Bob Lieberman's Blog

Tools For Initiating and Managing Change

Compulsive Problem-Solving

I've been reading the news about the economic crisis and, like most of you, getting more concerned as time goes on. We keep solving a problem only to find that it is just a part of a more serious problem we didn't realize we had.

The same scenario is played out on a smaller scale in boardrooms, team meetings, offices, and even kitchens many times every day. We seem to be driven to identify and solve problems, to the point where we move from one problem to the next with no space or time in between. And we call this productivity. This habit leaves little time for perspective, with the result that the roots of our problems are rarely identified or addressed.

The best problem-solving methodologies recognize this lack by starting with activities designed to discover the right problem. So if you're not starting there, you're in for trouble right off the bat. But I think you can do better than that. I think that there's something about a problem-solving mindset itself that limits your perspective. When you go from problem to problem all the time, even if they are different problems, your mind's eye begins to lose the ability to see at a distance. Once that happens, you won't want to get far enough away to really see the forest, and if you do, you won't see it clearly.

To remedy that situation, I think we have to incorporate letting go of the problem into our way of approaching challenges. Because when you've given something a good try, it is important to then let go of the trying. You need that to appreciate the effort and outcomes in all their depth and with all their ramifications. It's a process that may take some time, and it's not just a rest or an award ceremony. It is an act of integration that is just as important as the act of conscious problem-solving. Needless to say, this is not a common business practice, but I think it should be. 

If you want to get a feeling for how powerful this idea is, I'd like you to try something for the next week. Every time you or your group solves a significant problem, I'd like you to then reserve about ten minutes for yourself in a place where you can have absolutely quiet solitude. No phone calls, email alerts, or other interruptions. For those ten minutes, I want you to just sit. Close your eyes, relax your body, and in a calm way try to keep your attention on your breathing in and out. When you find yourself thinking about something else, as you will, simply observe that fact, let the something else go, and get back to your breathing. 

This practice is like watching boats passing on a river. The aim is not to have no boats, but to let them float freely downstream without interference. You'll find this to be an activity of profound relief. It frees the plumbing of your thought processes in the deepest way possible. After about ten minutes, open your eyes, take a few relaxed deep breaths, and come back to the world you're living in.

By doing this practice, you'll be reminding your mind's eye that it can see without depending on the restrictions of logic and rationality. After a week of this, I'll bet you'll develop a new and deeper ability to know what's really important. With that perspective you'll be a better problem-solver when time comes, and you'll spend more of your time solving the right problems. The improvement is something you will notice, and I'd welcome hearing about it.

Planning, Leadership, and Common Sense

I've come to a realization over the last few months that my consulting practice doesn't have enough music in it! Part of my gift is in musical performance. So I'm developing an approach to bringing my live fiddle and violin playing into my workshops. I'm finding Tim Hurson's book, Think Better, helpful in going from this Itch to the best Scratch. 

As I work though Tim's process, I'm reminded of a camping story from my younger days. I'd like to share it with you because it illustrates an important aspect of leadership that is often overlooked: Leaders will spend a great deal of their time in uncharted territory, where decision-making looks a lot different than it does in the project management office or a board meeting. In that uncharted territory, metrics, reports, dashboards, and plans may not be of much help. 

Here's the story...

My camping buddy had a Forest Service map of the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. She'd been to where we were going before, but never through her own navigation, although she was very good at navigating.  We drove up there from San Francisco, parked at the end of the road (where the map said there was a trailhead) and took off from there on foot. It was around April, and we soon found ourselves hiking cross-country on bare hillsides covered with a few inches of snow. "This is not the trail I remember," she said.

We had the plan (map), it was an official document, we followed it, and in a half hour we were lost. At that point, we could have tried to make the plan work, by hiking back to the car and the road to try to find the trailhead.

Did I say we each had a 30 lb. pack on? 

