Creativity Surprise: What’s Really Blocking Great Ideas with Jennifer Mueller

Ep #147: Creativity Surprise: What’s Really Blocking Great Ideas with Jennifer Mueller

Jennifer MuellerAlthough it might seem counterintuitive that businesses fear innovation, today’s guest makes an excellent case for why they do (and why they shouldn’t). Building on a career of research on creativity and leadership, professor Jennifer Mueller illuminates decision makers’ biases against innovation in her new book Creative Change: Why We Resist It . . . How We Can Embrace It

Professor Jennifer Mueller holds a doctorate in social psychology and has taught at top business schools including Wharton, the Yale School of Management, and NYU’s Stern School of Business. She is a creativity expert, and her highly acclaimed paper “The Bias Against Creativity” went viral and was downloaded more than 65,000 times.

Jennifer and I talk about several of her published papers, including one that’s been affectionately dubbed the “why men don’t ask for directions” project. Jennifer discusses the punishment leaders often face for seeking help with crises, and why the qualities that might make you an outwardly convincing leader don’t guarantee any actual skill in leadership. We then dig into precisely why decision makers in companies are often fearful of innovative or creative ideas and end up squashing them, to the detriment of both their employees and their business.

Jennifer’s fresh take on creativity’s role in the professional world can help you avoid the same pitfalls in your business and leadership. Be sure to tune in below!

If you enjoy the show, please drop by iTunes and leave a review while you are still feeling the love! Reviews help others discover this podcast and I greatly appreciate them!

Listen in:

On Today’s Episode We’ll Learn:

  • Why male leaders are more likely to be judged harshly by peers when they ask for help.
  • How traits that might help you seem like a great leader can become your downfall once you’re actually leading.
  • Why it’s crucial that you manage others’ impressions of your creative ideas, not just present them.
  • The fear of ambiguity that drives most businesses, decisions, and even many personal choices.
  • How to present your ideas so that leaders are more likely to buy into them than reject them outright.
  • Why feedback from regular people and your customers can help you structure creativity into your business.

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Full Episode Transcript:

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Welcome to The Brainfluence podcast with Roger Dooley, author, speaker, and educator on neuromarketing and the psychology of persuasion. Every week, we talk with thought leaders that will help you improve your influence with factual evidence and concrete research. Introducing your host, Roger Dooley.

Roger Dooley:    Welcome to The Brainfluence Podcast. I’m Roger Dooley. My guest this week is an expert in creativity, but she’s not going to tell you how to come up with more ideas or better ideas. She’s going to tell you how to not only identify the best ideas, but how to avoid killing them before they’re even tested. Dr. Jennifer Mueller is a professor at the University of San Diego and has previously taught at Yale, NYU Stern, and Wharton. Her new book is creative change, why we resist it, how to embrace it. Welcome to the show, Jennifer.

Jennifer Mueller:          Thank you very much for having me.

Roger Dooley:    Jennifer, I’m going to take a quick diversion here. I always like to see what our guests have been doing and one of your more recent papers that you co-authored explained why men don’t ask for directions. Is that really true, and should we care?

Jennifer M:          Yes, there was a research project that was fondly termed Why Men Don’t Ask For Directions Project. This is a project we started at Wharton years ago and it was based on an observation that the kinds of things that leaders do to be effective in their work actually are different than the kinds of things they need to do to manage all those impressions of them, and sometimes counterproductive to that. In other words, what we’re finding, what we found in that study was that men, unlike women have a penalty when they’re in a leadership role for asking for help. In other words, if you’re a guy and you’re struggling and you’re having difficulty admitting that you’re struggling and asking for help from other people and having that be visible is something people will penalize you for, but they won’t necessarily penalize women for, and we thought that was pretty interesting so we wanted to document it and we did.

Roger Dooley:    That is interesting. What you’re saying is it’s not an internal thing where male leaders might feel inadequate by asking for help, but rather that people actually perceive that male leader a little bit differently than a female leader asking for help.

Jennifer Mueller:          I think what it means is it’s counter normative. It’s like the thing you don’t do. It’s like breaking a rule. The rule is that men …

Roger Dooley:    Oh, okay. It’s a guy not living up to the guy stereotype.

