write a book on creativity was I’m, uh, I’m the last doctoral student of Rudolph Arnheim. Now let me give you a tracing here. The whole field of creativity was started by a man in Berlin named max vert Heimer. He has to price students route all Fahrenheit, who gives us the terms, visual thinking, right? And design thinking. This goes back to 1938, a book he wrote 1938 and a guy named Kurt Lewin. It gives us positive psychology.

Jeff DeGraff (10:30):

So there are two there’s two branches of the same dream. I’m the last Mohican, if you will. The last of that group of people. Now, when I originally wrote the book, I said, there are different levels of mastery. So I had originally written the book like a pyramid. And so the, the idea Jim originally was, um, replicate is in technical terms called my medic, which means to mimic. And it’s a term that comes from Aristotle and it just means that Cal D and crows mimic and dolphins mimic, and so do people. And one of the easiest. So the object was to work all the way up. And the thing I clipped off the book was was the final one, which is transcendental, where you learn to kind of empty your mind. So even though these are kind of in order this way, there’s kind of a hierarchy to them, right?

Jeff DeGraff (11:18):

So you know this better than anyone, is it easier to copy something someone else has done or to tell a compelling story? Telling a compelling story is really hard. It cognitively it requires a whole series of neurons firing in a particular way. And you know this because you’ve heard children try and tell a story, you’ve heard your great aunt try and tell a dirty joke. They can’t do it because it’s re it’s like being a game show host. It’s hard. So the object of this was to try and take people through step by step. So they kind of built that creativity muscle so that they got confidence as they went along. But knowing that as you move towards the end of the create, you know, sort of the T to T you’re really going to have to have put in some, some short, pretty serious time, uh, to get your, to get your stick down

Jim Rembach (12:12):

Well, but you, you know, you, you mentioned that the creative mindset won’t make you smarter though. So then, I mean, what do you really mean by that?

Jeff DeGraff (12:20):

Well, I mean, in a traditional sense, and then you caught me on a great question. Um, one of the things that’s very interesting is, you know, when we started getting into emotional intelligence and now there’s creative intelligence and everything else, and I go back to Arnheim, my advisor was a cognitive psychologist. And if you know anything about my background, I worked on one of the first super computers, right. In what are called cognitive inquiry strategies. I’m not trying to be technical here, but my early work is on how to get a machine to make, to think creatively. So, so the challenge is yes, there’s intelligence to that. And one of the people who had the same advisor is Howard Gardner at Harvard, right? The Plato project who has the eight multiple intelligence, I guess now there’s 10, but he’s the famous, you know, there’s mathematical intelligence and musical intelligence, a brilliant guy. So the notion is, um, yes, there are multiple forms of intelligence. What I was trying to say is you’re not going to get a better sat score.

Jim Rembach (13:20):

Well, and I think just like you were saying, is, is us knowing that there are different types of intelligence, um, much like you talk about there’s, you know, different, you know, the different types of mindsets and, and all of that. But in addition to these mindsets, you know, you talk about putting yourself in the right framing. Um, and you talk about eight strategies that help you, uh, in order, you know, for you to go through this journey. And they include notice when, where, and how you are creative, be prepared at all times to capture ideas. When they begin to flow, pay attention to who and what gives and takes your energy, consult the muse in your mind, look for signs and congruencies or anomalies challenge Brown in authority, escape assumptions about how things should be and have a sense of den a destiny. Why are these so important

Jeff DeGraff (14:14):

When you start to think creatively? One of the Pat challenges we all have is habit bound thinking. We have a tendency to go back to patterns and you can see this. When people, when people have arguments about anything, they care about whether it’s politics or religion or whatever, the same is true for creativity, they have what’s called dominant logic and their dominant logic are these very well-worn paths. So what you have to do is kind of get above your dominant logic. You have to become aware of your dominant logic. You have to say, what is it about my thinking that I have to be hyper aware of that I have to change lenses, think about them like lenses. So let me give you an example. Um, one of the things I look for all the time or incongruities in people often call me on this and say, how are, how are you seeing this?

