Tag Archives: Lou Quinto

Has Brainstorming Become the IBM Selectric® Typewriter of Creativity?

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Is it time to send brainstorming to the Smithsonian Museum to put on display with other antiquated business tools such as typewriters, overhead projectors, slide carousels and fax machines?

I believe if advertising executive Alex Osborn – who is known as the father of brainstorming – were still around even he’d be disappointed that brainstorming has become ineffective in today’s business world. Its ineffectiveness has many business consultants and academicians encouraging companies to no longer conduct brainstorming sessions because they are a waste of time. In his book, Your Creative Power (1940), Osborn outlined in detail how to brainstorm and included guidelines with an extensive flowchart. Unfortunately, over time the basics he described have been ignored or overlooked and now cause many business people to roll their eyes at the thought of participating in yet another brainstorming meeting.

Osborn’s concept – and the ultimate success he derived as an ad exec from the process – was based on the theory that if you brought a group of people together from different backgrounds and with different experiences you will end up with a wealth of great ideas. It makes sense. However, a study conducted at Yale University in 1958 (and many more studies since then) revealed that brainstorming groups generate fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone.

So, should we throw brainstorming away? Is it as outdated as typewriters in today’s business world? Or, can we revive brainstorming and make it a productive critical thinking tool once again that spurs creativity? These are serious questions that we must ask especially since many work groups still engage in brainstorming sessions to solve problems and develop new ideas but are sadly disappointed by the results. Here are some suggestions to salvage and reinvigorate Osborn’s original brainstorming technique:

Limit the size of the group – Keep your brainstorming session to seven people or fewer. Many times if the group is larger, some people will take advantage of the “free ride effect” or “social loafing” and sit back and watch other people do all the work. In short, they sit there texting or playing Candy Crush® and don’t participate.

Create a “creative environment” – If you want people to be creative you have to set the mood which makes them feel creative. You wouldn’t expect a group of chefs to prepare a gourmet meal by putting them into studio apartment-sized kitchen with limited pots and pans and cutlery. You need to put them in a facility that allows them to showcase their talents. The same holds true for a management team. Most people are running from one meeting to another and by putting them into a typical stale corporate conference room and expect them to be creative is futile. The furniture and the walls are screaming at them to “think inside the box” and maintain the company’s status quo. Plan on preparing the meeting room in advance to elicit excitement and cause a “paradigm shift” in thinking. Consider the following:

  • Rearrange the furniture – or move the furniture to the hallway and have everyone sit on the floor.
  • Bring in toys for the meeting participants to play with, such as Play-Dough®, Nerf Balls® or other Dollar Store-type trinkets.
  • Make everyone write with crayons on construction paper or large colored Sticky Notes®.
  • Bring in music which will help people relax and forget about tasks – for a little while – that they need to do when they leave your meeting.

Set ground rules – Don’t start by saying, “Here’s the problem. What ideas do you have to solve it?” Implement some of Osborn’s original guidelines which led to his success:

  • Set a goal for the number of ideas you want to identify and a time limit for the actual brainstorming. This creates a sense of urgency and a deadline.
  • Defer judgement during the actual brainstorming session. Don’t comment on any idea until the brainstorming part of the meeting is over.
  • No “Killer Statements” (i.e. “That is a stupid idea.” “You’re out of your mind,” etc.)
  • Encourage “freewheeling.” Ideas that are way “out of the box” can sometime yield way to more “grounded” solutions.
  • No idea is a bad idea – Capture EVERY idea uttered on a flip chart or white board.

Schedule time to warm-up – Professional athletes don’t just run out onto the field (or court) and just begin playing. They warm-up and stretch. Give your team a chance to warm-up by brainstorming on an unrelated, non-business problem, such as, “How many ideas can you come up with for empty tin cans?” This will get the creative engine in their mind revved up and prepare them for the primary concern about which you called the meeting.

Don’t select an idea in the same meeting you created it – You don’t have the facts available to you in the meeting to decide if an idea will actually work or not. Assign ideas to people to gather relevant information so the team can accurately assess the ideas at a later meeting. If not, you may eliminate ideas based upon assumptions, opinions and guess from alleged subject matter experts or “authority” in the room.

Allow people a few minutes to brainstorm individually before opening the group brainstorming session – Introduce the problem and give people five minutes to brainstorm on their own. Then go around the room and record the ideas they identified. This will give the group a head start and get people thinking. Then open the floor up to the typical group brainstorming session.