Jennifer Mueller:          Yeah, it literally. It’s that simple, and the problem is that that rule is really dumb, because sometimes your organization is in crisis and you don’t know … Many times we don’t know the answers, especially by the way, when you’re trying to be innovative. That’s the whole point at doing something new is you don’t necessarily know where it’s going to go, and you need feedback. Eliciting that feedback and framing it as, “I need help,” meaning I’ve failed in some way, or I have a problem that I caused that I now need to solve, was … The good news I suppose is that women did a better, or withstood it better. They weren’t seen as less competent that they did this. There is some work showing that if you’re in a crisis situation, a woman could be a better turnaround leader than a man.

Roger Dooley:    Interesting.

Jennifer Mueller:          Because they can ask for help, and they can be vulnerable in that way. One of the funny anecdotes I have of this paper was presenting at a conference. I think it was at Wharton or wherever, and one of the audience members saying, “Why are you talking about asking for help in leadership? Leaders don’t ask for help. Why would a leader ever ask for help? That’s impossible. They don’t do that behavior.” I sat there not knowing what to say.

Roger Dooley:    After you picked your jaw up.

Jennifer Mueller:          Right, after I picked my jaw up I’m like, “Really? No one as a leader has ever asked for help? It doesn’t happen?” Just that statement alone can tell you what the stereotype is of leadership, and why it’s so counter normative that men, especially who also have that stereotype because men don’t ask for directions, right? Both stereotypes together make it a penalty for men who.

Roger Dooley:    Yeah, I wonder too, if that’s a little bit related to the situation where … One would be the not invented here syndrome where ideas that aren’t your own, you tend to reject, and also at a personal level, that’s at an organizational level, but at a personal level too, you certainly get leaders who simply do not pay attention to the input of others. Not only don’t they seek help, they really don’t want help or other ideas or input.

Jennifer Mueller:          One of the themes in the work that I do, along with creativity and I see them as very much related, is I study these beliefs and stories we have about what it means to be a good leader or what it means to have a creative idea, and one of the themes of both is really the things that get you politically in the door and make you seem like you’re smart and know all the answers, or the very things that don’t help you innovate and find the creative solution the team really needs, and ask for help, and be humble and do all the things that the group needs to be successful.

Impression, man we kind of love our narcissistic tyrannical masculine, I know all the answer leader. That’s in our stereotype what we think of as something that makes us feel safe. Even though that person not necessarily the best, especially when it comes, when the innovation needs to come from the ground up, if that leader happens to know the answers and really is innovative, it can be okay, but if that leader doesn’t actually have the answers and is just faking it, now you have a destructive situation because people will just feel safe because that leader matches a prototype, even when the leader fails again and again, and research has shown this. A leader can fail and do horrible, and the results cannot come in, but if they’re prototypical like that, if people stereotype, people forget them.

Roger Dooley:    Interesting. I think I would say there are a lot of people who behave as if they’re Steve Jobs, but relatively few actually have, commence their level of genius to justify behaving like that.

Jennifer Mueller:          The other part is, sometimes it’s hard for people to know if they’re a Steve Jobs or a faker, because the person fits the stereotype of the successful leader when they’re tyrannical. They seem smart, they seem like they must know. If they’re derogating everybody else, it must be because they’re smart. I actually have a paper showing this. Unfortunately, they’re derogating other people not because they’re smart, but because they don’t actually have a good idea.

Roger Dooley:    Interesting.

Jennifer Mueller:          I think where that goes in terms of creativity is that there’s a whole impression management and kind of cover your butt kind of response that leaders are really aware of because they’re accountable for the decisions they make. People don’t just have power in the absence of accountability in organizations. They spend money. They have budgets. They have timelines, and they’re accountable for the performance. They have to often times decide which ideas to pursue. What we’ve found is that that responsibility around allocating resources, that in and of itself creates the very kind of mindset that prioritize … I want to make correct and accurate decisions and find the best idea and that way of thinking harms a person’s ability to recognize creative opportunity.

