EPISODE 516: Using Intercultural Creativity and Innovation to Gain a Sales Edge with Genein Letford

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on December 30, 2021, featuring Intercultural Creativity ® Keynote Speaker, NeuroCreativity Speaker, Best Selling Author, Create and Grow Podcast Host Genein Letford.  Find her latest book “The Seven Gems of Intercultural Creativity” here.]

Find Genein on LinkedIn.

GENEIN’S TIP: “Find the miracles in the mundane. Right now, look at what’s in front of you and pick up something that you’ve been exposed to for a long time. Look for one new thing you’ve never noticed before. With that, you can look at your services. Try to find one thing you’ve never noticed about your service before. First you do it with an object in front of you to make it concrete and then you can take it into the abstract. One thing in my observational chapter that I never noticed before or that I can add in dealing with the mundane things that you’re just so used to really seeing, that’s biomimicry, how we can look at nature that we walk past. Look at it with a new eye, a fresh eye and there’s your innovation.”


Fred Diamond: Today we have our good friend, Genein Letford. This is her second time appearing on the show. You may recall she was on our podcast three months ago, she was so fascinating that I said, I want to bring back Genein so that you can help our listeners get their 2022 kicked off in a more effective way. You’re probably listening to this podcast sometime in 2022. Genein, I’m going to give you some props here. You’re probably one of the top two or three leading experts on Intercultural Creativity, and by the way, your new book, 7 Gems of Intercultural Creativity: Connect, Create and Innovate Across Cultural Lines, it’s her third book. She also wrote a book on creativity for children as well.

Genein, these have been historic years in so many ways. People want to get back to just – I hate to say the way things were because so much has changed and it’s going to continue to change through 2022 as we continue to adjust. I don’t even want to go down the whole route of the Omicron variant and future variants, that’s really out of our hands. But what is in our hands is how you as sales professionals can perform, and how you can be aware of things. Again, you’re an expert on Intercultural Creativity. We’re going to get deep on this topic. Tell us what that means, you’ve devoted your life to it. What does Intercultural Creativity mean?

Genein Letford: It will be today what emotional intelligence was 20 years ago basically when Dr. Daniel Goleman that came out with that, we were like, “Emotional intelligence? We don’t need emotional intelligence, we’re sales, it’s about the bottom line. We need cogs and machines, need to be making money.” Now people are like, wait, leadership, sales, we need to know about emotions so it’s that term. Intercultural Creativity is a combination between cultural competence, which is your ability to interact with people from different backgrounds – and cultural doesn’t mean just ethnicities, your nationality, where you’re from but also different cultural groups. Educational backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds and a group of people with different lived values and beliefs. How do you interact back with that?

There’s people who are highly advanced in that area and there’s people who need some skill building in that area as well. It’s a combination between cultural competence and creative thinking. The World Economic Forum listed creativity as the number one skill needed in the workforce, salespeople know that creative thinking is a must but we needed to better define that, it’s not just artistry. A lot of people think they’re not creative because they’re not excellent in the arts, creativity is so much more.

Even Adam Grant, who’s an organizational psychologist, he has some great books. He wrote in the book Originals: How Non-Conformist Move the World, he said that people who are highly skilled in science, in business, in sales, in other non-artistic areas, they tend to have a background in the arts or just in observing well. I bring in that research as well of how salespeople can increase their observational skills with the arts. That’s what intercultural creativity is, your ability to problem-find and problem-solve with relevant value and novelty – that’s our new definition of creativity – with people from different lived experiences. Sales knows that. Because of this pandemic, it really opened up globally, so now you’re having interactions with people from different lived experiences, ethnicities, nationalities, educational levels, what have you, and how you increase that skill to connect with them.

Fred Diamond: That’s fascinating. We started doing on Friday a virtual learning session called Creativity in Sales. We called it that right away because we always talked before that about sales process, funnel development, pipeline, things you should be doing at various stages, how to bring in your team and all that. The reality is everything got thrown out the door when the pandemic kicked in and everybody was put into lockdown. Not just for you, the sales professional, but as we like to say, Genein, for your customer, and your customer’s customer, and your customer’s customer’s customer.