When you go the extra mile and adhere to Osborn’s original concept, you too, can be as successful as he was and help avoid throwing brainstorming into the category of outdated business tools.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Creativity, Critical Thinking Tools, Group Effectiveness, Problem Solving, Uncategorized

Times are a Changin’… Lead!

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Leadership is defined by changing times. Businesses must always change in order to maintain their leadership in the industry. Those organizations that don’t change remain stagnant and end up falling behind their competition. Consumers’ wants, change. Industry standards change. Regulations change. Business demands change. Therefore, change is inevitable. Those organizations that achieve and maintain success do so through competent leadership.

A significant barrier to leading through changing times is that people are creatures of habit. We don’t like change! Change takes us out of our comfort zones.  It causes confusion because most of the time people do not know what is changing and what is not changing. In addition, many times the whys of what are causing the change are not clearly understood. Most of the time success is also defined by new measurements on which performance is judged and this creates fear that can be crippling

So how do great leaders break through this confusion and fear in order to blaze a new path to success? Here are some important tips:

  1. People Tend to Support What They Help Create. This may sound like a tired, old adage but it’s true. People like to be included in the development and planning of new processes, policies and procedures. Inclusion opens up understanding of the business journey on which employees will have to travel. It allows for mutually defined goals and plans. Most of all it provides ownership which yields responsibility and accountably.
  2. Be a Better Listener. Good leaders listen to the people around them. They listen to suggestions on how things might be accomplished and new ideas. They listen to people who just need to “vent” even when that venting may not be productive. People are trying to regain their footing during changing times.
  3. Great Leaders are Empathetic to Feelings. Change produces a wide range of emotions. Leaders must not be apathetic to people’s emotions — “I don’t care just suck it up.” Nor, should they jump to being sympathetic to their emotions — “I agree, you should be angry.” Instead, they should be  This means acknowledging the person’s emotions — “I see this has you frustrated. What about this is frustrating?”  Being empathetic shows a person you recognize the emotions they are fighting through and then allows you to deal with facts — or the root causes — of their frustration. It’s easier to deal with facts and actual situations than to try and negotiate with individual emotions.
  4. Communicate.  Communicate. Communicate. You can never communicate too much during changing times. Change causes confusion. People initially hear only what they want to hear. People draw conclusions based on their past experiences. Developing a consistent message and delivering that same message over and over again facilitates implement all changes.
  5. “What’s In It For Me? Don’t highlight what the changes mean to the company. Highlight instead on what the changes mean for the individual. Your answer to this questions should always focus on the positives or benefits, such as, increased productivity, elimination of ‘busy’ work or less stress.
  6. Identify and Rely on Key Stakeholders. Identify other key stakeholders and rely on them to provide you support, answers to questions you can’t answer, and for resolutions to issues that may be outside of your authority.

Following these six principles of managing change will make you the best leader you can be during turbulent times.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Making Fast Decisions, Good Decisions

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

People have an aversion to making decisions. The primary reason for this is fear. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of what other people will think of their decision. Fear of losing money. Fear of change. Fear of the ramifications of a decision. Individuals and work teams look at making a decision as the time when they lay their credibility on the line. Therefore, their final decision may not be bold – or game changing – decisions. We hedge our bets and seek the comfort of minimum risk. Fear also causes us to procrastinate on making decisions.

To complicate matters, many times business decisions are done in tight time frames. In our fast paced, need-it-now-climate we are forced to make decisions quickly. Quick decisions keep the ball rolling. They keep a project on schedule. They help us meet customer demands and requirements. But, can fast decisions be good decisions?

Statistics show that the more time you spend on making a decision, the more accurate it will be. It makes sense. With longer deadlines you have more time to gather and consider facts. You have more time to consider alternatives. You have more time to get input from others with whom the decision may affect. The less time you spend on making the decision may cause you to overlook or ignore facts and alternatives. You will rely more on your intuition and assumptions – or worse yet, guesses. It will also not allow you time to seek input to judge the potential effects to others or to projects. So the time to accuracy ratio can’t be thwarted. More time, more accurate. Less time, less accurate. Of course exceptions to the rule exist, but for the most part – like the laws of gravity – time and accuracy is a force of nature in the realm of critical thinking by which we must abide.

So, how do we balance this ratio in decision-making so that we don’t spend too much time and suffer the wrath of “analysis paralysis?” Or, how can we prevent spending too little time and make more “gut decisions” where facts, feelings and other potential alternatives are ignored?

