Tue, 19 July 2016
This Episode’s Focus on Strengths
This month’s episode features Gary Ware, whose mission is to help people “energize their work.” If you find that your job is sometimes humdrum, and that your team’s ability to create new, innovative ideas is stifled, then this is the episode for you. Gary provides practical tools (and cool examples) you can use to get creative juices flowing. And, there’s even a bonus – tips to improve your interviewing skills. You can use those tips on both sides of the proverbial interviewing table.
To give you a hint about Gary's essence, here’s his favorite quote by Plato. He lives his life by it:
“You learn more about a person in an hour of play, than a lifetime of conversation.”
What You’ll Learn
Practical tools to improve creativity and problem solving at work:
Bonus tools to help you during an interview:
If you manage a team, try the activities that Gary and Lisa demonstrated in a team meeting.
These Improv exercises are a fun way to do a five minute team building exercise at the beginning of your next team meeting. They're a great way to set the tone for a creative, collaborative conversation.
Yes, And Interview (San Antonio Zoo Interview was the example in the episode)
Monkey Wrench Story (this was the ranch story from the episode)
Using these tools and techniques helps teams create and innovate, while allowing all people to feel valued and appreciated.
Resources of the Episode
To subscribe and review, here are your links for listening in iTunes and Stitcher Radio. You can also stream any episode right from the website. Subscribing is a great way to never miss an episode. Let the app notify you each week when the latest episode gets published.
StrengthsFinder Mini-Course For Managers
If you’re a people-manager and you want to sharpen your strengths based support, come join our mini-course. We don’t charge for this because we want to help you keep the StrengthsFinder momentum going. Teams who receive strengths feedback have 8.9% greater profitability. Yowza! Sounds like a great reason to join. Source: Asplund, J., & Blacksmith, N. “Strengthening Your Company’s Performance.” Gallup Business Journal.
Read the full conversation:
Lisa Cummings: It helps you innovate and you learn a ton about your teammates. By being in Improv games, you get to simulate your decision making responses. You simulate the default ways that you act in different situations. Yet you do it in a way that is accepting of each other's ideas and building instead of stripping down, basically you give huge support to each other. Yes, even to the people who annoy you and it shows you a whole new way to value them and what they bring to the team. So, Gary Ware, thank you for bringing us some productivity boosting fun and games today. So why don't you get us started by telling us your perspective on play at work.
Gary Ware: Yeah. I actually have a quote that summarizes that and it's from Plato and it says you learn more about a person in an hour of play than a lifetime of conversation. Like Lisa, I totally agreed. I got hooked on during Improv because it was something, there was something about it. Yeah, you can do these icebreaker games, but it was just something about Improv and just letting yourself go back and play and discovery that it was like I was transformed back to when I was five in kindergarten on the, on the playground, just doing silly things and there was no care in the world.
Lisa Cummings: Yeah, I know that you've said you love being goofy and I love being goofy too, so it certainly feeds that part. Yeah, just the play and not planning what to say. I'm very much like that. I plan a few steps ahead. I want to be careful about what I say and it, it's the opposite of that and not being seven steps ahead. So really just being in the moment, being fully present. It's just so cool. I could go on, I could gush.
Gary Ware: Yeah, I know. Exactly. And it's just a new way of thinking. So Lisa, question for you. So you got into Improv and it sort of transformed your life. Can you talk about a few other areas of, of how just Improv this impacted you?
Lisa Cummings: The “yes, and” part has been huge for me. So anybody who's listening who's not familiar with “yes, and” it's, it's kind of a basic tenants that you're going to support what's going on in a scene or in a moment and build on it rather than cutting it off or saying no to what's happening. And so putting yourself in that mindset of you're in the scene or at work, you're at work and then going with what is happening and then making the best of it, building on it and making it better as a completely new way. It shifted me in many ways like down to the basics of trying to get “but” out of my vernacular, unless you're talking about a literal butt on a body, it's “the yes, and” or I'll say yet I won't say, but if I'm being conscious of it because it does, it changes the way you actually think and put things together and it, it just changes your frame of mind. So that's been a huge one for me in life. How about for you?
Gary Ware: It causes me to think of other possibilities. You're right when you are saying “yes, and" you are agreeing 120 percent with someone and you're building on that and everything's a possibility because I know we're so quick to say “no” for whatever reason. It could be that you're just scared or you really think that you have an idea that is stellar and you're not listened to and sometimes it's just all about; let’s support what's already out there
Lisa Cummings: And it teaches you about yourself in a way that you.