As sales is leading companies out of the pandemic, they’ve had to figure out ways to be more creative with their presentation, with their outreach, with their demonstration of empathy. But you made a really good point there, you said that one thing that we’ve noticed that’s happened is a lot of the doors have come down. People have been more vulnerable because we’ve all gone through this similar situation. As they say, we’re all going through the same storm, but in different boats so we’ve all had to react to that. Talk a little bit about how that has allowed creativity to either grow or shut down.

Genein Letford: Those who were already aware and already working on their creative thinking skills were already at a better position to shift and pivot. I talk about how creative thinking sits on cognitive skills that you can actually develop, such as divergent thinking. There’s your ability to think of different ideas, metaphorical thinking, combinatory thinking, how to make combinations into producing the new. Also reframing and unobvious associations, including using your imagination. People who were already working on these cognitive skills were ready to shift and pivot quickly when they had to. People who may have shut down their creativity or had their creativity shut down within them because of cultural norms, systems or what have you, they were placed in a position of panic because they were used to formulas and routines, that funnel system. When you’re asked to pivot and to think of the new, that’s where creative thinking comes in.

The topic that you have me talking about today, observation, what does it mean to really observe in order to see new ideas and new services and new connections that you were oblivious to before because you were so stuck in the formula, that “work” or sales for everyone, and now there’s no formula? I have the Seven Gems of Intercultural Creativity and that cultural observation gem is key because creativity sits on your ability to observe. You could be creative with different data, but if you don’t have data coming in, you have nothing to be creative with. That’s why I’m so glad you’re having this topic being presented to your audience, because no one wakes up and says, “I’m going to do 15 minutes of observational training today.” That just doesn’t cross our mind.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that. One of the things we talk a lot about is the fact that you need to bring more value than ever before to your customers, and sales has always been about value creation. We talk about that all the time, Neil Rackham put that in his book, SPIN Selling and I reference that all the time. SPIN Selling is one of the classic sales process books. You’ve had to be that way in sales for you to be successful. Now, you could have gotten by with really not bringing this huge amount of value because sometimes you were the only player, the only product, the only solution, but more and more the customer’s gotten in charge because of the internet and getting access to information they didn’t have to get from you. But we always talk about sales being about value creation, and one of the critical things is like we said, understanding where your customer needs to go. That goes to some of the observation skills that you’re talking about, research prep, etc. Talk about some of those observational skills that sales professionals really need to be growing that muscle. You offer that through your consulting company, talk a little bit about how you help your customers deliver on those skills.

Genein Letford: When you say value creation, that is really what creativity is. In Intercultural Creativity, I say cultural competence is needed for inclusion and your diversity and inclusion goals, and creativity is needed for value creation. How do you create new services, products, and how do you create new items that your customers don’t even know that they might be needing? Because you have the ability to forethink, to see around the corner, and that’s where your curiosity comes in, which is another gem of my seven gems that I talk about in my book.

With observation, just look at the word. To observe doesn’t mean just to see, people normally think you’re talking about just your sight and observe comes from the Latin, it needs to attend to. What are you paying attention to? That’s the foundation of this gem when I go through my key notes and my trainings of, how do we open our observational lenses so that we can pay attention to things that other people are missing? Are you familiar with the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo? It’s a picture of the man’s head with a little bowtie on it.

Fred Diamond: Colonel Sanders, yeah.

Genein Letford: Yes, and I have a quick story where I had a friend who for the longest time, she thought the bowtie was his body. Can you imagine that? When I give this in my key note, I have the image up there and then suddenly when I say, “The bowtie is the body,” their brain switches and it sees it now. I use that as an example of our observation is affected by experiences and culture, so we need to understand that when we’re working with people, either our team members, our colleagues, our students or our customers, their cultural lenses are possibly different than yours, so they may be looking at the same thing in a completely different way. They may be seeing a body and you’re seeing a bowtie. That’s why cultural competence is so key in that training.