Jeff DeGraff (15:06):

And the answer is what I’m, what I’m looking for is where my mind starts to build a groove where it seems like it automatically goes, and I have to kind of stop myself and say, okay, what’s your brain doing right now? Now this isn’t just about Jeff. What I’ve noticed in my career, I’ve been very lucky to be around some of the most famous innovators in the world. When I was very, very young, I was advisor until they called AIS applied integrated systems to Steve jobs. So I got to see up close, really, you know, Tom Monaghan and Mitt Romney. I’ve known, you know, all these people, I got to meet in my life and they got to see them up close. And one of the things that they’re very careful about is where their brain is taking them. Now what’s different about this. The normal mindset stuff is my mindset.

Jeff DeGraff (15:52):

Doesn’t say you have to do this. My mindset says you have to be aware of your mindset. And once you’re aware of your mindset and where that mind is going, it’s almost like, um, it’s almost like meditation or something. I mean, I’m not a guru. I mean, but the notion is once you know where your mind is going, and you can actually redirect where it’s making inquiry, you’ll see things. And this is something Steve jobs said in his famous Stanford address, which I love. He said really creative people often feel like they’re stealing, or they feel like you’re cheating because all they did was see something in some place, look at it a different way and reapply it. Another what’s called search and reapply. And I thought, when I heard that, the first time I thought that’s how almost every high functioning remember everyone’s creative, but high functioning, creative I’ve ever talked to is they’re aware of that.

Jim Rembach (16:42):

Well, in addition, as you were talking, I started thinking about the interplay or the effect and impact of bias, you know? So how does that also come into play with making sure that I am in the right position in order to

Jeff DeGraff (16:57):

Skills? Yeah. That’s the role of diversity? Um, one of the things that I do a lot of work on is in these big companies. One of the things you’ll notice is 21 places in the United States produce almost all the intellectual property. It’s overwhelming, right? I happen to live in one of those little tiny places. I live in a little place called Ann Arbor, depending on what year it is. We have more venture capital per person than any other place in the country. And the difference is when you drive 20 miles outside of Ann Arbor, everybody looks different. Everybody’s different, right? Everybody has the same point of view. So one of the important things is what’s happened in modern societies. What’s called micro segmenting, social media, very in this city via culpa, MEA culpa. This is what business schools have done to us. Social media micro-segment so that if I know that you believe this, I know what messages to show you that reaffirm it.

Jeff DeGraff (17:46):

What’s called confirmation bias. Now, if you do it, there’s a term called Dunning-Kruger, right? Which comes from one of my colleagues at Cornell. Um, what happens is we begin to build a mindset. So it’s easier to trap you. And, and of course it’s a capitalist society. So what we trap you in is what we sell you. So we sell you politics. We sell your t-shirts. We sell you things to make your teeth whiter. And again, I, I apologize, the business schools have done this and you know, technology has done this, but innovation comes when you have constructive conflict. Creativity comes when you, when you engage the loyal opposition, that’s why diversity matters. It matters morally. Of course it does, but it really matters that if you never encounter somebody who says, wait a minute, I don’t think that’s right. And now this is key. The conversation becomes constructive.

Jeff DeGraff (18:37):

If you go and look at these places, tension, POS tensions are positive, where we’re at with micro segmenting is yelling over the fence, not helpful. And also not. I am terrified of what it’s going to do to our sense of destiny and our ability to innovate. One of the things that’s remember, this is a really important thing about creativity. Um, when you start looking at things like patents applied for over half of all patents awarded in Silicon Valley over the last 10 years were awarded to people who are either not born in this country or first-generation. So I can relate to this right I’ve grandparents who came from the old country, right. But the notion is there’s something about being different and heterogeneous that makes America a very special place. We have to, we have, we have to honor that we have to make sure that we nurture that we cherish that because that’s what makes us special

Jim Rembach (19:34):

Know. Well, and as you’re talking, I started even thinking about situations that I’ve been in, where the squashing, you know, just occurs for various reasons, you know, and a lot of it has to come down to just certain individuals, right. You know, they, they don’t have the open mind. They don’t, you know, have the, they have not built up some of these skills. They have not. And, and they’re in a position of power. So it’s like, you know, it’s if smothering.