Roger Dooley:    Jennifer, years before your new book, you were the primary author on a paper, The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Reject Creative Ideas. This went viral, sort of in an academic sense. It wasn’t exactly Gangnam Style, but it was downloaded over 60,000 times, which for an academic paper isn’t too shabby. Why did this paper seem to strike a cord with people?

Jennifer Mueller:          God, I wish I knew, but I did get emails from people who email me saying, “Oh my gosh. I’m not crazy. It’s not that I’m an idiot. It’s not that I’m not talented. It’s that there’s something wrong.” There’s something wrong in the world about people saying they want creativity, but they really don’t. What do I do now? I think a lot of people felt like they weren’t alone. I think a lot of people emailed me to say, “Gosh, wait a minute. I have the bias against creativity. I think I want creativity, but the truth is that I, myself am biased, because I just realized that this is exactly how I think. I want best solutions. I want correct answers. I want to know the answers. I don’t tolerate not knowing.”

I think it was just counterintuitive to people and it also validated this feeling that both sides had, the person creating the ideas that felt kind of lonely and rejected and wasn’t sure why that was happening and the person trying to find those creative ideas that realized, “Wow. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I should pay attention to this and learn more about how to manage this.”

That’s when I realized maybe I should start moving a little bit away from the academic question about this and talk to people experiencing it and try to figure out more about my craft, because my field really isn’t looking at this question yet. They are starting to, but the theory and the way people are talking about creativity is still all about generating more ideas and where I’m thinking that’s going is, if you give people a lot of tools to generate ideas and no tools about how to manage other people’s impressions of the ideas and how to move them forward, you’re basically putting people on a firing line. You’re not giving them the ability to turn their guns into [inaudible 00:09:32], because creative ideas are more often rejected because they’re creative, because creativity means you don’t know if this new thing will work and it has potential that you don’t know.

Roger Dooley:    Right. Jennifer, would you say the fundamental thesis of creative change is that there isn’t a lack of creative ideas, but rather the decision makers tend to reject ideas that don’t fit with the way things are currently done or that seem unknowable in some way.

Jennifer Mueller:          That is one believe that I have, that we have done such a good job giving people tools about how to generate these ideas. We now have crowdsourcing methodology, where you can generate ideas to a single question, thousands of them in minutes. Our ability, our psychology ability to understand ourselves and how creative ideas make us feel and how difficult it is for us to see opportunity in the new, it’s that that remains lacking.

Yes, I do believe that this ability to recognize creativity is a new skill. I think it’s a new leadership skill. I think I discovered and stumbled upon a new way to think about disruptive thinking, disrupting an organization, disrupting the way your subordinates think, and being able to disrupt the way you think, that I don’t think the field has talked about before.

Roger Dooley:    Let me tell you a story, an abbreviated version of a story from my own experience, Jennifer. Years ago I was director of corporate planning for a fortune 1,000 company, and both I and the director of R and D were a lot younger than the senior management team. The CEO at the very top was a visionary who charged the whole management team, but a lot of the burden fell upon the two of us to bring in new business ideas, either by acquisition or internal development.

It was one of these typically over specified conditions where they had to be a great fit and high growth and low risk and all these things that you can never really actually find a business like that exactly, but we finally found an opportunity that fit about 80% of this stuff that would have put our company, which was actually a traditional metals manufacturer in the hard drive business, in the very early days of hard drives. Before they were even a thing practically, just as they were going from metal oxide to metallic coatings, which happened to be the unique expertise of this company. That idea went down in flames, and every other one did, too, because the [inaudible 00:11:58] basically said, “We just don’t know enough about this.” The CEO wanted opportunities outside our [inaudible 00:12:05] business, but the management team wanted ideas that were modest extensions of what we were doing.

In fact, the funniest part was that there was this one crusty old VP who was responsible for business development of all things. He had the ultimate question. Whenever somebody suggested something different, he would ask, “That’s fine, but what if some technology that nobody knows about now comes in from left field and kills the market for this product?” That’s kind of what you talk about in the book, unknown unknowns. This was the ultimate expression of that, or what if something nobody knows about now, what if an asteroid hits the plan?

