Tag Archive: creativity

Are You Smarter Than a 6th Grader?

We all know that kids are pretty smart these days; just watching my neighbor’s 3-year-old son find Elmo videos on my cell phone makes that clear. But we’d still like to think that as grown-ups, we are brighter, more intelligent and better decision-makers than 6th graders. But are we? We had the opportunity recently, to conduct a project management experiment with a 6th grade class and, well, we were in for quite a surprise.

For more than 15 years, Merit Career Development has trained thousands of individuals to help them improve their project management (PM) skills. In 2010, we incorporated SimulTrain®, a computer-based, online simulation tool, into all of our PM workshops whether it is a one-, two-  or five-day program. SimulTrain always provides a engaging, hands-on, and fun learning experience that significantly boosts skill retention. Essentially, adults; PMs, nurses, accountants or other professionals who want to master these skills, really appreciate this program!  But 6th graders??
The 3 M's Second Period Leading TeamThrough a confluence of circumstances, that began with an invitation from the Keystone PMI Education Foundation Coordinator, Mr. Myles Miller, and the Keystone Chapter of the Project Management Institute, we supported a pilot with 6th graders at the Eyer Middle School in Pennsylvania’s North Penn School District. The parents and students were quite interested in learning the life skill of project management. While some of us were doubtful that our workplace-related program would resonate with these young students, we had enough people willing to give this a try that we scheduled the program. (You can see SimulTrain in action with adults.)

For several weeks before the competition, Myles instructed the students about PM fundamentals and common workplace terminology. When the big day arrived, the students formed teams of four and competed for the best scores throughout the event. In addition to Merit bringing the technology and leadership to the school (the same that is provided for adults), Buckeye Pipeline and the PMI Keystone Chapter sponsored this program, providing the funding for food, t-shirts and trophies for the students.

John Juzbasich, Merit’s CEO, facilitated the SimulTrain “competition”, and confirmed that he ran this program the same way he does for the adults. He provided an overview of the simulator screens, the project at hand — in this case planning a soccer event — timed intervals for the program, and review periods. Scoring took place throughout the competition.

We were amazed at how well the students grasped the technology, the project management concepts and the “game” overall. They did really well and seemed energized, enthused and anxious to play this again. When looking at their scores in each category, we saw that the students performed roughly on par with most of the adults who’ve participated. John Juzbasich insisted that he did not adjust the pace or in any way, make it easier for the kids than the adult version we regularly deliver.  Don’t just take my word, so please click through to these short videos and see for yourself.

Red TeamThe simulation project management competition also generated interest from many families whose children did not have the opportunity to participate the first time this was held, prompting a follow up event scheduled for Spring, 2017. Because the interest is so high, the school is planning to make SimulTrain a regular part of the Eyer Middle School curriculum. A number of universities are also interested in adding project management with simulation to their curriculum. The University of Scranton recently held a competition among their engineering students. There is a similar day scheduled at Lehigh University next month.

Everyone benefits by learning project management skills for school, work and life planning. If you want to expose your child or yourself to SimulTrain, the best project management learning program available, contact Jim Wynne at 610-225-0449 or jwynne@meritcd.com.

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Why Simulation-Based Instruction is the Best Way to Learn!

sitrain_teams_playing_wide_sts

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) asks the Chief Executive Officer (CEO): “What if we spend time and money training our employees and they leave the company?”

The CEO responds: “What if we don’t and they stay?”

Taking time and resources to train your personnel is often looked at as a necessary evil. Training employees takes them away from their day-to-day tasks and the cost will be reflected on the bottom line. Adding to the challenge of supporting training, is the uncertainty of the return-on-investment at both an individual and organizational productivity level.

As an executive who is considering training your team, the most important question you should ask is not: Should I train my team? but rather: What method of training should I use? Different training methods result in varying levels of content retention. Of course you want to ensure that your organization achieves the greatest value from training, so relevant content as well as deploying the use of experiential learning techniques should both be priorities.

learning-_pyramid

As the image to the left illustrates, participatory learning, especially using simulation for practice, provides the highest level of retention for training, second only to “teaching others.”

What is simulation-based learning? It is an instructor-guided, interactive learning environment that replicates an actual business, technical, or educational challenge. It permits the learners to practice resolving issues in a relatively worry-free atmosphere. Not only is it authentic and relevant to the learners’ work, but it provides a safe environment to learn; mistakes won’t result in costly repercussions. It’s ideal to spur on innovation, too, because it allows for creative problem solving.