Jeff DeGraff (20:02):

Absolutely. And so one of the, one of the hard things, when I’ve had this happen in multiple times in my career, the CEO calls me. And first of all, Jim, nobody calls me when things are good. They call me, things are not good. And there’s another part to my work, which is highly quantitative. And it looks at share price and things like that. We’re not to get it today, but there are, there are those moments. When you go through, you do the analysis of the company, we have a special way of looking at this and you say, we’re going to have to change some of the gene pool. Um, and you know, it could either be because you’ve got people smothering who are not having a creative mindset, or it could be that you’re so homogenous, right. That you, that there’s no points of departure for thinking you, you’re not taking advantage of a heterogeneous society.

Jim Rembach (20:51):

Well, and I also think, you know, it does come down in other ways from a whole leadership perspective. And I think that’s where some of the tools that you provide in these different chapters come into play. It’s the kind of people to focus on forward momentum and rambling and circling the drain. Right. Okay. So one thing that I found interesting is that you state that you do not have to have, or did that to do the creative process. You don’t have to do that in a sequential order. You don’t have to do it in the create order. Can you please elaborate on that?

Jeff DeGraff (21:18):

Because one of the things that’s going to happen is because people think differently, they have different cognitive inquiry strategies, certain things are going to catch better than others. So for I’ll give you a perfect example for me, I’m not a sequential thinker. I have a lot of trouble with things like instructions and directions. I am what’s called the polychronic thinker, right? So the notion is I could think about multiple time things and multiple things together. I build patterns, right? So my brain loves the analogies and it loves a narrative because it’s a lot of complicated things having to go together. And I never can understand things bit by bit. I have to see all the stuff I might MacGyver yet, put all the crap on the table and then I’ll look at it and my brain will figure it out. That’s the natural pattern, my brain, but I have people work for me.

Jeff DeGraff (22:02):

Their brain works the exact opposite way. And they’ll say to me, Jeff, can we start with, uh, you know, with, uh, replicate, can we start with this type of thinking, because I’m having trouble following you. So I have to move to that. And it’s not that that’s a lower order of thinking, it’s that their, their mindset. So what I’m trying to get at Jim is this, there’s two parts that go on here. There’s the brain that you’re you’re, you’re given. Right? And I love to say this tape to young people and they say, let me, I want to tell you about what I want to do was like, I don’t care what you want to do. I care deeply what you’re designed to do your brain and your, your natural abilities go a certain way. You know, you’re naturally Michael Jordan, you’re not Mozart or something like that, but there’s, then once you discover that, then you build it. So it’s not about developing your weaknesses. It’s about finding that, that type of creative thinking that fits you and then really building that muscle.

Jim Rembach (23:01):

Yeah. I think that’s a great example. So for me, uh, and how you explain the way that your brain works, my brain works that way as well. And, and, you know, servicing clients and, you know, being an advisor and doing all of those types of things, oftentimes I have to find myself shifting to do that other type of communication so that people can come along with me, otherwise it’s, you know, they’re like they can’t follow, you know, and I’m like, what do you mean

Jeff DeGraff (23:26):

You can follow? And it seems like magic, doesn’t it. So when I go in and I’ve had this very specific way in which we look at things and I go in, I’m always the dumbest person in the room for quite a long time. Right. Because I don’t get it. I don’t know how all the parts go together yet. And then there’ll be a day where all of a sudden people at you and go, Holy, you know, Holy mackerel. And you’re like, well, that’s kind of the way it works for me. So these are the tools I like. I built, I, but I put a lot of tools in here that I don’t like, but other people have used them highly successfully. So I didn’t just pick these randomly. I picked these based on research and more importantly, what I actually saw in these 258 companies that are the fortune 500 cause of revise, way more than that. But the ones that I saw people really able to take hold of,

Jim Rembach (24:16):

Well, I’m one of those that I have taken a hold of. I was delighted to see it in the book was an empathy map, uh, because I use that to help organizations connect better with our customer. However, you use it from an interesting perspective and example in the book, um, and you you’re, the, your target was actually a bottle of detergent. So can you explain what an empathy map is?