We decided we'd keep going. A one-hour hike took three, and we reached a beautiful camping area near an alpine stream among towering evergreens just before sundown. My friend said it looked like it was in the same neighborhood as where we were going, but it didn't look like exactly the same place. We were tired, it was gorgeous and safe, so we camped overnight. 

We woke up the next day rested and thrilled by the surroundings. We went on a leisurely hike, hoping to get the lay of the land, when we happened upon two hikers who showed us the trail back. And after a few more days of leisure and luxury out in the wild, we headed back without incident. When we got back to the car, we inspected the map and found it was dated 25 years earlier, at a time when the road had not extended as far as it did now. And so we had our explanation.

You might think the lesson I took from this experience is to read maps more carefully, but that's not it. We never read maps perfectly, they are frequently wrong, and sometimes they just don't make sense when you get there. 

I took two lessons. The obvious one is that you have to be capable of going cross-country when your plans don't work out. You have to value awareness, judgment, and perspective, and be prepared to use them all to make sound educated guesses in the absence of facts. You also have to accept that collaboration results in better outcomes than individual expertise.

The subtle lesson can be found in the vividness of that trip in my mind even now, and the nostalgia I have for it. A hike on a trail to a campsite in Desolation Wilderness is pretty darned nice. But that same hike over unfamiliar ground when you're lost and the sun is going down – well, that heightens the experience immensely. I was more attentive for that whole trip, and even now I can connect with that attentive frame of mind on every outdoor experience I have. The value of this second lesson to me is priceless. 

Have you had any experiences as a leader where the plan "broke" and you were on your own? I'd be interested to know how prepared you felt at the time, and what you took away from your experience.

Leadership By Resting

I've started reading Tim Hurson's book on productive thinking, Think Better. It's fascinating so far. One of the most interesting points has been the concept that we react first, feel an emotion next, and become conscious of both last. Our conscious minds are bringing up the rear of the parade that is us.

I encountered this same idea several years ago in a wonderful book by Tor Norretranders entitled The User Illusion. Norretranders' book is a step-by-step walk through (then) current research in neurology and psychology that comes to the same conclusions as Tim does. Simply stated, our conscious mind is not in charge. Its belief to the contrary is the illusion in the title.

Tim goes on from the research to observe that our preconscious mind thinks in ways that can suppress truly new ideas. He shows how we can use conscious techniques to get out of the ruts of thinking that our preconscious minds keep us in. I can't wait to get to that part of his book. This is a very important and effective strategy in developing new ideas, and he's had a lot of deserved success with it.

But I think there's another implication of the research cited in Norretranders' book that is equally profound: we know more about what is going on than is evident to our conscious minds. After all, we function pretty well most of the time, mostly (apparently) unconsciously. If that's the case, it might be smart to take the reins of leadership away from our conscious minds every once in a while in order to reconnect with the full depth of what we know

We have instincts and gut feelings about our activities, at work and in our personal lives, and they come from a deep wisdom. One of the principles of real creativity is to stay in touch with that wisdom and honor it. That principle is also the essence of a leadership strategy I practice that you might call Leadership By Resting

Leaders tend to think their job is to find ways to keep noses to the grindstone and grindstone in good working order. Leadership By Resting encourages noses and grindstone to let it go for a while. Giving it a rest permits us to appreciate the outcomes and products of our labor and to put them in their true perspective. And that appreciation and perspective open us to our deep wisdom about what are the real needs (and what are not). The clarity of that wisdom, and the inspiration and motivation it provides, keep the wheel of activity rolling much more reliably than the grindstone, and with more useful and creative results.

Leadership By Letting Go

Upon reflection on yesterday's inaugural events, I realized there's a reason I'm inspired by Barack Obama that doesn't get much press. 

He was telling us his father was denied service in that same town just 60 years ago because he was black. And I thought, "We did that to him, he's now the top dog, and yet he's not seeking revenge! Revenge would be understandable, and in some circles, expected, yet we're hearing about hope and prevailing through difficulties instead." Has anyone else noticed this? 