One way to do that is to make those connections. Listen well – don’t just hear people, but listen well and interact with them on multiple levels. It’s not just verbal dialogue, but have them explain things through different gateways. It could be through other senses and through the arts as well, I do use the arts in a lot of my training because it opens people up to different perspectives of the same stimuli. Experiential blindness is another aspect that I talk about with that same story. Cultural lenses can affect the way that you see something or the way that you observe something, and experiences can.

In this story, my friend didn’t have the experience of bowties. She probably didn’t have a person in her life wearing bowties, so her brain did not have the category for bowties until later on in life. If you’re dealing with people or yourself, mind you, that have experiential blindness, we should look for ways to become aware of that and either to increase their experiences, especially if you’re working with younger people. That experiential knowledge. I do a lot of work in neuroscience so we talk about how the experiences build the brain. Making those connections so you can understand experientially where they’re coming from and if there’s any hidden spots that you may need to fill in as you’re working with your customers, to fill in those gaps so they can understand the needs. That’s where your metaphorical training comes in of using metaphors to bridge where they are and where you want them to be.

Fred Diamond: We have a couple questions coming in here. We have a question from Martina, “Can we just ask?” I guess what she’s saying is, how deep can we get into conversations? A lot of times and traditionally in sales, the old school story is you go into a guy’s office and you see a picture of a boat, so then you realize, okay, he’s probably a sailor and you start talking about the boat and you try to make some type of tie there. One thing that we’ve really gotten past on over the last couple of years is not just vulnerability, but transparency. What’s your answer to that, per Martina’s question? Can we just come with a list of questions to understand or do we have to prepare, guess and try to put two and two together on our own?

Genein Letford: Everyone’s situation is different, different levels of connection is there but I believe that the example you used right now came from Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends. I truly believe in that as well, getting as much information as you can before the encounter and knowing that people speak through multiple ways. They speak through their speech but they also speak by the things that they have in their office. They speak by the activities that they do, they speak by the books. When I go to someone’s home, I look at their bookcase because you can tell what type of ideas they’re putting into their minds and things like that. It is being observant of that and it’s also hearing versus listening.

When you’re hearing, you’re just taking in information but you’re also preparing your response or you’re not really seeing what they’re saying or what they’re not saying. Someone who is very highly culturally competent and they’re able to be observant of similarities and complexities and shift perspectives and adapt their behavior in different cultural situations, they’re able to listen for what’s being said and what is not being said and the subsets of what’s being said. That is a skill that you can grow and I use the arts to grow that as well. You can come in with questions but salespeople know the importance of storytelling, of the narrative and the different dialogue subsets under the narrative.

I ask questions in a very unique way where I have almost like a storyline where I get the person talking and then I ask questions so I can direct what information I need them to better explain without them feeling like I’m interrogating them. Because don’t forget, when you’re dealing with the brain and you’re dealing with these unconscious biases, you’re dealing with the amygdala which deals with fear, people thinking they’re being attacked or people thinking you’re only trying to sell them or get their money, you don’t know where people are coming from. When you use these areas of narrative and of them explaining in a psychologically safe environment that you have worked on creating, there are so many areas that you’re now observant of that you weren’t before.

Fred Diamond: Genein, it’s the beginning of 2022 and people are going to be listening to this for the next couple of years, but this podcast is being posted at the beginning of 2022. Everybody wants to have their best year ever, right? Everybody thought 2020 was going to be their best year ever, then the pandemic comes in and then 2021 was the little sister of 2020, and we’re hoping that 2022 is the year. We can’t go back to what it was because the world has changed so much and there’s so many ways that we don’t need to go into. But give us some of your advice on specifically what sales professionals or sales leaders need to do to ensure that their team is of as high performance as possible, so that using some of the skills that you’re an expert in can take their careers and their years to the next level, and they can continue to grow.