Jeff DeGraff (24:38):

Well, the empathy map is supposed to be, if we’re doing it the way you would do it, it’s supposed to be for a customer. We’re supposed to understand, uh, not only the cognitive of blueprint of a customer, but you know, and I know that almost 91% of all decisions are, are what are called beyond rational, right? They’re, they’re emotional. So that you go to your, your, your, your viewers probably don’t know, but that the number one reason people buy a car is the color it comes in. So the automobile companies have hundreds and hundreds of people who actually make paint colors. Right. Um, what I use the empathy map for is to say, whenever you build a product, you have to ask yourself from the point of view of the product, right? What is the challenge of the product? Do you understand the issue around the product?

Jeff DeGraff (25:23):

So I give the analogy of a laundry detergent, and I think about whatever I go to the store, cause I’m the guy who goes now during or during the Vipers right by the guy goes, and it just it’s for me, it’s overwhelming. There’s a trillion things. And what I notice is some things stick out, right? There are different color. They have a different kind of way of getting attraction. That’s what it reminds me of. This is the empathy piece. It’s like fashion. It’s like people who dress differently because they’re trying to get you to think or to see them in a different way. So the empathy map is applying human empathy to an inanimate object or to a process that, you know, that is a dehumanizing, you know, like going through the airport and whatever.

Jim Rembach (26:08):

So when I think about, um, these tools that you have at the end of the chapter, and you have several, and you even mentioned it yourself, I mean, some of those, you love somebody, you use a little, some, you like some, you know, you put in there for other reasons, but if you look at all those tools, which one do you like the most and why

Jeff DeGraff (26:22):

I’m a, I’m an analogical thinker. I think the big thing for me is, um, taking whenever I see something, I always, my brain naturally goes, what is this like, right. And what, this is the subtle art of this. Once you figure out what something is like, then you have to ask yourself what’s missing. So let me give you a real example. Um, I’m one of the architects of, uh, a real well known program called ecoimagination the general electric launch, right? I’m one of the people that was part of that. And one of the things that we started with was eco imagination is a whole bunch of different things put together. It was a $16 billion spend by general electric, right. But it’s a whole bunch of moving parts and acquisitions and things are really complicated. So what we did was we said, well, what is this like?

Jeff DeGraff (27:09):

And one of the analogies they came up with, which I couldn’t relate to at all, to be honest with you was NASCAR. Like I’d been to one NASCAR race. You know, it seemed bizarre to me, but they said, how is it like NASCAR? And so what they did was they used the analogy to show how the parts of NASCAR were parts of what they were trying to do with the energy space. Right. But then I stopped them and said, what part of NASCAR haven’t we looked at? And there were things like fueling and things like, you know what, uh, you know, how did the race car driver prepare? And so then we force fit that back into the analogy and that began to fill out what the solution needed to become. So, so the sort of the, the, the buzz, the way in which we explained it to other people in the organization was we were building a NASCAR race.

Jeff DeGraff (27:59):

And of course, eventually that doesn’t work because metaphors and analogies are always culturally specific, you know, unless you’re dealing with the birth and death and things like that. So you couldn’t take it to, should they pick different analogies that went along, but the actual construction of it was using analogies to pull things together and to find where the holes were. That’s my favorite, but the reason it’s my favorite is a, is a, is an inappropriate reason. It’s because I just naturally think that way. It’s sort of like when you give the mindset things, I naturally look for anomalies. It’s just, I’m I’m I don’t know why I’m wired that way. I naturally say when I’m in the middle of a debate or something, what’s what doesn’t fit here, which is kind of a sort of reverse thinking.

