Team Centers, Part 2

Interview with Diane Deacon, co-author with Mike Vance of "Creating Mega Results", "Think Out of the Box", "Break Out of the Box"
By Vern Burkhardt
Vern Burkhardt (VB): You say your "mission is to help revolutionize the way people work through the design of new transformational environments." Would you talk about that mission?

Cover of Diane DeaconDiane Deacon: We start with the knowledge that many people live and work – and we'll just go with the work one right now – in sanitary slums, and they're getting worse. They look like cubical farms, the little box that is a work cubical. It's hard to be creative in a box you hardly fit into. In many workplaces they don't even permit any personal pictures in your cell. It pains me. I think if I had to work in something like that, then shoot me!

A client I'm currently working with is a good example. They spent millions of dollars upgrading their facility, and when I walked into it my thought was it's a brand new, same old thing. Actually it's even worse. The lobby is pretty, but what influence does that have on the way the employees think, innovate, create, and interact with one another? We're starting to work on some creative projects so we're going to need a place where we can think, plan, strategize, huddle, and keep the project alive. It's generating change that'll be the lifeblood of the company, and we can't find a place to be creative!

All too often the architects and designers haven't worked in these types of settings so they don't know how stifling they are. It's old school thinking. Often they want to design a pretty monument to themselves, but functionally it doesn't work.

VB: Pretty from the outside.

Diane Deacon: Yes! It's pretty, and I've had architects say don't mess up my work of art. The marble is pretty, the waterfall or fountain is pretty, but the employees have to work and produce something in those spaces. In many of the hallways, lobbies, and atriums you could fit in three Team Centers™ and create project environments. Instead, these creative spaces get squeezed into a little conference room where the table is oversized for the room. It would be preferable to erect a tent, boards and blankets in the atrium to create an environment that would support the creative work needed to solve problems, and develop new ideas.

We need to stop letting facilities designers and architects lead the design of these work environments. It's the people that work in them that should be doing it. When designing a building involve the people who will actually be working in the spaces, and ensure the design gives priority to helping them think better, and stimulating creativity.

VB: Every company and government organization should have a Team Center?

Diane Deacon: Not just one. They should have many of them.

If you have many projects how do you know where they're at without having meetings to review status reports? Such meetings and reports are slow and archaic. You want to reduce or eliminate those laborious meetings in favor of methods of working that include an environment that provides a visual of the project and its status.

Walt Disney had a Team Center for each project – Mike Vance had set this up. Let's say they had 30 or 40 different projects on at one time. Walt Disney and his management team would go to each Team Center where they could be visually briefed at a glance. It was fast. If he desired, Disney could have a briefing in the morning, and again at the end of the day simply by returning to the Team Center to see what creative progress had occurred during the day.

This is where the term "walk around management" originated. You can see the work in progress. You can see what they were thinking, what they were not thinking, and where they were at on the project. Others can participate as required and by being at the Team Center they are able to see and experience what the team is thinking. It enables the non-members to give their input on some aspects of the project, including the key ideas.

VB: It's like a War Room.

Diane Deacon: It's that simple. Call it what you want – a war room, planning center, or Team Center. One client in the restaurant business calls them salad bowls where they're mixing up a bunch of ideas.

Everything you read in our books we apply to these creativity projects. We take one idea and put it on a card, and through our process the team develops a plan, plans how to implement it, and executes according to plan. What you see when you walk into the Team Centre is the creative thinking and planning – it's all captured and organized. You can see the team's thinking all at a glance. It's such a simple process, and it works.

VB: What are your greatest passions?

Diane Deacon: More and more I work with teams to develop and effectively work in the Team Center because that's my passion.

I also like the sense of achievement and accomplishment. What have we accomplished today? What have we created? What have we done today to keep us moving forward as a business, society and personally?

I have been very blessed and lucky with the opportunity to work with people who think creatively, and try to accomplish and achieve good things for mankind. My passion is to share that with others through books, and lectures, and with our clients for their projects.