This, when I was reading your book, this whole experience came totally back to me, because it resonated with this mindset that we could understand a new use for our current product or a slight variation on the current product, but something that’s going to dramatically change the business just did not fit the mentality of the decision makers.

Jennifer Mueller:          Yeah, and that’s the core insight that I stumbled upon, is not that people feel fear of change, but that the way you can approach change when creativity is not needed. That’s the type of change you just described, change where you can decrease costs or increase efficiency or incrementally take what you’re doing and maybe sell it in a different way or to a different group of customers, that that kind of change, the way you approach that. If you approach creative change in that same way you’d normally make change, you’re going to kill your ability to find the creative opportunity because creativity itself is a different psychological process. I believe that’s because this unknowability that creativity brings. When you have change, you have metrics and you have benchmarks and you’ve done it before or another company has and you’ve seen how it works, if not in your company, maybe in a different division, or in a different industry, and you can chart your progress. You need to tweak things of course, but there’s a lot less uncertainty and you can calculate risk.

When it comes to creativity, I keep telling companies, “Why are you trying to calculate risk? That’s a wasted exercise.” They say, “But if we don’t have a risk assessment, how can we make a decision? How can we rank order the ideas that we have?” I said to them, “The fact that you actually want a precise way to rank order is the problem.” To a certain extent you can rank order some things. There’s some things you can know, and there’s some things that you simply cannot. I think it’s, what I’m seeing is, and I think business schools are largely to blame for this, is this belief that there is a rational, noble way to assess anything. You can [inaudible 00:14:55] anything. I think that belief system, it’s kind of like a fairytale that I think business … That believe system creates anxiety and fear for the very change that could save your business, the creative change that could save your business.

Roger Dooley:    Right. It seems like there’s a desire to reduce everything to numbers and sometimes that’s possible, but even when it seems possible, often those numbers don’t work out in reality, but the fact that they were on paper made it seem real at least when the project was being approved. Jennifer, our audience loves psychology experiments, and you begin the book, somewhere near the front you’ve got the experience involving jars of two color balls and the desire to pick out … Why don’t you go through, explain that, because I think it encapsulates the difficulty that permeates the book in terms of evaluating opportunities where there are unknowns.

Jennifer Mueller:          The experiment is called the Ellsberg paradox. I didn’t come up with it. A guy named Ellsberg came up with it. He has a game, and the game is this, you have two jars. Each has a hundred balls in them. One is 50% black and 50% white balls. The other is an unknown distribution of black and white balls. Jar A you know the distribution is 50/50 black to white. Jar B, you just don’t know. It could be all black balls, it could be all white balls. You just don’t know. Here’s the game. If you were to win $100, if you were picked a black ball from one jar, which jar would you choose from, that first jar where you know the distribution of black to white, or the second jar where you don’t? Do you know the answer?

Roger Dooley:    Oh, no. Yeah, I mean I’ve looked at the experiment, so I would give the correct answer that doesn’t really matter. On average, how does the distribution fall the way people answer that, and how might it be effected by their individual psychology?

Jennifer Mueller:          I don’t know how it’s effected by their individual psychology per se, but on average people wanted to pick from the jar where they know the distribution of the kind of balls they might pick from. The jar where they don’t know, the question mark jar is the one that they don’t choose. Mathematically both jars have roughly equivalent likelihood of choosing a black ball. For example, the second jar could have all black balls, so 100% likelihood of choosing a black ball. Psychologically then, why do people choose the one where they know the distribution when mathematically the probability of picking a black ball from either one is absolutely the same? What he demonstrated was this intolerance for ambiguity, and what I say is, people don’t like it, feel like they want to avoid ambiguity even when they have a little bit of mental math they have to encounter.

Imagine how you would feel now if there was a third jar and you don’t know how many balls it is, you don’t know big the jar is, you don’t even know if the jar’s actually there. You don’t know if it’s a jar, actually. It’s that kind of a knowability that creativity has and incremental innovation has the two kinds of known, unknowns, and known knows that the two jars in the example has. In other words, you can’t calculate risk for the unknowable. That’s why I talk about the psychology, the unknowable versus the psychology of the knowable. Even within the knowable you still like to choose the thing you see as less ambiguous.

