How to Unlock the Creative Potential in Your Team with Brooke Wheeldon-Reece
In this episode, Ankush speaks with Brooke Wheeldon-Reece who is the CEO of the Cypress Initiative which is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to cultivate human potential and resilience through an understanding of the mind. Some of what they discuss include:
– What is creative potential
– The benefits of unlocking this potential in your employees or team
– Whether everyone is creative or are you born with it
– A case study of an organisation who started bringing in all members to problem solve resulting in creative solutions
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To contact Brooke and find out more about her work, visit www.CypressInitiative.org
[00:00:00.00]: Ankush: Welcome back to another episode of the Business Series podcast. Today I’m joined by Brooke Wheeldon Reece, who is the president and CEO of the Cyprus Initiative, and the co-author of The Spark Mentoring Curriculum, which is currently being taught to thousands of children in Tampa and around the world. Prior to her work at the Cyprus Initiative, she spent her time as a business consultant in the mergers and acquisitions department at Horizon, and as a trainer and curriculum developer for Learning.com. Welcome Brooke.
[00:00:33.04]: Brooke: Thank you, thank you for having me.
[00:00:36.08] Ankush: It’s great to have you. Today, we are going to be talking about how to unlock the creative potential in your team, and we’re going to talk a little bit about what that means, how you do it, we’ll discuss examples that Brooke might have, as well as the key takeaway. So, let’s start at the beginning of that, what do you mean Brooke by, “the creative potential”?
[00:01:03.00] Brooke: So, what I’ve seen is that everyone brings their own perspective into our culture, and there are ideas that we haven’t seen yet or plans that we haven’t seen yet, so, as the leader, I have a very clear path in which, I think Cyprus is going, but I also am very aware that there are roads that I have not seen and so, I really try to instill in all members – so we’re actually hiring a new person pretty soon – and the idea is just to get them to see that their ideas are just as important as my idea, and so that potential is under everybody, regardless of their past experiences. People don’t always know that, right? They think you have to have, X, Y and Z experience in order to have potential in a certain area, and what I’ve seen is that’s just not true. So everyone has equal footing on our team, to bringing ideas to the table, and then to see how they will unfold.
[00:02:14.11] Ankush: And this might sound like a really obvious question, but what’s the benefit of that, real-world tangible benefit that you’ve seen in your team?
[00:02:25.11] Brooke: So the Cyprus Initiative is a non-profit organization, so we have a double bottom line, we have to make money in order to serve our clients, and we have to have a big impact in order to have a reason to be in business. So our double bottom line is impact and financial, a financial bottom line. And what I’ve seen is giving my team the space to have ideas, even when it comes to other people’s’ job descriptions or job details. It just gives each department, and I say department, but we have one person in each department, but each department a different perspective to look at, and it just opens doors. So, one impact that I’ve seen in our community is we have zero funding for a support group that we run, but we’re in the third year running it every single week, just because one of our team members came to the table and said, “okay, we don’t have funding for this specific population, but we have the drive to do it, so I think we can do it.” So I just had her come up with a way that she could support that area herself, and if was her idea, and so she does it herself every single week, and the other side of that is, we had someone call in about 2 years ago and ask for a service that we don’t provide for teams, and I always tell my team, “if you’re going to bring me in an idea, or if I bring you an idea or if someone brings you an idea, we need to stay in the space of talking about how it can work, and stay away from the space of talking about why it won’t.” And that’s just because we’re making it all up anyway, so we might as well stay in the space of how it could instead of why it won’t. And so when this person called, we did not know this person but they called and said, “I’m looking for, basically, a residential home for a team.” That is not what we do at all, but we agreed to meet with this person to see how we could help anyway. And, to date this person is our biggest donor and funder based off of one small conversation and that was not in the picture at the time, but it was just because we were open to having a conversation and seeing where it goes.
[00:04:55.21] Ankush: And do you believe this creative potential, because it sounds like you’re saying that it’s just about seeing that but, some people may say that, “well some people have it and some people don’t,” or people might be listening to this and saying, “well you’ve given us some great examples there Brooke, but, you don’t know me, I don’t have that,” what would you say to that?
[00:05:16.10] Brooke: I would say that, well one I don’t believe you, because every single person on the planet has this ability to create and we’re doing it all day every day, so, the moment that we wake up in the morning, whatever ideas are in our head, our creation that’s coming through us, so, depending on what ideas we take seriously and think that we can accomplish and what ideas we don’t is the road we live on, so the potential that is in everybody is limited only by what they think is, they’re capable of and they think they aren’t, because the moment that switches, then it opens up an entire new world.
[00:06:00.19] Ankush: Okay so let’s take you at face value and say, right, everyone’s got this creative potential, so how, as a leader, someone listening to this, they’ve got a team, how do they unlock that in the people that work for them, or people that are in their team?