Cover shot of Raise the BarWhat turns me on and excites me is to start out with an idea and get other people involved using some of our tools and techniques. I believe all people have some creative spark in them. They haven't been given the tools and techniques, and the opportunities to ignite it. It's exciting when we apply these techniques and see people come to life.

During a recent project I was working on, one person, who was quite timid and quiet, came up with an idea that was the most brilliant idea of the whole project. Seeing her become involved, excited, and come to life was incredibly exciting for me.

It's sad that we don't teach Creativity 101, Creativity 102, Thinking 101, and Thinking 102 in school because all people are born with creative and innovative potential. But often we suppress it, we tell students how they should think. The result is a bunch of copycats and think-alikes.

I'm passionate about sharing the opportunities that I've had, and the tools and techniques that are simple to use and enable others to achieve whatever it is they want to do.

VB: Would you talk about the importance of values for leaders, and how creativity flourishes where there is integrity?

Diane Deacon: We have a seminar program called Management by Values. We also recorded it live, and it's available in an audiocassette program. When you start with a foundation of righteousness, goodness, and doing the right thing you establish a foundation and platform for continued growth. It's a good foundation.

If you start out with a devious value it's like building a house where your foundation has cracks in it – eventually it will come crumbling. We've seen it in the financial Wall Street mess that we have. A lot of what they were selling was fraud. It was built on a foundation of fraud and no sound values, and it came crashing down. Now, at the end of the day, we have a bigger problem.

When you start out with good values, good should come of it, and most often it can be sustainable.

VB: You say in your work to help organizations grow and develop you work the hardest at helping leaders learn "how to inspire and motivate their people and themselves." And that the weakest, or missing link is often the ability of leaders to inspire and motivate people. Does it surprise you they have become leaders, and, given the absence of this skill, can they really be called "leaders"?

Diane Deacon: Isn't it amazing? I scratch my head and wonder how in the world did they get there.

We go through phases in life. If you look at the 1980s many leaders were engineers with a focus on the development of new products, and in the 1990s technology led the way. But through it all we had leaders who knew how to inspire their people – as a matter of fact, Chapter 9 of our first book was "Inspirational Leadership Often the Missing Link."

Many leaders don't know how to inspire and motivate their people. When you say inspire and motivate it's about encouraging them to go in the needed direction, and that's truly a challenge requiring a great leader. How do you inspire and motivate people to go in the direction you want them to go?

I encourage leaders to learn the art of inspirational leadership. Bill Clinton, our ex-President, often said optimism always wins. In the recent election Barack Obama talked about hope and change, which was inspirational. As a matter of fact, Bill Clinton recently mentioned that President Obama needs to not just talk about the crisis, but also talk a bit more about hope. About a 'can-do' attitude. About confidence we can and will fix this problem. We're not just working on it, we will prevail.

VB: Like Churchill did to the British during World War II, and like Franklin Roosevelt during the last depression.

Diane Deacon: Churchill in World War II. Absolutely. When you think back about some of our great leaders there is defiantly cause for hope for the future.

Cover of Creating MegaResultsVB: Should we be teaching inspirational leadership even to employees so that they're nurtured and trained to be leaders in their area of responsibility? In schools as well?

Diane Deacon: Yes. All people want hope. They want to have confidence the sun to come up tomorrow. They want inspiration. It's a spark. It's energy.

I don't meet many people who don't want to be inspired. People look for inspiration in many different areas, whether religion, through their social networks, their friends, or their family. How many times do people call you to say I wanted to call you because I knew you would get me out of the doldrums, and get me on the positive, hopeful track. Or call to suggest you both get out of a perpetual rut and stay positive? Life is short and getting shorter. We need to redouble our efforts to be positive and creative.