Roger Dooley:    I think the interesting thing about that experiment is that if you ask people, “Why did you choose jar A with the 50/50 known distribution,” they would say it’s less risky. In fact, it’s not less risky, it’s the same risk mathematically. It’s just more, jar two is more ambiguous.

Jennifer Mueller:          That’s correct. That’s correct.

Roger Dooley:    Interesting.

Jennifer Mueller:          What’s interesting about that too, is that people’s intolerance for ambiguity goes away when you don’t compare the jars to each other. If you don’t have a choice that’s seemingless ambiguous, if that’s all your choice is, then you’re just going to choose to play the game in other words. What this suggests is how we frame ideas and the uncertainties around them matter almost more than the reality that we face, the real quality of the idea itself. That’s where the book starts to talk about okay, other decisions that are completely unknowable that we make in our life all the time, like the decision to get married. How would you feel if somebody said, “If you don’t know, if you’re even questioning, this person isn’t the one.” That might make you feel pretty anxious, if you were considering getting married. However, if you heard somebody say, “You can’t know, and that’s the way it goes,” you might feel completely differently about the very same decision.

Roger Dooley:    Right. How would you advice somebody to, and you refer to that first mindset as the how best mindset, which is a fixed, want to know the risk and the details and calculate things out mindset. When somebody is faced with trying to sell an idea to an individual or a group of people who basically have that mindset, which actually of course is quite pervasive. It’s not unique at all. How can you get them out of that mindset and expand their thinking to accept a greater level of ambiguity where there’s a good opportunity?

Jennifer Mueller:          That mindset won’t accept ambiguity. They want metrics. If you can find the metrics, number of downloads, Facebook likes, of course those metrics for those entrepreneurs out there, they know those metrics are really noisy indicators. They can be gamed. For one, you can buy Facebook likes from India. For two, sometimes crowds are simply a function of other people following the crowd, but not the idea itself. They can be faked. They’re noisy indicators, especially when ideas are new. Investors for whatever reason tend to follow them. If you can find a way to generate some kind of metrics, doesn’t necessarily have to be sales. It can be number of kickstarter investments and have your friends invest.

Roger Dooley:    Right.

Jennifer M:          You can generate those metrics. Those decision makers out there will put up. That seems to be something that moves the needle for them. What’s interesting is the work that we’re about to publish, we just have provisionally accepted at the Academy of Management Journals. It’ll take a little while to get into press, but we find that decision makers actually take that uptake in metrics to mean the idea itself is creative.

Roger Dooley:    Hmm, interesting.

Jennifer Mueller:          If it doesn’t have that, it’s not creative. It’s just state.

Roger Dooley:    Right, so it’s really kind of a little bit of a break from what we often talk about, which is use emotion to influence, when we’re talking about marketers, to use emotion and other persuasion techniques because people’s brains get bored real easily with facts and figures. In this case, you really need some of those facts and figures, even if they’re not quite directly related to the outcome, but they’re suggestive of the outcome to maybe give that person’s brain something to hang its hat on and say, “Okay, I can justify this because there’s some numbers there.”

Jennifer Mueller:          I think that’s true. The other technique that I’ve seen work with a how best thinker, who wants correctness and accuracy, is to approach them one on one and to use what I call a feedback pitch. A feedback pitch is not your typical idea selling pitch. The idea selling pitch is where you unilaterally decide to convince the other person your idea is great and you can show them the metrics and give them the hockey stick graph showing the profits are exponentially growing.

A feedback pitch is different. A feedback pitch is you just show them the core idea and you ask the person, “So what do you think?” The goal of asking a person is important. You’re not asking the person really to change your idea. You’re asking the person because you want to know what they care about. You want to know where they see the flaws. The next question to ask after you ask, “What do you think?” Is, “What would you do to improve it?” What’s interesting about that question is it allows room for you to start to collaborate with this person. The reason why that can become powerful is sometimes new ideas threaten people’s expertise, or they just seem weird and different than the paradigm, and people don’t like to spend a whole lot of time thinking. If they spent more time thinking, we might be able to click it in with something that they understand.