Genein Letford: Some of the things you’re going to hear from me on this podcast and in my book will be things that they’ve never heard before because I’m coming from a unique perspective. I have my background in K12 education, I taught at the university level and I sat on boards of people who were running multimillion-dollar companies. In one week I was working with a four-year-old all the way to a 64-year old to have that interesting perspective. I just want to start with that.

I want people to understand that they might be dealing with creative jails, limited restrictions that you’re not even aware of. How do you deal with your creative jails that might be blocking some things that you may need to be observing? Also, how do you deal with these creative jails that are stopping you from creating the impossible, basically? How do you move from impossible to possible? That’s what I’ll touch upon. I want people during this beginning of 2022 to almost sketch out the BHAG vision, the Big Hairy Audacious Goals and not let the norms stop them. If you had no restraints, what could that be?

There’s where your creative juices start. There’s where you start to see things, to hear things and then you can start from there. But if you’re not aware of what might be limiting you, you’re not even going to just try it. For instance, my children’s books, my son – and I co-wrote that book and he’s three. People are always surprised like, what? Your three-year-old wrote a book with you? Yeah, everything in the book he’s done – there’s a picture of him in a hot air balloon, he hasn’t gotten in that, but everything else, he’s done. Who said you have to be an adult to publish a book? Where’s that rule? We are operating with these invisible rules that are keeping us from doing things. For you to have your best 2022, shake down those rules. Just bust down those rules and say, “What if I could do that? What would this look like? What would this sound like?”

That’s another thing, interpret and experience your ideas through multi-senses. I have research that talks about how the brain can really hold onto your experiences and learn from them when you’re engaging with your multi-sensory faculties. Are you smelling things? Are you touching things? Are you hearing things? A lot of times, your eyes take control of everything and we don’t let our other senses interact with the experiences that we’re having. When you’re creating narratives for your sales pitches and connecting with your customers, are you talking about all the senses involved in the experience you’re trying to create?

If you are, your customers will have a deeper encoding process in the brain. When they say, “I need someone to talk about creativity,” guess who’s going to come to mind? Me, because I create those multi-sensory encoding and experiences. I want to be the top of the mind when people think about Intercultural Creativity, cultural competence, eye training, that’s all here. Whatever your focus is and whatever your service is, really take some time to brainstorm, how can I make this come alive through all of the senses when I’m communicating the benefits of my service or product?

Fred Diamond: One of the things that’s happened in the last couple of years is that a lot of the rules have been thrown away. People always thought in sales you had to have face-to-face meetings and of course, now we’re doing everything via Zoom and other places. Empathetic conversations, we all talked about empathy being at the core of sales success, but having conversations that go a little bit deeper and conversations that go a little bit into not just, “How are you?” but openness. We see this on social media, a lot of our customers being open, being vulnerable. One of our guests a couple weeks ago, her name is Michelle Beauchamp, she’s a sales leader not too far from where you were in Los Angeles and she had a great bit of advice.

We talked about service, that sales is really about service and she had a great suggestion which was, go volunteer for a charity completely out of your norm. If you’ve been volunteering for a food bank for the last 20 years, maybe go do something in a rural area with educating, maybe go into a prison and teach prisoners how to read, maybe raise funds for some type of medical condition that you really have no ties to. From a cultural perspective, to go to places where you typically wouldn’t be, I thought it was a brilliant idea and you’re talking about some similar things here, about putting yourself in place so that you can expand so that you could be of more value, because your creative mind is expanding, to provide that value to your customer.

Genein Letford: Yes. The number one indicator of a highly creative person is openness to new experiences. The number one indicator of a highly culturally competent person is openness to people with different lived experiences. Once you have that, people can be intentional on creating that. Even in my own home with my son, he goes to the park. We don’t go to the same park every time, we just randomly choose a park in the area, or if I have to go on an errand in a new city that I’ve never been in, we find a park in that city. I intentionally put these things in our calendar. When we go to a supermarket here we have called Sprouts, Sprouts is a supermarket that’s known to have just random foods, foods from Africa I’ve never seen before. Every month, we buy something new that we’ve never encountered.