I think we need to teach our youth in schools more of these fundamental values and concepts of life. If you want to interview an interesting person you should talk to the founder of the Caring Institute in Washington, D.C., Val Halamandaris. He has written many books, one is Profiles of Caring. In our books I often say caring is a foundation for creating. If you care enough about something you will want to do something about it. Val and I have often talked about the need to teach about caring in school – lots of people don't get enough exposure in their homes to the fact they should care about something. Care about the environment, care about people, or care about the economy. Do something about what you care about.

I don't know if you saw the movie Patch Adams. He is a brilliant man. He thinks way out of the box. He believes we should be teaching courses on love because so many problems today are because people are not properly loved. If they're not going to be loved in the home we should at least teach love in school – how to love one another. Patch Adams has the Gesundheit! Institute outside of Washington, D.C. He walks around as a clown. He believes you can heal through humor.

VB: You say "involved people care", "informed people cooperate" and "inspired people create". Would you talk about how these qualities transform an organization into a creative culture?

Diane Deacon: When you involve people you get them informed, and you inspire them to participate in how they can come up with solutions to issues. Often it engenders a creative culture. In our consulting work we like to promote this approach because often people don't have the environments or the processes to keep people informed, involved and inspired.

We teach some simple tools to enable you to create a culture that provides ways to keep people informed, get them involved, and encourage the inspired to care, cooperate and create. It sounds simple but many corporate organizations do everything to build barriers through their work patterns.

We have e-mail as a tool at work, which I do enjoy using, but so often we're over-using it. Instead of talking to people we e-mail or text message them. We are inundated with e-mails instead of getting together, having a cup of coffee, and talking.

VB: Would you talk about Disney Philosophy?

Diane Deacon: I think of it as the Disney Way. Walt Disney believed you have to focus on your values and philosophy if you want to create a positive culture in the organization. In response to Disney's request, Mike Vance put together a two-day seminar program called Disney Philosophy for prospective new hires. It covered the traditions, values and philosophies of the company, and it was made clear that people joining the company would be expected to embrace these traditions and values. If not, Disney Corporation was not interested in hiring them.

VB: You say you spent a "breathtaking, inspirational" day with Jim and Ellie Newton. Jim Newton had been a friend of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Dr. Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh. What were some of the highlights of that day that still stand out as making it "a red-letter day?

Diane Deacon: It was an interesting day. To get to know Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and his best friend, Charles Lindbergh, through Jim Newton was a thrill. He observed that these great inventors and creators had in common a "can-do" attitude. The answers are out there. All you have to do is go find them. It's funny how Edison would go fishing at the end of his dock with no bait or hook on his fishing pole. Jim quoted him as saying, "I'm cosmic fishing – fishing for ideas." This can-do attitude is a lesson we need to reinforce today.

What struck me the most was they all believed having a sense of humor helped their creativity and innovation. You need to laugh. You have to loosen up for the possibilities to come. Today we've all gotten too serious. In my seminars I refer to wet and the dry people. The dry people have little humor. The wet tends to be more creative. I joke and say, "lawyers are 'moist', they can go either way. So you've got to watch them." We need to laugh more and lighten up a bit.

Jim was quite a character, and loved to laugh. He said Thomas Edison loved jokes. Edison had in his journals "told joke to team". He wrote a reminder for a future meeting "tell good joke to team" and he underlined 'good joke'. Henry Ford actually hired a joke writer so he could tell new, original jokes to Thomas Edison. Based on that lesson, to this day I love to receive jokes from my clients. Nothing is greater than opening your e-mail in the morning to a funny joke – you start out your day laughing.

I have magnificent pictures of Jim and Ellie Newton. I think Ellie was 102 when she passed away, and Jim was 97. In their senior years they were full of energy and spirit, still going strong, and happy. Rarely do you see such happiness in other people. That day with them was exciting, and we were so touched by their spirit we decided to record for all time their thinking and their philosophy. They created the Uncommon Friends Foundation, which is located in Fort Myers, Florida. We helped put together a video of Jim and Ellie, and a kiosk in the Edison Museum. Can you believe that nobody had captured them on video? It's available on DVD from the Uncommon Friends Foundation. You will also want to read Jim Newton's book, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh, which is also available from the Foundation. It's wonderful.