Jim Rembach (28:46):

Well, as you’re saying that though, I start thinking of something in positive psychology, which is referred to as unlikely pairs, right. You know, and you get into the whole appreciative inquiry aspect of positive psychology. And that is you need to have somebody who you do collaborate with, who does think, think differently and be on the same plane in regards to respect to the way each other. Think

Jeff DeGraff (29:07):

It was my last book that was, you know, I got to work on Charlie monger’s hall here at Michigan it’s Munger and buffet, Lennon, and McCartney. You’re going to see this over and over. There’s a wonderful thing on the Disney channel about the Sherman brothers who wrote all the music for Disney and basically the end, they go their own ways. And it doesn’t end particularly well. But the whole documentary is basically about positive tension. It’s about constructive conflict. And what’s wonderful whether it’s hosts wholescale change, you know, Boise’s occas has work on appreciative inquiry. That’s exactly what I’m getting. And the creative mindset plays right into that. It plays right into that. Are you open enough to have that conversation to get to the next place? That’s how we grow?

Jim Rembach (29:51):

No. Well, that’s, I think that’s the hardest part is to find those partners. Okay. Um, so, but when it comes to being more creative, which is that foundational component to innovation, you know, I suspect that society as a whole, as a whole, and we, Carly talked about this, you know, is increasing in regards to their lack of skill in this area. But then a lot of people who feel that they are not creative, think that while it’s just a weird folks that are the creatives. Right. And I don’t even want to be that. I mean, so how do we change? People’s thinking and society’s movement in regards to where we need creativity to go. Yeah.

Jeff DeGraff (30:27):

Yeah. Three things. Um, one, one of the things that I’ve got to take advantage of when I grew up is we had art class and music class and literature class, and, you know, dancing and theater and all the things that go into making a creative life. And I want everybody who’s watching this to understand something. This is key. If our whole idea and the education system is low-level analytics, a simple $2 application can do those things. We are the whole idea of what the end game is. Makes no sense to me. One of the early artificial intelligence PhDs, right? I, this makes no sense in order to have a top economy, you have to make things better and new. And that comes from being creative. And if you don’t believe this, look at the small countries that hit way over their weight because they’re creative.

Jeff DeGraff (31:15):

Look at the Netherlands, right? Look, look at places around the world that are falling over themselves. I’m an advisor to the government of Singapore, right? Because what the government, what Singapore wants to be as more creative. I got it, but we need to get it. And that’s our heritage. It’s our blood, right? We’ve lost it. That’s number one, number two, diversity matters. It’s not, let’s not make this political, can we just calm down on that diversity matters because when you encounter other kinds of people, you get different kinds of ideas. And it just seems very un-American to me, to not like we’re, we’re, we’re a nation of immigrants, right? We all came from someplace. It’s very, uh, it’s very much part of our DNA and our history. And, you know, Einstein wasn’t born here, neither was Tesla and Cyrus McCormick, and Isaac singer. They’re all from someplace and they all contributed.

Jeff DeGraff (32:05):

Right. And finally, I show in my analytical work, which really in fairness is my wife’s work, standing, the quant jock of the family, that when I look at organizations that are able to master these tensions, now this is where it gets a little analytical. And I don’t want to go down that road in this call. But when we look at that, they have a no index has ever beaten the Russell 2000. And we’ve only lost two at six times since 1990. So then, so the whole idea does creativity pay part of my analytical work is, Oh yeah, it pays. But to your point, it’s less than 8% of all the top 2000 companies in the world. It’s really hard to do

Jim Rembach (32:54):

Well. However, um, we have hope, um,

Jeff DeGraff (32:59):

I feel your,

Jim Rembach (33:01):