Simulation-based learning is the most effective technique for developing every professionals’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes, whilst protecting the organization from unnecessary risks. It is useful in resolving practical dilemmas, and provides four real-time benefits.

  1. EXPERIENTIAL & REPETITIVE LEARNING. While in traditional lecture-based training, the desired outcome is merely explained; in simulation learning, individuals achieve an outcome from first-hand experience. Adults, like most people, learn better through experience. In the simulation, individuals have the opportunity for repetitive practice, which helps increases retention.
  2. KNOWLEDGE INTEGRATION. A key facet of any learning is that understanding is increased when it is linked to some already known piece of knowledge. Simulation-based learning, because of its participatory nature, has the added benefit of being able to psychologically link concepts and allow participants to link knowledge areas through their actions.
  3. RISK-FREE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT. Regardless of our attitude, learning research validates that we learn by making mistakes. In fact, they are invaluable to the participant. If executive decision makers can participate in relevant and realistic simulations, they can safely make mistakes, learn from them, and promptly apply their learned knowledge to their real work challenges, avoiding costly mistakes or unintended consequences.
  4. ABILITY TO ADJUST THE LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY. The technology provided in most simulation-based learning tools are designed to allow the difficulty level to increase as the competency of the individuals and teams improve. This provides additional flexibility and continual learning opportunities for a varied level of experienced personnel.

Simulation-based learning is the most effective learning technique for both your employees and your organization. Your training dollars are better invested with simulation training because of higher learning retention. Further, because your team will practice with relevant and practical scenarios, the potential for catastrophic mistakes is mitigated.

If you’re looking for a relevant, engaging interactive learning environment with simulation, call Merit and ask about our SimulTrain® project management training experience. Contact Jim Wynne at  jwynne@meritcd.com or call him at 610-225-0449.

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The Pre-Mortem Technique

During my research on how to make better decisions I came across the pre-mortem in the writings of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. He notes in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), that the pre-mortem technique is valuable in the decision-making process because it has two main advantages. PreMortemFirst, it overcomes “groupthink” that affects many teams once a decision appears to be made. When groupthink is in effect, the wisdom of a plan or decision is gradually suppressed and eventually come to be treated as evidence of disloyalty. The collective suppression of doubt contributes to the group’s overconfidence, which is often a tragic flaw.

Second, it unleashes the imagination of knowledgeable individuals in a much needed direction—the opposite direction of the decision. The principal advantage of the pre-mortem technique is that it legitimizes doubts and encourages everyone, even supporters of the decision, to search for possible threats not considered in the decision-making process. I immediately recognized it as an excellent technique for decision-making, risk management and general leadership.

Because this has proven to be of great value, I would like to share this excellent technique with you. The pre-mortem is easy to implement once the team reaches a decision or finalizes a course of action. Here’s what you need to do:

Step back and state the following: “Imagine that we are one year into the future. We implemented (the decision and plan) exactly as decided here today. The outcome was a total complete disaster. Take 5 to 10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.” If someone asks: “What do you mean by a total disaster?” Reply: “In any and every way imaginable it was a total failure.”

Then, explore all the possible reasons that the decision or plan failed. By taking this opposite approach to brainstorming the ideas, your team will likely realize that there are more points that need to be thought through before the plan is implemented.

Merit Career Development incorporates this technique into our leadership, strategic decision-making, risk management and project management classes and it is very well received.  In one recent class the participants clutched the flip charts from the group discussion. I saw this and asked what were they going to do with them? I was told that they were going to present the findings to upper management; they had never participated in such a rewarding experience.

Merit can help guide your team through various tools and techniques to optimize your team’s knowledge, skills and ability with techniques and tools such as pre-mortem and many others. Please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or call him at 610-225-0449 to schedule training to learn this and other valuable decision-making techniques.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/the-pre-mortem-technique/

Emotional Intelligence (EQ): The Essential Secret to Great Performance

The concept of emotional intelligence, EQ, has been studied for over 30 years. Research shows that high EQ predicts success beyond an individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities. Emotionally intelligent leaders have significantly greater annual profit growth, increased customer satisfaction, and higher personnel retention. In management, the more senior the leader, the more the EQ matters. In sales and customer service capacities, the higher EQs correlate directly to success.