Lisa Cummings: I'm in a chef. Hello. Can you not see my knife? Would have ruined the whole thing. He just went with it and then there's something human and real that happens too because you see his face, he's shifting gears. He's recalibrating, okay, now I'm going to shop and what am I holding and what I was seeing him like with a rasp or something and it's just for me, that's very insightful when you think about it. Applied to work because you see the world through your eyes and you have no idea where they're coming from and you can assume yet getting in and saying yes and going with what's happening really helps you understand. You come from a place of curiosity, come from a place of openness and then you start to see, oh yeah, there are different people who see things differently. And my way is not the only way to go about the world.
Gary Ware: I totally agree. And myself coming from a very creative background and working in the agency world by saying, yes, it opens up in endless possibilities for innovation because I know far too often, if you're in a brainstorming session and again, everyone wants to get their ideas heard and like every time we deny someone's idea. And we throw someone else’s idea out. If you start over again and, but just by throwing all egos aside and just supporting what is out there and just agreeing 110 percent and just not, you know, exploring that until it's completely done. And then, before we move onto any new concepts, you will get awesome ideas. And another example of- this was something how we brought one of the tenants of Improv “yes, and” into the brainstorming scenario so when we would brainstorm, it would be uber focused, brainstorm, so it would be on one concept, but we could not explore outside of that concept until we explored everything about that concept. And so no one can throw any new ideas into the mix until everything from the very first idea has been explored and it makes you think… in the beginning, you get all the obvious things out. But then that's where the magic happens is we can't move on because that's typically what happens. You get all the obvious stuff and then you get stuck and then you move onto something else and then you have to start over. But You keep going and then that's where you get those breakthrough moments.
Lisa Cummings: Yeah, those are great. It's kind of like, oh, for anybody reading, if you're really into this stuff, it's convergent and divergent thinking. And the typical brainstorm, people are always talking about, oh, blue sky, you know, think about anything wacky out there and you do come up with good ideas there and that's more of the divergent. But if you create the constraint and you say, all right, we're living inside of this limitation. What can we come with? Insight of the limitation, the ideas I see come up are better when you're limiting yourself, constraining yourself, because then you can get real wacky with how to make it unique and those are the most fun to me. But versus the wide-open universe of ideas you could come up with.
Gary Ware: Yeah, exactly. Sometimes we need limitations and constraints to come up with amazing ideas. And I know for my own improv experiences, sometimes those limitations are the format of the game. You know, this specific game has, has specific rules and specific limitations. But aside from that, you're free to completely explore and do whatever you want. And like what you mentioned earlier, you are not by yourself. You're with someone that is supporting you and we see things through different lenses and by just supporting whatever's out there and building on it, it's magic. It is magic. Yeah. And so I thought maybe we can kick things off by playing a little game. One of the simplest games is, ““yes, and””, and maybe we can just start with, since this is a career focused and, and whatnot, maybe we can do a yes and gain where maybe it's an interview focus game, but we're going to just keep saying “yes and” we're going to build on something and see where we go. Okay, cool. Lisa, would you like to be the interviewer and I will be the interviewee.
Lisa Cummings: Yes. I would love to. And I would love to know what job you would like to interview for.
Gary Ware: I would like to interview for a trainer at the zoo. Okay.
Lisa Cummings: Gary, it's great to have you in here. Tell me about the wackiest animal experience you've had at the zoo so far or in your animal life.
Gary Ware: I have to say the most wacky experience that I ever had was when I worked in Africa and I was tracking rhinos through the safari.
Lisa Cummings: You know, I've always wanted to do a safari in Africa, and I know it's a little off what you might expect an interview topic to be about, but can you tell me what you learned while you were tracking rhino and what, what the purpose was? What were you out there after?
Gary Ware: Yeah. What I learned is that rhinos, they travel in packs and that reminds me of family and the importance of having a good support system and I can bring those, you know, that experience here to this zoo, the San Antonio Zoo, and I can apply that to any aspect of our training facility.
Lisa Cummings: That's great. I love the lessons you can apply. I'm wondering, so rhinos, they seem kind of scary. Were there ever moments when you were just… Yeah, they scared the bejesus out of you or were you pretty confident the whole time? How did you handle fears being out like that in some risky environment?