Uh, and I appreciate it greatly. Uh, so, but I think we all need things to point to in order to give us inspiration. And one of the things that we like on the show are quotes. Um, do you have a favorite quote or two that you’d like to,

Jeff DeGraff (33:12):

You can share? I have two of them. My, uh, my two favorite quotes are, and I’m not going to get them exactly. Right. So forgive me is every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world shop an hour. Right. And boy, talk about dominant logic. You get these people, you know, that they think this is all there is you’re right. Ridiculous. My other favorite is from a Bertrand Russell, the Nobel prize winner. And he says something the, to the, to the, uh, basically says the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves and wiser people. So full of doubts. I think they’re perfect. And I think what I like about both of these are those people who are just so certain about how everything works, you know, go bigger, go home. What I love about recessions, they go home real innovators. It’s not about fake humility, real innovators know what they don’t know. They know what they know. They don’t, they know what they don’t know. And the rest of the people that’s just puffery.

Jim Rembach (34:19):

I don’t think you can be a creative thinker if you don’t have humility. Okay. So however, there are times when we haven’t had some of that humility there’s times where we’ve made some mistakes and we talk about getting over the hump. Is there a time where you’ve gotten over the hump that you can share so others can learn?

Jeff DeGraff (34:35):

Yeah. Um, I had a whole series of events when I was in college. Um, let me just lay them out. It’s about, I’ll be brief. I was terrible high school student. I was a really good athlete and I was a terrible high school student. And what happened was through, uh, I had I’m the first year that athletes had to take the sat. And so what happened was when I took it, it turned out I wasn’t a complete idiot and I scored pretty well. And I got to take a test and I tested out of my freshman year of college. So I started from, I went from being the idiot to being the smart kid. And this would go on for five years. There’s a ton of these. So what I learned is every time something blew up and it would blow up in a big way where I didn’t have a place to live, I didn’t have money.

Jeff DeGraff (35:21):

You know, it was what would happen is then the overcoming the hump was I would start looking around in terms of what I had available to me. It’s the old Teddy Roosevelt do with what you can with what you have now. Right. And you, and what you, to me, what I began to realize was that I didn’t think like other people, I didn’t act like other people, but that this wasn’t a liability. And I had to find a different road. And that even led to, I had an Ivy league offer when I got out of college, because you can imagine in this short period of time, I’m the dumb jock to an Ivy league guy, which I just realized I wasn’t going to succeed at that. And I did. I followed my same logic. And I said, okay, if I think true, if I’m true to the way, I think, what is it I’m going to do?

Jeff DeGraff (36:12):

And I met this guy in a hippy bar and he worked for a guy named Tom Monaghan who had a $20 million pizza company and five years and $5 billion later, I sold the company and Mitt Romney and Bain capital. Right. Um, that was, I know, I hope this makes sense. So it wasn’t from success that I learned to do a lot of things it’s because my life blew up because I couldn’t think sequentially because I didn’t fit what they were looking for, because I didn’t understand, I needed to fill this piece of paper out. I’d have never been good at that. What I learned was there are two or three things that I’m naturally good at. Those are gifts and stop trying to be somebody or not.

Jim Rembach (36:53):

Well, I think that also lines with what you were just referring to as well, as far as the recession, right? I mean, what, you just explained the differentiators for so many people, but I, you know, you talk about a lot of the things that you’re working on, you know, everything from, you know, all these incubator programs and, you know, writing books and the work you’re doing with your, along with your wife, she runs the business by the way. Yeah.

Jeff DeGraff (37:14):

She runs everything.

Jim Rembach (37:17):

Um, but I suspect if you have, you know, the grandkids, you know, and all that, all that good stuff. Um, I suspect you have a goal or two, probably many, but is there one that you can share?