Cover photo of Think Out of the BoxVB: In Think Out Of The Box® you provide a "profile in creativity" and identify the best practices of Norman Brinker, Thomas Edison, Louis L'Amour, Frank Lloyd Wright, Dr. J. Vernon Luck, Dr. R. Buckminster Fuller, A.C. Markkula, Jack Welch and Walt Disney. Which of the many best practices of these creative individuals would you especially recommend to business leaders or others who wish to think out of the box?

Diane Deacon: As I said earlier, they had a can-do attitude. The answers are out there.

We've got too many lapdogs that don't try to come up with solutions and opportunities. I ask my clients how much do they devote each day, each workweek to coming up with ideas? How much time do they devote to creativity and innovation? In reply I often receive the big zero sign. I say you spend time exercising for the health of your body, which is good. But instead of spending so much time going to meetings, doing reports, and engaged in other activities that are unproductive why don't you spend time on creativity and innovation – an inventor's and leader's best practice.

All of the people we profiled in our book devoted time to thinking and creating, because they wanted new ideas. Dr. Vernon Luck invented the Luck Saw for orthopedic surgery – he permitted himself time to create products that orthopedic surgeons could use.

VB: What advice do you have for leaders of organizations that are facing pressures related to the current worldwide financial crisis? What should they pay particular attention to, assuming the bottom line accountants will worry about questions of profitability?

Diane Deacon: I recall how Walt Disney would always challenge Mike Vance to come up with good ideas. Disney's view was if they had a good new idea, they could always get the financing to develop and implement it.

Leaders today need some good ideas to solve the current problems. They're not easy problems. They're problems we've never had to face before, but the answers are out there and we will fix them. It requires confidence that we will, and it is up to our leaders to be open to good ideas no matter where they come from.

VB: And be bold.

Diane Deacon: We have to solve the financial crisis. It's a given. Will we solve it – yes, I'm optimistic somebody will. It may not be in the U.S.; it could be anywhere. A lot of creative ideas are emerging. They might not be popular to some, and they might not be the perfect solution, but we will get through this. We will then learn from this experience, and hopefully not repeat these mistakes again. I appreciate I'm an incredible optimist, but it's much better than being pessimistic.

Recently at a symposium there were some round table discussions about our current situation. A university professor was pessimistic in everything he said. If I had a Pisser & Moaner button I would have given it to him! I couldn't help think 'if it is that bad, go stick your head in the toilet.' We've got a problem. Now we've got to solve it so together let's work on it. There are opportunities. Whenever there's a problem there are opportunities to fix it with creative solutions. In this case, with creative solutions so our financial environment will be better than it has ever been before.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes we don't know why, but there is a reason. This economic shock to the world is just that – a shock. We need to get off the merry-go-round, and reevaluate here what is important. I once heard Val Halamandaris, Executive Director of the Caring Institute, give a message that when we experience major change is the time when we start valuing people by how they care for others. How we care and what we do for others and mankind in general. What is important is not how much money we have in the bank, the kind of car we drive, or how many houses we own. We may be getting back to what's really important in life – our environment, people, health, food, and the fundamentals of life.

VB: The importance of relationships?

Diane Deacon: Absolutely. In tough times people go back to valuing the home. They may enjoy having a dinner and being with friends and family at home, rather than rushing about doing many things all the while charging the costs on their credit cards.

VB: A lot of people are worried.

Diane Deacon: Very much so. These are uncharted waters. They are troubling times. Some people are afraid and rightfully so. Many have lost their jobs. We saw some of it coming, and yet nobody did anything about it.