Gary Ware: Yes, they did. Right? Those are scary beast and I'm not going to lie. I was quite scared; there was one time when we were trying to identify if this was a specific heard that we have tagged, and I had to go into the pack where a mother was nursing with some of her young and just like any mother, if you're going to approach her children, she's going to get defensive. I personally thought she was going to charge me, but I noticed the warning signs and I stayed very clear. And one thing that you have to know about rhinos is that if you, if you don't show fear and you show dominance, they will immediately back down.
Lisa Cummings: Wow. And how did you show dominance to a rhino?
Gary Ware: Well, I think the best way to show dominance to a rhino is to appear like you are a male rhino. So that requires you to get into this position and, start stomping your feet. It is quite the site. And I did that very successfully.
Lisa Cummings: Have you ever stomped your feet like that in a work environment?
Gary Ware: Actually, sometimes you have to show dominance in a work environment, and so yes, that I can relate to multiple times when, if I'm in a situation where I'm being bullied, sometimes you just have to stomp your feet and you know, show that you mean business, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to always do that.
Lisa Cummings: Well, tell me about a time when you had to show you meant business.
Gary Ware: Well, I'm a little ashamed about this, but there was a time when I worked for the San Diego Zoo and I thought I was up for a raise. I had to say, Hey, I, am and doing a super job and I felt like I am due for a raise. Would you please reevaluate me? And I was very firm yet not overbearing. And that was the last time I had to really show that I meant business.
Lisa Cummings: Now, if you had to show you meant business to end this interview and show me that you wanted the job, what would you do right here?
Gary Ware: Well, I would make sure that I have, a power stance and a power stance means that my feet are shoulder width apart. I am leaning in which is more of a position of power and I will make direct eye contact and I would have more of a deeper voice and I would say I am the best candidate for this position. You should hire me because no one else is going to bring their experience like myself
Lisa Cummings: "And, scene"
Lisa Cummings: So now if we go out of character and debriefed that some things that were really cool to me is for the listeners out there, it's kind of cool to show “yes, and” and Improv stuff doesn't have to be about being funny. It's about going with what's going on and having been a recruiter and hiring manager as I watched and listened to your answers and thinking about how you just rolled with it, it didn't matter what I threw out you, they were not typical interview questions. I don't know if there are typical zoo interview questions is a different environment, but it was interesting. You probably think you're going to get it. It told me about your strengths and weaknesses. Tell me about your background. We ended up talking about rhinos and power stances and I think that's a really cool thing. Sometimes when I interview people I see, oh, they're off script.
Lisa Cummings: What am I going to do? I used to ask a question of people about what, is the last thing you did that you found really fun? And people were like a fun. It surprised people so much and know people have fun. They just was not a work question. So it really threw people and that's something I looked for in interviews is, will they be able to roll with the punches and sometimes the punches are weird questions and sometimes it's, giving you the insight, especially the “Tell me about a time when”, I mean, that's a very technical, it's called behavioral interviewing and it's beautiful as a candidate because you get to tell stories and stories, bring emotion into the picture and make things memorable until they're so great for you as a candidate. But a lot of people resist them. So I thought that showed all sorts of cool things. How about you
Gary Ware: Agreed. And another thing to note, especially being on both sides of the table, being someone that is interviewing and being interviewed yourself, you're right, you do not know what's going to be out there. However, if someone throws you for a loop, all you have to do is just take a deep breath, pause, because you don't have to answer right away, compose yourself and just be yourself. Be Real at the end of the day, they're hiring a human. And if you don't know the answer, you know, feel free to, you know, just be honest and just be real. And, you're right stories are, that is the, in my opinion, the Trojan horse of an interview because if you can talk about story, you sometimes get off tangent and they stopped interviewing you and you're having a conversation and when you're having a conversation, now you're getting real and now you're getting to the heart of why we want to interview. So when we want to find out what they're about.
Lisa Cummings: Yeah, and you're getting to the “what makes people pick people”. I mean if you think about, if you talked to people the way you talk to your friends, you're not formal and stiff. You think about what you do when you sit around and relax, you know, cocktails, right? Breakthrough cocktail. So when I sit around on the patio with my friends, what do we do? We sit around and tell each other stories. When you talk to people like you talk to people you like, you tell stories, so do that with your employer. Give them the chance to see the you behind the kind of robotic curtain that people put up in interviews and let them like you and people hire people. They like all things being equal. If your resume looks about the same, that's what got you in the door. The thing that gets you hired over the final couple of candidates, it's the interpersonal stuff and that the stories are such a great way to go with that. So embrace behavioral interviews; they are awesome.