First, be clear on the decision you need to make. You can do this by “defining” your decision at the outset. A decision definition should have three characteristics.

  1. Start with an “action word” which describes the outcome you would like to achieve. Action words in decision-making include; buy, hire, implement, utilize, select or choose.
  2. Have a general “description” of the alternatives you are considering. Descriptions can be as simple as; a house, a car, a project manager, a computer system, a procedure, a process or a vacation spot.
  3. Include a “modifier” which will further define the type of alternative on which you want to decide. Modifiers include; the most productive, the most qualified, the most efficient, the easiest to manage or most economical.

Defining your decision will help you or a group save time by focusing on the “real” decision at hand. For example, let’s say you define your decision today as; “To buy a new car.” You have defined your decision by saying you are going to “buy.” This immediately saves time by eliminating all discussions of the pros and cons of leasing. (In fact, buying versus leasing is a separate decision you should have already made.) In stipulating that it will be “new,” this means you have eliminated consideration – and time – of looking at used cars. This starts to narrow your possible alternatives. Finally, you have said it is a “car.” This means that you will not be looking at SUVs, minivans or motorcycles. This is yet another way to save time by focusing your search on the specific type of personal transportation that you will consider.

Second, create a list of “eliminating” or “deal breaking” criteriamust haves! This is a set of criteria that each one of the alternatives you are considering “must have” or you will not consider it. It sounds simple, but often identifying eliminating criteria gets confused in the decision-making process. So let’s further define this set of criteria as something you cannot live without. Consider this analogy; In order for you to survive on planet earth, what must you have? Fans of the reality TV show Naked and Afraid will quickly mention; food, water, shelter and of course oxygen. Successful participants on this show have demonstrated that those are the four things they must have in order to survive 21 days in some remote and dangerous part of the world. Those four items are non-negotiable. In essence, that is the definition of eliminating or deal breaking criteria – if you don’t have it you will perish and die.

Once you have identified this set of criteria you can quickly look at your alternatives and “eliminate” from consideration those that don’t possess every single one of your deal-breaking criteria. Remember, if there are only four things that you must have for something as fragile as human life to survive, chances are you are not going to have an extensive list of eliminating criteria. In the car buying example above this might only include; must not to exceed your budgeted monthly car payment of $X and must be foreign (or domestic.) This step will narrow down your list of alternatives significantly.

Third, identify a set of criteria that you are going to use to make your final decision that are called “comparable” or “judgmental” criteria – like to haves! These criteria will help define the data you will need to gather and use to compare each of your alternatives to make your best choice. Again, using the car example from above this could include criteria such as; like to have maximum stereo features, best MPG performance, lowest annual maintenance costs, maximum warranty coverage, maximum comfort and maximum trunk space. From here you can begin to differentiate your alternatives by comparing the facts relating to your predefined judgmental criteria to select your “best choice.”

When you follow these three steps of decision-making you will begin making decisions faster than you do now and with more confidence. You will have greater focus on the best alternatives for you to consider. You will avoid analysis paralysis by defining – in advance – a finite amount of data you need to gather. In addition, you will be using an objective process that is based on facts that will help you gain support and buy-in quickly. Ultimately, it will help you find that optimum level in the time to accuracy ratio to make faster decisions with increased accuracy.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Critical Thinking Starts with an Open Mind

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

I’ve spent a significant part of my career teaching and coaching executives in the area of critical thinking. A large portion of my work involves introducing formal processes – tools – such as SWOT Analysis, Deviation Analysis, Force Field Analysis, Fish Bone Diagrams and Affinity Diagrams to name a few. But just like the tools in a mechanic’s tool box, if you don’t use them properly you won’t get the job done correctly.

What I’ve discovered is that when it comes to solving problems, making decisions or creating strategic plans the processes you use require one important ingredient – an open mind. Without maintaining an open mind any formal process you use will amplify the old adage “garbage in, garbage out.”

What do I mean by that? Every critical thinking process is only as good as the facts that you put into it. And those facts, must include information and data that not only supports the perceived decision your gut tells you to make – or the cause of a problem you assume to be the root of your troubles –  it must also include data which contradicts your assumptions.

Most people, however, suffer from a common critical thinking malady called “information bias.” Information bias is seeking and selecting information or data that only supports your assumptions. Simply put, we avoid facts that go against our beliefs and experiences. To be good critical thinkers we must maintain an open mind. Being open minded means that we must not just hear, but listen, to facts that are opposite from our established beliefs.