RedheadStudies show that lack of EQ may limit a person’s ability to achieve results. Lower EQ scores correlate with lower merit pay increases, lower job satisfaction and more burnout. Managers’ and supervisors’ EQ scores correlate with their performance ratings.

The definition of emotional intelligence has been the subject of ongoing debates; however, researchers all agree that it consists of two principal components. The first component; intrapersonal skills or self-awareness, is the ability to recognize one’s emotions as they occur, helping one gain self-control in potentially emotionally charged situations.

The second component, interpersonal skills or social awareness, is the ability to recognize others’ emotions. The ability to express empathy enables one to have more positive relationships and minimize unproductive conflict. EQ helps put people at ease, build and mend relationships, confront problem employees, and manage change.

It is important to note that emotional intelligence can be learned. Understanding and incorporating specific EQ skills, techniques, and behaviors can help improve both the intrapersonal and interpersonal skill sets. An intra-personal skill, self-monitoring, can help one can limit or minimize emotional hijacking. Let‘s look at this closer…

Emotional IntelligenceWe all have specific words or phrases that are steeped in emotion. During the 1960s and 70s, the term “nuclear power” raised a great deal of emotion—both positive and negative. Similarly today we have emotionally charged words or phrases such as “gun control”, terrorism, and consumer privacy. It is important to recognize one’s own emotionally charged phrases and stop the emotional hijacking that is about to take place.

By recognizing our emotional responses when we hear a cue by self-monitoring, we can prevent emotional hijacking before it takes place. Stopping to recognize the emotional trigger is an important first step. Taking a deep breath, and/or silently counting to 10 can help us regain composure and react in a rational manner.

As for interpersonal skills, empathy helps us develop more positive relationships with others at work. Increasing our display of empathy enables us to connect with another person on an emotional level, thus allowing us to develop a meaningful, trusting relationship.

The question remains, however, how much emotional intelligence do you have—what is your baseline? Do you have an EQ deficiency, or are you well above average? There is only one way to know your EQ baseline and that is to take an assessment. Many exist on the Internet, some free others fee-based, however they may not stand up to statistical reliability and validity standards.

We invite you to take our free online self-assessment http://www.meritcd.com/assessments/eq/ and see how you compare to others; it takes less than 15 minutes. You will receive a report comparing you to the general population and you will know your starting point. With your baseline in hand you can select appropriate techniques and build your self-awareness and social awareness skill sets, and improve your emotional intelligence.

Would you like some guidance to improve your staff’s EQ? Merit offers half-day and full day workshops that help participants understand, identify their baseline, and strengthen their emotional intelligence. With exercises and interactive assessment tools, this workshop is engaging and life changing. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or call him at 610-225-0449.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/emotional-intelligence-eq-the-essential-secret-to-great-performance/

Crossfit Training; Your Body and Your Mind

The start of a new year brings with it many changes, professionally as well as personally. Many of us choose to start the New Year by making goals and resolutions, whether resolving to stick to a budget, or picking up a new hobby. Mine? I’m in the majority of the population: lose weight. To help me achieve my resolution I’ve started an exercise program called CrossFit training.

What is CrossFit training? The CrossFit training program, as explained by its founder Greg Glassman, is a system of performing functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity. CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that optimizes physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains: Cardiovascular and Respiratory Endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.

Glowing_ManThe CrossFit program was developed to enhance an individual’s competency at all physical tasks. Athletes are trained to perform at multiple, diverse, and randomized physical challenges. This type of fitness is demanded of military and police personnel, firefighters, and many sports requiring overall physical prowess.

CrossFit training benefits the body by training your individual muscles over time to work together to provide an overall greater level of personal fitness than can be achieved by only conditioning one set of muscles at a time. This got me thinking: are there other areas in my life where I can use this approach? How can I “crossfit” my skills to become better at my job? How can I crossfit new learning opportunities to become a more valuable employee?

How can CrossFit training the body carry over to crossfit training your mind? If we consider our skills, hobbies, and responsibilities in our careers as muscles, we can make the analogy that those skills are muscles needing exercise. Some muscles are used more than others; some are barely used at all. All too often in our jobs, there is a set way of doing things that is like performing a repetitive workout. However, the brain is a muscle that like all muscles must be exercised to be kept in peak condition.