Gary Ware: I totally agree. And as a way to prepare within Improv, you can't really prepare. We run through games, but as a way to prepare, I tell all of my people that I mentor have some stories like about yourself, whether it's, you know, what was the last time you felt yourself in a scary situation? You know, how do you have fun, you know, and anytime I come across a really good story that I could use in any situation I sort of just jot down and actually that reminds me of one other game that I would like to play the team, Lisa, if you would like to be so brave and it's called the Monkey Wrench game. I don't know if there's a technical term. So a Lisa, if you would be brave to be the person on this one. I asked them to tell me a story about anything. It's just telling your story, but I'm going to throw out random words and then you have to just take that word and immediately add it to your story.
Lisa Cummings: Okay. Love it.
Gary Ware: Cool. So to get you started, maybe just tell me a story about a time when someone had fun since we were talking about.
Lisa Cummings: Once upon a time there was a man who had no fun in his life and he went on a quest to have fun training.(Gary Ware suggests the word ‘tractor’) So he showed up at his friend's farm and said, you know, I've lived in the city my whole life and I want to learn to drive a tractor. In fact I want to operate the backhoe because I think it will be so much fun. So his friend got him out and he started tooling around with all of those knobs and sticks and he started thinking, wow, this is not as fun as I thought. Gary Ware suggests the word ‘plank’) I want to do something else on the farm I want to... So his friend said, I think you'd have more fun if you walk the plank. And the guy said, oh, what do you mean walk the plank? I thought you walk the plank when you were like getting off to buy haters or something.
Lisa Cummings: And so Joe said, no, no, no, no, no. Walking the plank here is great. So we take them out to the pool and stands them out on the diving board, puts a blindfold on him and asks him to jump. So he jumps in the pool and (Gary Ware suggests the word ‘sunset’) so we jumped in the pool and started treading water and Joe said, you know, here's the thing, you've walked the plank, you've done the best cannon ball we've seen in like four years. The next part of fun is whether you can tread water until sunset and do some of that synchronized dancing to the beat of the music on the radio. So we started listening to the songs and moving his body to the sounds of the songs and he felt like a synchronized swimmer in the Olympics. (Gary Ware suggests the word ‘glasses’) So his friend said, you're brilliant. I mean if, if only you had that swimming cap that was pink, you would look great. So let's get out of the pool and finish up the night by having an old fashion and clinking our glasses because today was a breakthrough for fun.
Gary Ware: Yay. "And, scene". How it was that? Thank you for being a Guinea pig.
Lisa Cummings: That was a cool game. Yeah, I really liked it. I've done the game where you do story building where you do like once upon a time and you started off and then you just cut yourself, you edit yourself and the next person has to build on the story and let it roll. So I really, I really liked it, I'm pivoting because your mind's going in one direction and then you have to jump over to the side and make it something totally different. So I thought it was pretty fun.
Gary Ware: Great. Yeah. And I have to say the story became even more creative because with this and I do a lot of people that I mentor with is to get them out of their head and be ready for anything. And now you created a story that you never would've thought you would've went there and I had no idea. And yeah, sometimes again, in interviews and on the workplace, you think you know where things are going and then you get thrown a monkey wrench, you know, pivot and adjust.
Lisa Cummings: And sadly for this episode, things have to pivot to the close so we have to do more of this though, is so good. Thanks for the monkey wrench game and the interview game, Gary. I mean this has been quite the strengths jam, so I know a lot of readers can learn from this advice you gave on telling stories during interviews, whether the interviewer or the interview, my favorite action to out of this whole conversation is to practice at least one “yes, and” every day and then you'll notice how much you say but as well and just watch what it does for your influence, for your listening and for your trust on the team. That one tiny word, yes instead of but, can change the whole dynamic on your team. And then for that monkey wrench game, try that with your group at work.
Lisa Cummings: It's such a fun team builder and it's really good for getting in that creative mindset when you need to or for exercising your adaptability muscle if you have to deal with a lot of change and it's even a way to practice that. “yes, and” concept because it builds on other people's ideas, even if that's not where you were planning to take the conversation. Now I know all of you listeners want to check out more from Gary. You can find him at breakthroughplay.com.