You start to engage this other person with the idea so it feels less foreign, but you’ve also given them the opportunity to make potentially very small changes. What happens is something amazing. When a person makes even a small wording change, or just some kind of a change to an idea, they feel greater psychological ownership to it. There’s a huge body of literature showing that people love their own creative ideas and in fact, over estimate the likelihood of success of their own ideas.

In other words, if you can pitch to a decision maker, get them in a one on one conversation and have a collaboration with them where the goal is to find out what their objections are and how to somehow tweak the idea in a way that makes them feel more ownership for the idea, you have a higher likelihood of then switching their mindset from a how best to inventing with you.

Roger Dooley:    Actually Jennifer, I don’t know if you’ve read Cialdini’s new book, Pre-Suasion, but big news in that is that he introduced a seventh principle of influence, which is, after 30 years of only six, that’s kind of big news for influence and persuasion geeks like me. One of the … What it is is unity. There’s several ways to achieve unity, but one is what he termed co-creation and that’s exactly what you’re talking about by getting this person’s feedback or advice, you are making them a co-creator and that’s invoking this powerful or principle, I think it all ties together and in fact one little tid bit is that there was one study that showed that instead of asking for feedback, you should ask for advice. Advice led to a stronger feeling of being part of the creation process than feedback, for whatever reason. Anyway, that makes a huge amount of sense, and one way to overcome that, that mindset.

Now, something else that we see a lot of in psychology research and social science research is that people are more than willing to believe that other people are subject to cognitive biases and various kinds of mental errors and so on, but generally don’t see those same factors in themselves. I would guess that many of our listeners, maybe at least a few of them can easily see other people around them emerging as the kind of people we’ve been talking about who are looking for, they simply reject a truly creative ideas out of hand, but it’s something that we probably all have a little bit propensity to do. How can we check to see if we’re victims of this same error and fix our own thinking at least?

Jennifer Mueller:          Right now what I’ve seen in my own work is this mindset, this how best mindset being one of the major culprits. I think what makes this mindset so insidious is it’s invisible. We use it to make so many kinds of decisions and it cane be really effective in many aspects of our lives. If you want to go watch a movie you know is really good, you go and look on Rotten Tomatoes or you go and read your favorite critic. If you want to go to a restaurant you know is good, you go to Yelp or some other kind of food aggregator where you can find a rating. You want to go somewhere from point A to point B, you get directions on Google Maps, and you know there’s a way to get an accurate and correct decision, or at least estimation of whether or not your decision is a good one. Having a how best way of thinking can be very effective in many different kinds of situations.

The problem of course becomes when we use that same principle to the way we think about creativity. It’s not that business people want to choose ideas because they’re creative per se, they want to choose ideas because they know their work and solve problems and are feasible and all those things. The problem becomes when you have a how best mindset when an idea is creative, and by the way, sometimes people don’t realize the idea is creative because they’re using a definition of creativity that is different than what their consumers or what their constituents, their stakeholders might care about.

When the idea is creative, the how best mindset makes the uncertainty and the knowability about that idea aversive, bad, not something you want to peruse. There’s a second reason why, because if you were to pursue an idea that is unknowable and it failed, which often times creative ideas do, you don’t have a metric or a reason to say and justify why you made the decision in the first place. That is the second kind of feature decision makers need to keep their jobs. They need these metrics to justify why they made their decision. It’s not just about making a good decision. It’s about justifying your bad decisions.

Roger Dooley:    Right. That’s why you call in an external consultant group to backup whatever you want to do and then …

Jennifer Mueller:          Yes, to validate. Exactly.

Roger Dooley:    [crosstalk 00:28:06] consulting group said it would work, so I guess it didn’t.

Jennifer Mueller:          That’s right, and so I think that that’s a lot of work and a lot of effort when you could have a much simpler solution. One of the solutions I talk in the book is, if you want to structure in checks for quality, but also balance for creativity, you can take the set of ideas that you have and have a group of, let’s say your customers or even internal in the company, employees who are generating ideas. Identify which ones are the new ones, which ones are really creative or new. It doesn’t matter which you use. You can use the term creative or novel. They’re basically synonyms as far as the average person thinks about these terms. Then you can get a sense of which is really high on this dimension to the average person, which is low, and you can separate out those that are low quality and throw them out of the set and look at all your high quality ideas.