Jeff DeGraff (37:27):

Yeah. Well, I’m going to share two, one. I have a personal goal. I think at some point I’d like to write a novel. I’ve written a lot of books. I like, I like to read, I’m a reader. I come from a family of readers. I think reading shows quality of mind, but the second is, um, I’m involved in a very large project, which I’m very excited about. I can’t get into details for the United States military, and it just has to do with what we’ve been talking about, getting back in front, creating that sense of destiny and making sure that we get these amazing men and women, uh, pointed in the right direction and giving them the tools that are required in order to maintain our, I don’t want to say it’s, it’s not about maintaining our lifestyle. I don’t mean it, that we maintaining our values, maintaining what we believe is the right thing to do what, you know, Liberty and equality and all that. And, um, it’s gonna take me years. I’ve already been on it for a few years. Um, but it’s kind of taking everything I’ve learned in my life and, and, and more, and trying to make this work.

Jim Rembach (38:37):

And the fast leader, Legion wishes you the very best. Now, before we move on, let’s get a quick word from our sponsor. And even better place to work is an easy to use solution that gives you a continuous diagnostic on employee engagement, along with integrated activities that will improve employee engagement and leadership skills in everyone. Using this award winning solutions guaranteed to create motivated, productive, and loyal employees who have great work relationships with our colleagues and your customers to learn more about an even better place to work visit [inaudible] dot com forward slash better. Alright, here we go. Fast leader Legion. It’s time for the home. Okay, Jeff, the Humpday hold on is the part of our show for you. That’s good insights fast. So I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are gonna help us move onward and up faster, you have to graph. Are you ready to hold down? I am. All right. So what is holding you back from being an even better leader today? I become very intolerant

Jeff DeGraff (39:33):

With people who are incompetent and they’re not trying harder to be competent.

Jim Rembach (39:37):

What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?

Jeff DeGraff (39:41):

Uh, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, be empathetic to the challenges they have.

Jim Rembach (39:46):

What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?

Jeff DeGraff (39:50):

Listen to the soundtrack in your head, stop listening to people, listen to the authentic voice in your head.

Jim Rembach (39:57):

And what do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life,

Jeff DeGraff (40:02):

Best tools and easy? Uh, I like, I like the Eisenhower grid so that I sort my life out

Jim Rembach (40:09):

And what would be one book that you’d recommend to our leads and it could be from any genre. And of course, we’ll put a link to the creative mindset, as well as your other books on your show notes page as well.

Jeff DeGraff (40:18):

I think every creative person should read the Daniel Barston trilogy, the discovers, the creators and the seekers. He was a brilliant university, Chicago professor. I know it’s a lot of work, but, but we have a cultural heritage and ideas come from places. You should know where they come from.

Jim Rembach (40:37):

Okay. Fast leader Legion. You can find links to that. And other bonus information from today’s show by going to fast leader.net/jeff-degraff, okay, Jeff, this is my last Humpday hunting question. Imagine you were giving me the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you can take the knowledge and the skills that you have now back with you, but you can’t take it all. You can only take one. So what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?

Jeff DeGraff (40:59):

I would take back with me listening. I would take back with me to be a patient with people who can’t, who maybe can’t keep up with you in the way that you think and why I would do that is, um, I would like to think that as I came up, uh, as you get older and more mature, you realize that maybe you weren’t your best person at every turn. And I would like to make sure that I let everybody know who helped me along the way, how much I, how much they meant to me, how much I loved them. And I would, and I want to make sure that I was making time to listen carefully to what their ideas and needs were.

Speaker 3 (41:38):

Jeff. I had fun with you today. Can you please share with the fast leader Legion, how they can connect with you?

Jeff DeGraff (41:42):

Yes. You can go to innovate trim.org or Jeffdegraff.com either one. And you can send me a note and I’m happy to respond. I’m also one of the original LinkedIn influencers. You can follow me on LinkedIn. I’ve got quite a, a group over there and, uh, hope you buy, or at least to consider buying the new book. And most importantly, Jim, thank you for having me on this was a real treasure. Thank you,

Speaker 3 (42:08):

Jeff DeGraff. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. The fast leader, Legion honors you, and thanks you for helping us get over the hump.

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