The rage Obama has surely felt from past insults seems to have galvanized him to rise above that world of retribution, to a higher plane. He's calling us to join him, and he's the leader of the free world. I can't imagine anything more inspiring than that.

I think this is a hallmark of a great leader -- the ability to transform the pain and disappointment of the past into determination for a better future. Sometimes I think we hesitate to let go of the past because we're afraid its pain and disappointment will haunt us forever if we do. We often put our faith in the alternative -- keeping the past alive by defending our role in it. We keep trying and trying to somehow make it turn out right. 

The great leaders know there's an alternative. They can turn the other cheek, they can admit defeat, they can put it in perspective, and they can use the emotions from it to harden their resolve to do better next time. 

I hope this inauguration signals the reawakening of this kind of leadership at all levels of society. What do you think?


Is Real Innovation Possible Where You Work?

If you’re struggling with stalled projects, team discord, or overcommitment, you might well have your doubts. Take heart! We can guide you through a proven creative process that will show you what to change and how to change it. You’ll solve your problem now and you’ll learn how to be more innovative in the future.

We’ll help you:
  • Understand how the creative process drives successful business outcomes
  • Recognize and grow beyond your creativity comfort zone
  • Address the five key challenges of creative leadership
  • Develop the four leadership talents you'll need to inspire creative work
  • Refine your skills within your current leadership role
We believe that a group’s wisdom – its perspective, awareness, judgment, and experience – is the key to its success. Our job (and our talent) is to engage and channel that wisdom creatively. But the depth of your own creative leadership skills affects whether your team, department, or organization will develop and sustain an innovation culture. That's why we structure each consulting engagement as a personal learning opportunity for you.

Your opportunity can last a morning, a week, a month, or a year, depending on your needs. You can always do more later, so don't be afraid to start small. Contact us now to learn how.


Bob Lieberman is an engaging and entertaining speaker on-stage and in corporate settings. In these keynotes, he shares thirty-five years of insight into creative leadership, based on his career as a technology professional and performing musician.

Contact us today to bring Bob to your event.

Cultivating Creativity In Business - 40-60 minutes

Creative professionals think differently than most of the business people who hire them. Creatives live in a circular world of colors, while business people live in a linear world of black and white. The gap can be formidable, but it must be bridged for creativity to have real business impact. In this entertaining presentation, Bob explores effective ways for creatives to talk to business people in their native language, and vice-versa.

Leading Creatively - 60-90 minutes

Creativity comes naturally to all of us when we let it. Whatever your leadership role, creativity is an essential key to problem-solving, innovation, collaboration, and motivation. Learn how to use the creative process to identify and remove obstacles to creative leadership in your business, community, family, and personal activities. Live and recorded music, video, and audience participation make the presentation vivid and compelling.


Identifying Qualitative Measurements
Influencing Organizations And Systems
Five Leadership Skills For The Creative Economy
Cultivating Creative Leadership
Productive Thinking Facilitation

Identifying Qualitative Measurements

Fundamentally new business practices, whether aimed at sustainability, profitability, or simply viability, involve organizational change. Their introduction demands creative leadership and creative action. Change is a developmental process whose early progress tends to be qualitative and, therefore, invisible to the quantitative measures most companies rely on for accountability. In the face of that challenge, change agents may struggle to maintain support for their efforts.

In this half-day workshop, we will use a specific creative process model to develop effective strategies for assessing qualitative progress in your change initiative. The examples and activities will be tailored to your specific area of interest. You will leave with a strategic plan of your own making, a support group of fellow participants, and a three-month commitment from the instructor for hands-on coaching.

But this is not just a problem-solving workshop! As you develop your strategic plan, you will also be learning how to use a new model of the creative process to see your other leadership challenges differently. The Reciprocal Model has been distilled from years of experience integrating the best practices of business, conflict resolution, and the performing arts. It is a unique way of framing work's challenges and opportunities that you'll be able to use throughout your career.

Contact us today to bring this workshop to your organization!