We've had a massive loss of jobs, especially in Ohio where I live. We have to reinvent our future, and now we're moving towards bio-Ohio – to make bioengineering and biotech a thrust for this community. We will come out of the crisis, and hopefully we'll be a better people as a nation and as a world because of it.

VB: You worked on a project about reinventing the U.S. federal government. Are any of the ideas the teams generated being implemented?

Diane Deacon: Morley Winograd, a dear friend of mine who worked at AT&T, wrote a book called Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics. We had the opportunity to work with Morley on a number of projects at AT&T, and created a Team Center there. Earlier we talked about the Team Center as being a physical place where you go to think, plan, strategize, organize, and communicate. The locker room is to the athletic team as the Team Center is to a business team.

Morley, being very creative and innovative, always had a passion for politics. Somehow, he became involved in working with Al Gore, when he was vice-president. Morley called me from the historic East executive building in Washington DC. He asked, "How in the world am I going to set up a Team Center when I can't even put a pin in the walls or move anything? We ended up going across the street from the executive building, and designed a Team Center for the Reinventing Government project. We had teams from ten or twelve departments working on how to reinvent their departments to save time, reduce costs, be more efficient, and achieve better results. It was magnificent. At the end of day, when Al Gore did not become president the new administration didn't follow through.

To answer your question, many great ideas that came out of the project were implemented.

VB: Are you thinking of publishing an updated second edition of Think Out of the Box®?

Diane Deacon: It's funny. I was just talking to a publisher yesterday about that, and he does want us to do a second edition. We will do so, but right now I'm working on another book.

VB: When can we expect it?

Diane Deacon: I haven't put a deadline on it. We haven't finalized the title.

I always like to write what I'm passionate about – the book will be about responsibilities, accountabilities, and productivity. We'll focus on what is your responsibility, what will you be accountable for.

VB: Some "experts" forecast that sometime in the future most people will work exclusively from home. While the Internet and other electronic collaboration tools will permit virtual teams and projects, do you think this model of work is in our future given that people are social creatures?

Diane Deacon: I certainly like working at home when I'm not on the road. We have virtual teams, and they work effectively. With technology it's certainly do-able.

But nothing will replace human interaction, and that's why the Team Centers, the planning centers, the huddle rooms, and the huddle areas will remain important for creativity. It works because it has a human touch, human participation.

VB: Are there any other questions I should have asked you?

Diane Deacon: Oh boy. Well I so like what you do. I looked at your website and I think what you do is wonderful.

VB: That's a pleasant compliment to end on. Thank you.

Involved people care, informed people cooperate, and inspired people create. "Creativity flourishes in an organized environment."

Cover of Break out of the Box"A process alone does not make a cultural transformation. You and everyone in your organization must be part of the transformation because people are the transforming agents."

Diane Deacon and Mike Vance identify seven steps to enable project teams to "break out of the box". They are:

  1. Master Plan of project objectives, requirements, and deliverables;

  2. Idea Development involves expanding on a concept or idea;

  3. Communication of the details of a major project, event or activity;

  4. Organization of a project in terms of what's to be done, who's to do what, deadlines, and required training and development strategies;

  5. Retrieval to capture past and unused ideas and other work so it's available for future projects, if applicable;

  6. Briefing Board is the visible control system identifying 'do', 'doing', 'done', 'input', and 'hang ups'; and

  7. Synapse to generate ideas by bringing together unrelated ideas into meaningful relationships.

Diane Deacon's Bio:
Diane Deacon is President and co-founder of the Creative Thinking Association of America, which was founded to promote creativity and innovation. She is also President of Intellectual Equities, Inc. that provides creative business products, seminars and consulting services to companies worldwide.

Deacon has worked for more than 15 years with Mike Vance, who is the former Dean of Disney University and was in charge of idea and people development for Walt Disney Productions, Disneyland and Walt Disney World. They have co-authored five books – Think Out of the Box®, Break Out of the Box, Raise the Bar, Creating MegaResults™ and How to Stop Pissing and Moaning.

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