At work, this would include listening to people in other departments who may not look at a decision or a problem through the same glasses as you do. For example, if you work in accounting you might only see a solution from a dollars and cents, or profit and loss perspective because that it what you have been educated and trained to do. It’s your job! Therefore, you could easily dismiss information and data from sales, marketing, operations or IT because those opinions may be more cavalier toward budgets and spending money to accomplish their goals. That’s their job!

At home, this might mean listening to your spouse, or your children more carefully to understand their frame of reference even though your gut may be screaming at you that what they are saying is wrong. Or, in this election year it may mean mean not relying on that cable news station that only reinforces your political views and watch another cable news show that you believe presents information and points-of-views that only represents “the other side.”

The root cause of “information bias” tends to come from our egos. Face it, nobody likes to think our beliefs and opinions are wrong. In these instances, human nature dictates that we take the “fight” response when what we believe to be true – or right – is challenged.

When I coach people on critical thinking I use the analogy that our minds are like attics, garages or basements – places we tend to store stuff of which we can’t or don’t want to let go. But just like our attic, garage or basement every now and then we need to purge our mind of information, experiences and beliefs that no longer fit; don’t work; is obsolete or outdated in order to make room for new information, new experiences and new beliefs.

So how do we become more open minded and begin the process of purging our brains of outdated or obsolete information and beliefs to make room for this new information? Here are some suggestions on ways to begin the process:

  1. Read more books or watch documentaries on subjects that you know nothing about. When we are introduced to subjects of which we know nothing about our brain tends to draw correlations to that new information with that which we already know. It helps us grasp a better understanding. It’s like standing in front of a mirror, holding up a piece of clothing, and asking yourself; “Does this fit or how do I look in it today?”
  2. Expand the nucleus of people with whom you associate. We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Introduce yourself to new people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Our natural temptation to “be part of the group” will cause us take in new information and listen to different perspectives in a “safe environment.”
  3. Enroll in class that challenges your natural talents and curiosity. For example, take a pottery or painting class – something you have never done. Performing the techniques to accomplish the art form will force you to think and act differently. In addition, there is a strong possibility you will interact with people that don’t share your knowledge and beliefs. This again will provide you with a “safe environment” to challenge your way of thinking. It may also spark an idea which might help you solve a pressing problem at work or at home.
  4. Focus on how you accept feedback, especially that which is intended to be constructive. Do you adapt the natural “fight” response? This means that you always want to justify why you did what you did regardless of other people’s suggestions on doing something a different way. If you do, then this might indicate a low level of mental willingness to accept new information or different points-of-view.

Information, technology and circumstances are constantly changing. Your ability – and willingness – to regularly consider new data and changing perspectives will help you become a better critical thinker.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Is Conformity Keeping You from Success?

Social conformity is a powerful and hidden motivation that influences our decisions and strategic planning in ways we don’t even realize or understand. It’s called “that’s the way we have always done it.” This is a way of thinking that hinders innovation and success. Let me demonstrate the power of conformity with this personal experience…

Recently I joined a few friends at an NBA game. Tickets were free, parking was free and we sat in a private box. Even the food and drinks were free! Who could say, “No?”

Initially we were all acting very proper because of the luxury trappings that surrounded us. It was a close game and soon we were all behaving like the less fortunate people that were sitting in the cheap seats.  We were all cheering, standing, shouting, and high-fiving each other. Decorum quickly died. Assisted by prompts on the scoreboard, we were screaming and behaving like “true fans” by halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the huge video monitor above center court displayed the “Kiss Cam” – random shots of couples in the arena. The activity dictates that when the camera is pointed at a couple they would smile and smooch. It was an entertaining distraction while the teams strategized during a timeout, especially when one young guy refused to kiss his “date.” As the crowd began to boo, the guy mouthed the words, “She’s my sister!”

But he kissed her on the cheek anyway and the crowd erupted. Conformity is a powerful thing.

The behavior in the arena that night got me thinking about how the need for conformity impacts our organizational decision making and strategic planning. Our corporate cultures can be so strong, that we stop questioning our decisions and planning.

If your organization needs to innovate, but is stuck in “the way we’ve always done it” mentality consider these tips for re-framing your decisions and plans.