Influencing Organizations And Systems
A Boot Camp For Aspiring Change Agents

This interactive, face-to-face, multimedia training is a must for anyone interested in effecting positive change in organizations or systems, regardless of their formal leadership role or perceived influence.

Participants will learn how to discover and use unseen opportunities for influencing change in the organizations and systems of which they're a part. Classwork includes presentation of concepts, movies and music, group activities, role-modeling, and hands-on practice with real-life situations from participants' work environments. Content is based on the Four Frames model of organizational behavior (Bolman & Deal) and the Reciprocal Model of creative work (Lieberman).

Course content and teaching methods have been proven in workshops and trainings of various lengths, including an eighteen-hour organizational development certificate course at Portland State University.

Our recommended format is 18 hours of training delivered in weekly 3-hour sessions. Weekly delivery permits participants to bring back to the learning environment the fruits of their real world experimentation. However, to accommodate a variety of needs we also offer shorter lengths (12 hours and 6 hours), and we'll also be happy to deliver any of the lengths on consecutive days if that's what you require.

Contact us today to bring this training to your organization!

Five Leadership Skills For The Creative Economy

Yes, the buck stops at your desk. But the creative economy is different, and taking responsibility is not enough. As a leader you also need to:
  • Assess qualitative progress that can lead to innovation
  • Support and encourage people to think outside the box
  • Take catalytic action when work gets bogged down
  • Stay on top of the chaos
  • Appreciate the value of the creative process

You can learn these skills, in five half-day workshops delivered on-site at your place of business.

Contact us today to learn how!

Cultivating Creative Leadership
(offered in half-day and full-day formats)

Today’s business challenges are enormous – resources are scarce, markets are wary, and people are anxious. More is demanded of your organization, and of you, and you're trying to adapt.

How well are your strategies working? Could you do better?

These are important questions to ask, because we tend to narrow our horizons when stressed. For example, you may have taken refuge in clarity and control, not realizing that they can actually inhibit your ability to adapt.

A better approach might be to widen your horizons by adding lack of clarity and decreased control to your repertoire. That's because now, more than ever, your success as a leader will depend on ingenuity, innovation, and creativity, three qualities that thrive on ambiguity and dynamic tension.

This entertaining, transformational workshop will teach you how to inspire those qualities in yourself and your colleagues. Based on a powerful model of the creative process, and using activities and concepts from the performing arts, “Cultivating Creative Leadership” will teach you how to reframe leadership challenges as creative opportunities.

You will learn how to use practical tools and techniques to capitalize on those opportunities, and how to inspire your colleagues to the higher level of imagination, collaboration, and humanity you need to succeed. With its highly interactive creative activities, live musical performance, and video clips, this workshop is guaranteed to give you a new perspective on your business challenges.

Contact us today to bring this workshop to your organization!

Productive Thinking Facilitation
(offered in half-day and full-day formats)

Productive Thinking is a problem definition and resolution technique that builds on 50 years of research by the Creative Education Foundation, 30 years of research by NASA, and five years of field testing. Its power lies in its ability to tap our intuition and creativity while still relying on hard facts and ruthless judgment. Definition, root causes, solution, and risks emerge during the six stages of creative work rather than being crafted independently in a strictly sequential fashion.

Productive Thinking has proven to be effective in generating truly innovative solutions. Its source book, Think Better (Hurson, 2007), is required reading in business school programs in the US, Canada, Australia, Korea, and Brazil. The technique is suitable for group, pair, and individual work. More information about it can be found here.

At your option, this workshop can be structured as a methodology training session or a facilitated planning, design, or problem-solving session. Both address the following topics:
  • Identifying root causes
  • Gathering relevant information through specific, focused questioning
  • Sources of information
  • Solution generation
  • Risk identification
  • Creative thinking methods

At the end of a workshop, participants will be able to:
  • Conduct a Productive Thinking problem-solving session (methodology session only)
  • Use Productive Thinking tools in other, less-structured situations
  • Justify and implement a newly discovered creative plan, design, or problem solution
Contact us today to bring this workshop to your organization!