How to inspire creative problem solving in a group. (Episode 71)

How to inspire creative problem solving in a group. (Episode 71)

Interview with Sonia Flynn, COO of Zego.

“How do I inspire creativity in my team?”

That is the most common question I get from leaders. There are many answers to that important question, and today I want to share some insights on the topic from Sonia Flynn – COO of Zego, a very innovative tech startup in insurance that has grown like crazy in the last few years.

Sonia, who has also worked for both Facebook and Google, radiates “positive energy” in a way I have rarely seen in managers (and I have met MANY managers…)

Sonia is a problem solver – so the role of COO is perfect for her. She said to me: “I truly believe we can solve everything.”

I felt that she really believed that to be true. Sonia does not look at her own creativity as her biggest strength, instead, she speaks of her ability to make other people create. (Sonia: “I get good energy working with others to figure out the problems.”)

When I sat down with her recently I asked her for the three most important things that she thinks a leader needs to possess in order to create an environment that inspires people to create.

She said:

1) Be approachable

Few people will share an idea with a person whom they think is not interested in hearing it.

From that follows that if you want to have many ideas from your people you need to be seen as being approachable.

Sonia, who grew up a shy girl (now, she is anything but shy!) stressed the importance of meeting people where they are in regards to being seen as approachable. An introvert might not appreciate being called out in a big brainstorming meeting, but love that you reached out after the meeting to hear her opinion. A newly hired person might need to feel that you are their mentor to gain the confidence to share their first ideas.

2) Create a sense of urgency

At Facebook one of the quotes on the wall was “Done is better than perfect.” That, of course, does not mean that we should just “get it done, no matter what”. But it means that if we focus on getting things done, getting products out, and get problems solved instead of insisting on getting every little aspect of that project done absolutely perfectly then we are doing something right.

For Sonia this mindset of focusing on getting things done is crucial for innovation.

Inspired by the mantra of “Done is better than perfect” she has her own mantra for innovation that is “roughly right vs precisely wrong.”

Sonia stressed the need to create a culture where there is an understanding that time is truly expensive in order to get this sense of urgency that pushes people to innovate.

Do you have that sense of urgency?

3) Make the problem meaningful to solve.

When Sonia worked at Facebook one of the things she worked on was the team that helped people reset their passwords. To help people reset their passwords might not be seen as a very meaningful job, but when Sonia reframed it as “we are helping our users get access to their network again and small businesses get their most important marketing channel back up” then helping people reset their passwords felt meaningful and more ideas on how they could make that process more efficient and user friendly followed.

Think about it: You might look at a cold and windy beach in autumn and not even get enough inspiration to dip your toe in, but if someone tells you that your child is drowning in the water you will jump in and swim hundreds of meters to save her.

In the words of Sonia: “If its matters to you – You will find a way.”

So if you want people to innovate more, make people feel that their work – or the effect of that work, big or small – matters.

These three things, together with Sonia’s never-ending positive energy is the answer to her highly innovative teams.

And the last part – the positive energy – is as important as the other three when it comes to innovation.

Or to quote her one last time: “Creativity is energy – so do not turn it down.”


The Creativity Suite is a series where I interview leading innovation experts around the world. Follow this newsletter to get more episodes of The Creativity Suite as well as other interesting interviews on creativity from people I learn from as I explore the world of creativity.

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