Modern cognitive psychology has demonstrated that the brain is not a static entity. Rather, the brain is continually and constantly developing and pruning pathways across skillsets, linking new knowledge to existing knowledge, or destroying old pathways which aren’t utilized to make room for new synaptic links. You can take advantage of this process by crossfit training your brain with a new skill or area of knowledge, which is seemingly unrelated to your existing career or job responsibilities.

people teaching each otherHow can crossfit training your mind benefit you in your workplace? Cross-functional training has many benefits for organizations as well as employees. At an organizational level, cross training skillsets help safeguard the organization against widening skills gaps. Organizations that cross-train employees across a range of functions put themselves in a good position to prevent sudden shortfalls and manage surges in specific areas when there is a spike in demand. On an individual level, cross training enables employees to explore and assess alternative interests and abilities. It also enables managers to identify and nurture employees who show exceptional talent in a particular function. Cross-training yourself to learn new skills, can increase your employability and enable you to stay relevant.

A few examples …learning the components of Strategic Leadership as a Project Manager (PM) can help reduce the probability of failure by sharpening leadership skills that enable the PM to better understand, motivate and build consensus with other members of a project team.  Or, learning to identify the role emotions and subconscious biases play in the decision making process can enable an individual to make more effective decisions. Learning Risk Management skills can enable a Human Resources manager to better anticipate potential problems and know how to create effective solutions before a problem arises.

In 2016, give consideration to learning things outside the scope of your role or responsibilities. Even if learning new skills may not seem directly related to your current work position, you will be increasing your value. Soon, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without these new skills.

If you are seeking to reduce your organization’s gaps in skills, improve cooperation and productivity through better communications and decision-making knowledge, or provide some morale-improving, team-building workshops, let’s talk. With a wide variety of courses, delivery techniques and a highly skilled training team, we will help you achieve your training goals for 2016 and beyond.

Contact Jim Wynne at 610-225-0449 or at jwynne@meritcd.com.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/crossfit-training-your-body-and-your-mind/

Do You Know Your WHY?

Most people know what they do. Some understand how they do it. Few people take the time to understand why they do what they do. (And no, the answer is not to make money!) As an organization committed to inspiring others to enrich their career, the team at Merit Career Development conducted a “Why” exercise at our annual planning session.

 

In order to better understand “why” we, the Merit team, we began by reviewing the TedTalk of Simon Sinek, on “Start With Why.” We then tasked each member of our team to consider three important questions:

 

  1. Why do we do what we do?
  2. How do we do what we do?
  3. What do we do?

 

The results were simultaneously surprising and unsurprising because we were all quite precise and remarkably similar in our expressed thoughts. We agreed…

Why we do our work at Merit:

  • Education changes the world.
  • Education empowers people to take control of their lives.
  • We are improving people’s lives through education.
  • We can and do make a difference in people’s lives through education.

How we do our work:

…by designing and delivering engaging and interactive courses that center around techniques that increase retention.  Using proven research grounded in adult education theory, our courses are designed for people to experience the learning in a hands-on, practical, and engaging medium so they can immediately put the knowledge they learn into practice.

What we do:

With a very talented, highly educated team, we design and deliver relevant professional education and training using engaging and memorable techniques.

 

Merit Career Development hopes to have the opportunity to work with your organization in 2016. We believe that we can make a difference in your life and in your organization.

 

Contact Us

 

Enjoy the Simon Sinek TedTalk by clicking here: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/do-you-know-your-why/

Thinking Outside the Box in Project Management

Thinking outside the boxExperienced project managers know that their work is about more than scheduling, assigning tasks, and tracking progress. While ultimately their job is to deliver on time and on budget, getting to the finish line often involves challenges that can’t be predicted and whose answers aren’t obvious. Good project managers are in the thick of things, analyzing the issues their teams face and leading in the development of their solutions.

This means that PMs need more than organizational and business skills. They need a sense of creativity and innovation that will allow them to find ways around problems ranging from random paperwork demands to the fallout from natural disasters. Though some might say project management is all about creating predictability, effective PMs aren’t afraid to think outside the box as they look for ways to hit their targets and improve the efficiency of their organizations.

For example, not long ago National Public Radio adopted an Agile-like approach to its creation of new programs. Rather than develop an idea in secret, launching it and then measuring its popularity, the network began releasing pilot programs and revamping them based on listener feedback – in effect conducting beta tests as part of its process. The result was that new titles like the TED Radio Hour and How To Do Everything were launched for an estimated one-third the cost of earlier programs.