[00:06:14.25] Brooke: I really think it’s the, I know for myself, I can get really caught up in my idea, right, so I have a plan. I have a massive vision for Cyprus, but, I have to be conscious of the fact that that’s my vision, and I have a team of people I’m working with, and they have just as much capability to create a way to push Cyprus forward as I do, and so if I’m only looking at my vision, and the ideas that come through me, I’m very limited in that space. So I have to pull myself back sometimes. So if someone comes into my office and says, “I have an idea, this is what we need to do,” I have to be really conscious about listening to that, because it’s only going to benefit all of us, if I’m open to it, and we have tendencies as leaders, I’ve seen it over and over again, well that’s not in my line of thinking, so that obviously can’t be the right answer. But if someone comes with the – you can kind of feel it, like, the energy where they’re excited about something or they see a way to do something, then as a leader, I need to make sure that I give them that space to see where it goes.
[00:07:33.09] Ankush: And do you have any examples of that of where maybe you’ve either done that in your own team, or I know you’ve worked other kind of organisations and in the work that you do with them help them do, if you have any examples where you could talk about this, maybe kind of like a before and after something that we could, that could bring this to life for us?
[00:07:54.15] Brooke: The first thing that comes to my mind is an organization that we worked with, they started to see just something really simple, and that is, how different perspectives really did kind of open your mind up to something you haven’t thought of before. So this team we were working with, they were doing something with coding, I don’t know, it’s not anything that I have any experience with, but their team did, and they started to bring people in like, you know the receptionist, into the conversation, or the HR director into the conversation when they’d have problems, and one of the things that they saw was that, these people that had no experience in their detailed work or their coding or whatever they were doing, started asking questions that wouldn’t normally be asked, and the way the mind works is all of a sudden you start broadening the way in which you would get curious about something, and so what happened is their code, they were having all these issues with coding and how to code different products, and somewhere along the way, someone said the code had to be only 40 characters, when in reality that wasn’t an actual rule. And so there was a lot of resources going to making sure that these codes were only 40 characters, and it was either an HR person or a receptionist, I can’t remember if she said, “where does it say it needs to be 40 characters, is that true?” And it turned out it was not true but they had been living under that idea for years and creating processes around that idea that was not even a true idea, and it released a lot of the processes that they were going through and a lot of the limitations that weren’t actually there, and in turn, sped up their production process. So, just small things like that, getting the importance of other people’s’ perspectives, just for the mere fact that it helps you get out of what you already know, and opens your mind to see something new.
[00:09:56.14] Ankush: So what I’m hearing Brooke, and correct me if I’m wrong, but what I’m hearing you say is, the way that we really unlock the creative potential in our team is very simple, we need to see that it’s there in the first place. And once we see that there is creative potential in every single member of our team, automatically our behaviours and how we utilize a team is going to change, and when we do that, I’m guessing there’s lots of kind of effects of that in terms of, people feel motivated, people feel included, they feel valued, all of these good things that we know already, that is a side effect, this is what I’m hearing, it’s a side effect of seeing that each person in our team’s got that creative potential, and that we’re open to seeing it in them, and wanting to hear it from them, is that correct?
[00:10:48.12] Brooke: Absolutely, I mean it is first you have to see it right? So, even as your own self, if you don’t see yourself as creative or have this potential inside of you to be creative then you’re going to limit yourself. But as a leader, if you don’t see that in your team, then you’re only going to look to them for the very point you hired them for, for their small sliver of expertise. When in reality, everyone has the ability to come to the table with ideas that you’ve never thought of before.
[00:11:22.09] Ankush: Fantastic, what’s the one takeaway you want people to leave this episode, this show with, to take back to them in their day jobs?
[00:11:32.02] Brooke: I would say, in business, if the one thing I’ve learned is, when you hear something new, we naturally go to why it won’t work, and that is just old thinking that we already know, if you can just get yourself to start thinking about how it may work, even if it never does come to fruition, but just that how it may work, instead of why it won’t, you’ll get new thinking, and that’s where the creative potential lies. How might that work, you know? Your receptionist comes to you and says, X, Y, Z, instead of automatically going, “nope that won’t work, because of all the things I already know,” just starting to get it to, “well how may that work?” And you would be just shocked at what opens up in your mind.
[00:12:22.05] Ankush: Thank you so much, I’m sitting here listening to you and thinking, that if someone really took this to heart, and created a team where they really saw that potential, creative potential and that value in every single person, what a fantastic team culture would be created, and how valued the whole team would feel. Just a final question, would you say that only the leader has the ability to do this or could you say, if you were working in any team, that any team member could help create this culture of seeing the value in others?
[00:13:00.13] Brooke: Absolutely, I think it’s everybody, I mean the leader leads that, right? But there can be one person that can take that down as well, so if every time you’re at, for example Cyprus, you’re in a team meeting and there’s one person going, “well that’s not going to work because…” It can kind of block the creative flow, so, yeah it’s on everyone for sure.
[00:13:23.13] Ankush: Fantastic. Finally just to wrap up, if people wanted to find out more about you, or your organization, or they wanted to get in contact with you, how might they do that?
[00:13:32.10] Brooke: CyprusInitiative.org is a great place, or you can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:13:39.15] Ankush: Thank you so much today Brooke, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show, and I’ll be back next time with another person, talking about another topic relevant to business.
[00:13:48.24] Brooke: Thank you so much.