  1. Beware the “sunk cost” trap: Often times we support a decision or system simply because of the time and money already invested in the solution. Before sticking with the status quo, ask yourself, “If we were making this decision all over again, would our current path be the best decision for achieving the objectives we had set for ourselves?” If not, reconsider.
  2. Behave like the enemy: The military uses a process that is called “Red Teaming.” It’s where they gather a group of subject matter experts and review plans and decisions through the eyes of the enemy. They look for holes or weaknesses in your thinking. Businesses are beginning to adopt this process to expose questions such as; How might your competitor sell against you? How can they overcome your new product launch? How can they position their services to steal business with a mutual client? What can they do that might completely disrupt the way you do business?
  3. Develop a tiger team: Some of the most innovative organizations spin off a small team of people with varied backgrounds and allow them to solve complex problems in a new environment – physically removed from the prevailing culture. They might take on a new name, benchmark different industries, and run pilot projects to test the waters and avoid conformity.

Moving forward, avoid falling into the “that’s the way we have always done it” way of thinking. Challenge yourself, your teams and your associates on a regular basis to get out of this destructive way of thinking. Take action to overcome the comforts of what is accepted as “normal.”

Reprinted from Action Management Associates

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Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Group Effectiveness, Red Teaming, Strategic Thinking

Foster Creativity by Neutralizing its Enemies

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Everyone can agree that creativity is a crucial ingredient in the success of any organization. CEO’s demand it because they know creativity is a strategic weapon in the war against the competition.

However, within most organizations there are people – let’s call them enemies – who perpetually squash creative thought and ideas – some do it unconsciously, while others see it as their duty to protect the organization from failure, excess spending, and misuse of resources or poor allocation of time.

In my experience there are usually four distinct enemies of creativity for which I am always on the lookout during a creativity session (a.k.a. brainstorming session.) They are:

The Intimidator – This may be your boss’ boss, a subject matter expert, or someone who just sucks all the air out of any room in which they are. Whenever they are around other people will embrace and support the “norm” for fear of retribution or ridicule. Thus, the intimidator causes “in the box thinking,” sometimes without opening their mouth. Just their presence is enough to cause people to suppress their creativity.

The Standards Protector – This person is easy to spot because they are always reminding you, “That’s not the way we do things in this organization.” They are the self-appointed protectors of tradition and standard business practices.

The Risk Avoider – Some might refer to this person as the “Devil’s Advocate.” This person is always looking for “alleged” risks and will smother every new idea with “assumed” negative consequences before a new idea has a chance to breathe.

The Creature of Habit – If it requires change, this person will do whatever it takes to protect the status quo. He – or she – hates change. Change upsets their mental psyche and causes them to spend hours thinking about the pain a new way of doing something will cause them to endure. They will be the ones kicking and screaming the most.

You can protect your next creativity session by following these simple rules:
1. Defer judgment on all ideas until you have completed your brainstorming. This means no comments on any idea until the end.

2. Set a goal of the number of new ideas you want and set a time limit. Aim high in number of ideas. Quantity does encourage quality. Set a short time limit, such as 10 minutes. People work well under pressure. Appoint a timekeeper or have a digital stopwatch visible to all.

3. Don’t ask of each idea, “Will this work?” In most instances you do not have the facts in the room to make that determination. You need to leave your creativity session and begin to gather facts which will then allow you to decide if an idea will work. If not, you are encouraging decision making with assumptions and guesses. This is when all four enemies will devour and discredit any idea that has slightest smell of being creative.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Critical Thinking or Creativity: Which is Most Crucial

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Imagine this, experts are divided on which skill is most important to business and personal success – critical (rational) thinking or creativity. It’s like watching FOX News and MSNBC report on the same event, but as usual, both reach different conclusions. Who can you trust?

So, which skill – critical thinking or creativity – is most important?

They both are! They’re two sides of the same coin.

Experts do agree that both critical and creative thinking are essential. Some even include creative thinking under the category of critical thinking. Why are both critical and creative thinking essential? To solve problems you must think deductively and rationally (critically) whereas in other instances you need to think expansively and innovatively (creatively). If you were to approach all problems from a purely rational, deductive manner, you would never exceed current levels of achievement. Conversely, if you were to approach all problems creatively, you would never understand why something wasn’t working and be able to take corrective action. Many problems require a blend of the two approaches. To focus on developing one and ignoring the other not only risks ineffective problem solving but it runs the risk of stifling “forward-looking” or “progressive” solutions and reactions.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him atlouquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Creativity, Problem Solving, Uncategorized