NPR’s approach is a good example of how innovation can improve performance. Rather than blindly follow a traditional approach to program development, the network tailored its methodology to its business needs, achieving its goals with more flexibility, greater transparency, and reduced expense.

Of course, sometimes a project requires a different way of thinking from the beginning. One dramatic example occurred in 2014, when Australia’s Condor Energy needed to move 95 tons of custom-made heavy equipment from the UK to Australia – in 14 days.

On the face of it, that’s an impossible task. Such cargoes usually move by ship, which can take months to navigate between ports halfway around the world from each other. Condor’s vendor, Airland Logistics, addressed the challenge by surveying the equipment while much of it was still being manufactured, then arranging for it to be flown to Australia

as component parts on a single heavy-lift aircraft. After it landed, the equipment was assembled on-site. Along the way, Airland had personnel on the ground to ensure loading and unloading occurred safely, that customs requirements were settled ahead of time, and that transportation challenges from the airport to the final delivery site were anticipated and addressed.

If the dynamics of Airland’s project were unusual, the pressure on its PMs was no more real than that faced by others as they work to deliver on their own commitments, whether that’s implementing ERP software, constructing office buildings, or opening manufacturing plants. Today’s project managers must be able to think creatively – to imagine and recognize solutions that aren’t evident, and then be decisive enough to commit to them and move ahead.

 


Merit Career Development can help you “think outside the box” with our extensive project management curriculum. Our Project Management with Simulation course uses a state-of-the-art computer-based simulation game that tests participants’ skills in managing a real project. Participants are able to put into practice their respective knowledge, look for original solutions, try out new strategies, and see immediate results.

For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/thinking-outside-the-box-in-project-management/

How to Harness Creativity From Your Team Without Wasting Time

How to harness creativity from your team without wasting timeWhen project managers are focused on approaching deadlines and meeting specific goals, it can be easy for team creativity to take a back seat. But allowing room for creativity can result in numerous benefits for the project, like innovative problem-solving techniques, better ideas for the client, or managerial skills that can aid the project manager in completing the project.

As a project manager, it’s your role to balance the time it takes to foster creative thinking to get the optimal results without delaying your timeline. Here are a few tips for encouraging creative thought without wasting time and resources.

Eliminate common reasons for lack of innovation

Innovation is vital to all businesses. Leaders often adopt the technological and creative innovations from industry leaders or consultants, but hesitate to encourage real creativity and innovation in their own organizations. Employees can be restricted in their creative abilities by the culture of an organization, rules and regulations, or their role expectations.

As Chief Learning Officer Magazine explains, many leaders who appreciate innovation may still accidentally suffocate creativity in their own business. The magazine points to a few of the most common ways that businesses unknowingly stifle innovation.

  • Don’t think about the “big idea” – Because too many leaders are looking for the next “big idea,” they miss the numerous small ideas that can offer a better competitive advantage than one big one. Other businesses copy big ideas quickly, but small innovations can make a significant impact on a daily basis.
  • Focus on creativity, not control – Too many businesses are focused on control and approval, which can limit employees working on fringe ideas that could advance the company. Siloing employees in different departments and restricting budgets can hurt the kinds of small cooperation that encourage new ideas. CLO suggests removing some bureaucratic restrictions to allow for more idea-driven work.
  • Don’t limit who can be creative – By assigning only some employees creative tasks, you may get some creativity, but you’re missing out on all of the other employees’ ideas. A widespread culture of creativity can be far more successful.
Instill creative discipline 

The way to innovation isn’t through letting team members sit around all day thinking. Fruitful creativity requires just as much effort as meeting deadlines. In his book “Creative, Efficient, and Effective Project Management,” Ralph Kliem explains that people frequently underestimate the importance of discipline in creativity. Kliem points out that creativity must be expressed sparingly to keep ideas fresh, and thoughts must be fleshed out so that they’re understandable and logical to others.

As a project manager, strive to create a structured and disciplined routine that fosters creativity within the boundaries of a schedule. Build it into your communication plans and meeting schedules.

Foster curiosity 

Curiosity is often the beginning of innovation. Tomas Chamorro-Premmuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at University College London explains in a Harvard Business Review article that the curiosity quotient (CQ) can be as important as the intelligence quotient when it comes to complex situations. People with higher CQs are able to take a more nuanced approach to ideas and problems, and are much more invested in learning. Helping a team member explore this curiosity can lead to different viewpoints, creative ideas, and a true investment in the project.


© 2014 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@MeritCD.com.

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