People, for their own interculturally creative development – remember, this isn’t just about you and your customer, this is about you developing this in yourself and then you’ll see a parlay into your customer interactions. People can intentionally schedule this into their month, their 2022, and they’ll see their creative ideas just open and flourish. The example that your friend gave is key and we also strategize this with organizations on how to boundary span. We call it boundary spanning, how to be a bridge across boundaries and how you connect with people from different levels in the organization, how you connect with people from different educational levels, people within the organization and other organizations, People within the community and different facets of the community.

There’s research in my book that I talk about that C-suit people, they want to be better boundary spanners, but they just don’t know how. How do you set that up intentionally? Kind of like my son and I going to parks intentionally. How do you set that up intentionally within your organization so you’re boundary-spanning? Volunteering is great, switching jobs per day, that’s great, or spending another time in another department. I know you have a lot of entrepreneurs, but have you ever partnered with another entrepreneur at a completely different field and shadowed them just to see how they do things? I have tons and tons of stories about the creative ideas that came from a football coach hanging out with a basketball coach. Things like that, that you can see. Once again, the definition of cultural competency is you’re observant of similarities and differences and you have observational complexity. That’s what we’re trying to grow here, observational complexity.

Fred Diamond: We have some comments here. Jonah says, “Great job having Genein back on the show.” We have a comment from Michelle, “This is so interesting, thank you so much.” Before I ask you for your final action step, give us one or two other exercises. I like the one you just said about the football coach having lunch with the basketball coach. From a sales perspective, give us one or two more things that the sales leaders listening to today’s podcast can do right now to get that creative juice flowing, so that they can really get 2022 off to a tremendous start.

Genein Letford: Like I said, because of my background, you’re going to get some interesting activities from me. When I go into corporations or do my coaching and training, I’m like, “Legos! Play-Doh!” and stuff like that, because once again, I’m asking you to operate and go into the content from a different door that you haven’t been in for a while, and I’m reactivating your imagination. One book I highly recommend in addition to mine is called On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. What this author talks about is how she took a walk. That’s the first thing, take a walk. First she took a walk in her neighborhood, same route, and then she just paid attention and she just observed. Then she took a walk with her dog and looked at what her dog was paying attention to – completely different things than what she was. Then she took a walk with her young child, completely different things. Then she took it even further, she looked at her network and outside of her network and started taking walks with a botanist, a sound engineer, a chemist, people with different disciplines and saw that they were paying attention to things that she was missing every time she went on the same walk, on the same route. That is key.

When we’re stuck in routine and we don’t have other perspectives coming in saying, “Did you notice this?” or, “What did you think about that?” We lose so much valuable information. That’s something that they can do. Number one, you’re getting exercise. The research is clear, when you get out into nature it boosts your creativity, there’s something in the greens that interacts with your brain. Number two, you’re seeing the same thing that you’re used to from different perspectives. So if you do it in something as simple as a walk, you can do it in something as huge as your relationships and the business you’re building and your life’s purpose.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. Actually, I do something very similar. I do like a two-mile walk every day and I usually have my headphones in listening to a podcast or I’m talking to someone. Last week I decided to do the same walk, no headphones, no iPhone or anything, left it in the house and it was a completely different experience. That’s a great bit of advice. Genein, you’ve given us so many great ideas, things that people can implement right now. Give us a specific action step that our listeners should put into play right now to get their 2022 off to a tremendous start.

Genein Letford: I call it the miracles in the mundane. Right now, look at what’s in front of you and pick up something that you’ve been exposed to, to a long time. Look for one new thing you’ve never noticed before. With that, you can look at your services. Try to find one thing you’ve never noticed about your service before. First you do it with an object in front of you to make it concrete and then you can take it into the abstract. One thing in my observational chapter that I never noticed before or that I can add in dealing with the mundane things that you’re just so used to really seeing, that’s biomimicry, how we can look at nature that we walk past. Look at it with a new eye, a fresh eye and there’s your innovation.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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