What I think is helpful, and we’re working with some companies to do this, is have a mandate for decision makers to choose some number of novel ideas, that the other people, the other stakeholders viewed as novel, not the ones that they view as novel. What that does is it gives them a reason to justify decisions that they feel, “Look, I was supposed to choose this novel idea. I didn’t think it would work, but I had to do it.” It gives them a reason to choose creativity. As it stands, why would any decision maker ever have a reason to choose creativity? Why would they want to do that to themselves? There is actually no incentive to do it and lots of incentive not to do it.

Roger Dooley:    Do you think this effects us as individuals too? In other words, in making career choices or deciding to start a business as a solo entrepreneur or as an entrepreneur just beginning something new? Obviously a lot of the focus is on how ideas get stifled within big companies, but it seems too that our own lives might be effected in pretty much the same way by this fear of the unknown, or fear of ambiguity we think of as avoiding risk, but fear of ambiguity.

Jennifer M:          Yeah, I think this how best mindset is so pervasive. We use it when we use the best practice. Some people talk about it when they talk about finding the one, the person, the one person that they’ll love forever, and some people talk about it in terms of their careers, finding the best career path, finding who I am as a person, my identity, like there is such a thing as a best career path. I think a lot of that is just, especially in context where the world is messy as opposed to context where we can go on Rotten Tomatoes and choose the movie with the best rating, where the world is messy, that kind of thinking just doesn’t accurately represent the solutions and choices in front of us, because there’s so many different kinds of people we can fall in love with or careers we can choose or ways to parent. Thinking of these choices as having the best choice, the best business choice, the best way to approach a problem solving, often limits us and creates inaction more than it stimulates a person’s ability to then act.

What I usually say to people when they’re in that kind of a mindset, and very often, people who use this way of thinking and decision making can’t get out of it. It’s very hard for them to push themselves away from it. Another thing that could be helpful is find somebody else that has an opposite mindset to them, that maybe have a broader sense that there’s multiple solutions, there’s more than one way to solve a problem, and to have that person to have a conversation with that person and to make a decision potentially jointly with that person, because it’s not that the how best perspective way of thinking is bad, it can be very effective for an entrepreneur. You need to manage your expenses and focus on constraints and ensure that costs are under control.

That’s very important for entrepreneurs, but if you lose sight also of this more abstract, broader why, and the potential broader value of what the product is going to provide to the customer, then all of the sudden you’re unbalanced. It’s finding that balance between. That’s what innovators do, or inventors that are successful. We know that they have their eye on the details and the metrics, but they don’t view the metric as the answer. They view the metric as the next potential pathway forward, the learning. That’s what I would recommend.

Roger Dooley:    That’s probably a good point to break off. Let me remind our listeners that we’re speaking with Jennifer Mueller, author of the brand new book, creative change, why we resist it and how to embrace it. If you or your company seem to be short on creativity, this book may change your approach to solving that problem. Jennifer, how can people find you online?

Jennifer Mueller:          They can find me online on my website, JenniferSMueller, spelled M as in Mary, You can look to see the interviews that I’ve done, but also send me your stories about how you might use some of the solutions in the book to good effect. One of the things the book has is so many solutions people can get lost in them. One of the things that I ask people in the book is to create groups of people maybe who all, what I call change circles, who sit around and talk about using the principles in the book to make creative change. Then if some solutions work, write me about them, tell me about them. I’ll post your stories so other people can learn how to do this skill. You can also find me on Twitter, Jenn S. Mueller. That’s J-E-N-N S. Mueller. I really look forward to continuing the dialog about how we can all make creative change.

Roger Dooley:    Great. We will link to those places, to the book itself, and any other resources we mentioned during the course of this show on the show notes page at and we’ll have a text version of our conversation there, too. Jennifer, thanks for being on the show and good luck with the book.

Jennifer Mueller:          Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Brainfluence podcast. To continue the discussion and to find your own path to brainy success, please visit us at


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