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Monica Kang on Thinking Like an Outsider, the Importance of Asking Questions, and the Power of Self-Awareness – Cracking Creativity Episode 62

Monica Kang knew early in life that she wanted to work in international affairs. Her upbringing in two countries compelled her to understand how people related to each other, and steered her towards her role working with the government.

Monica worked for years in international affairs, and even though she loved her job, she still felt something was lacking. She saw that people weren’t creatively fulfilled at their jobs and knew she wanted to help them. She knew she could fulfill that gap, so she started up InnovatorsBox.

In this episode learn why you should think link an outsider, the importance of asking questions, and how self-awareness can improve your problem solving.

Here are three things you can learn from Monica:

Think Like an Outsider

One of the things that has helped Monica build InnovatorsBox is the fact that she didn’t have prior experience in business. Too often, when we are well versed in an industry, we have trouble thinking outside of the box.

Instead of relying on tried and true advice, Monica was able to try new and innovative ideas. “The big part of the business element that has worked the most effectively, were the creative and new approaches that I took.”

That’s why bringing in a fresh perspective into any industry can be helpful if you want to be different. When you don’t know what’s “right” and “wrong” you are able to think differently.

So, the next time you want to bring creativity into your work, try looking at industries outside of your own. That curiosity can make a world of a difference. “It’s critical to be willing to learn different domains because you’re going to have that naive curiosity of wanting to understand and less fear of being judged because you really don’t know.”

The Importance of Asking Questions

Have you ever held back a question back you were afraid of looking dumb? Do you carefully consider seeking advice because you want people to think you are smart and have it all figured out?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may want to reconsider the way you approach problems. Most successful people are not afraid to ask questions. In fact, they embrace it.

Monica believes every business starts because someone was curious and asked a question. “Essentially all businesses started because of a challenge they wanted to solve and opportunities come out of it. Innovators are people who, when they see a problem, they see a challenge… and ask questions.”

Successful people are open minded and curious about the world around them. They are unafraid to ask questions. It is this trait that allows them to learn and grow. “When you start asking questions and have an open mind and you’re willing to learn, you’re permitting yourself to actually grow and expand your comfort zone, and always… find there is unlimited possibility.”

The Power of Self-Awareness

One of the problems we all encounter is trying to disconnect from our digital lives. We are constantly bombarded with emails, text messages, and social media notifications, that it can be hard to detach ourselves from our screens.

Monica believes this has affected the way we approach problems. They have gotten in the ways of responding when something goes wrong. “Sadly, we’re so used to staring at screens… and along that point, we’re so used to acting and responding when something happens, and not knowing what to do when something doesn’t happen, that we forget to be actually thinking through what’s happening and being fully aware.”

She believes that we need to take breaks and become more aware of our surroundings. Doing this will make us much more effective during challenging situations. “Notice all these details so that you are being more fully present and being aware. and when you do that more regularly, that really trickles down into everything else you do. And so when you do face challenging situations, instead of feeling like ‘Ah, I don’t know what to do,’ you’re like ‘Hey, this is not great, what can I do? How do I feel about this? When do I want to tackle this?’ And you start breaking it down.”

What can you do to bring presence into your daily life? Try taking a walk or a five minute break, and see how your thought process improves. “Just take a silent walk and let yourself go for a bit. And I think that initial practice of pausing and giving yourself space is important. That’s would recommend the next time you’re feeling this. And if you’re feeling this right now, I recommend taking a five minute break. It’s not going to change, make a difference, you actually feeling a little more rested and more centered is going to help you make the right decisions instead of you feeling stressed. And I think that’s essential even as someone who’s creative… who’s trying to make important decisions.”

Shownotes

  • about Monica
    • started career in government affairs/non-proliferation and security
    • loved what she was doing, but wasn’t feeling okay internally
    • struggles in creativity
    • Why are we okay with this story?
    • 75% of professionals feel lack of creativity at work
    • there has to be a better way to tackle it
  •  knew she wanted to be in international affairs since high school
    • feels like she will go back into that work after InnovatorsBox
    • creativity shouldn’t just be in one domain
    • wants to redefine creativity
  • being a traditional creative
    • tackling the concept of “traditional creatives”
    • creativity is more a mindset and skill set
    • being a multi-disciplinary creator
  • why do we only consider artistic people to be creative?
    • there aren’t enough resources for professional and personal domains
    • society, school, and friends judge us for being creative
    • demystifying the idea of people not being creative
  • getting into government and international affairs
    • up in two countries
    • growing up in two cultures made her want to understand how people could relate to each other
    • interested in how decision making would impact different people
    • diplomats need to understand different ways to relate

3:20 “I’ve always wanted to do new things, try different things, and kind of find ways to bridge new relationships.”

3:52 “If I know I want to get somewhere, I just find different ways to get there and that type of approach of thinking, I think has helped me recognize that is being creative.”

  • benefiting from experiencing multiple cultures
    • be understanding, curious, and empathetic about other cultures
    • understanding as part of being creative and human
  • leaving her government position
    • bringing knowledge she learns back to government
    • seeing jumping around as normal

6:48 “It was not easy leaving a career track that you built your entire life. That’s how I felt because this was a career I was building ever since I was in probably middle school or high school. But it was also ultimately, I knew it was the right time, the right decision… I realized that I could provide greater value by taking a step back and wearing this independent hat and meeting more people instead of directly helping those within my organization or those who I interacted with. “

  • her experience in business
    • has no experience
    • has had 3-5 panic moments
    • has always loved reading about business stories and how people get from one place to another
    • curiosity and understanding human interactions helped her understand things
    • projects need a start and end with an element of how
    • reading articles and learning as well
    • there’s less society pressure when you’re learning something new
    • it’s hard to understand what being an entrepreneur is unless you’ve done it
    • build more empathy and perspective

9:14 “The big part of the business element that has worked the most effectively, were the creative and new approaches that I took.”

12:00 “It’s critical to be willing to learn different domains because you’re going to have that naive curiosity of wanting to understand and less fear of being judged because you really don’t know.”

  • preparations she made for leaving
    • wanted to make sure her concept made sense and also wanted to make sure that people experienced it first
    • different ways to build creative mindset in non-traditional domains
    • did a lot of testing while doing her full-time job
    • had data, support, and saw the need for it
    • having enough money to support got herself
    • there’s no perfect time to do anything
    • was running out of vacation and had to go to different conferences
  • test pilot workshops
    • had concepts and exercises
    • needed to make sure she was prepared as facilitator/speaker and needed to make sure exercises made sense
    • didn’t feel that confident at first, but has gained confidence
    • has built structure and awareness
  • where she got ideas for InnovatorsBox and how she found her audience
    • got insights from outside sources and from people she knew
    • recognized niche – it was the why for wanting to create it
    • new value of creative thinking
    • realized that all the other programs came from the point of view of traditional creatives
    • there wasn’t anyone coming from their voice and explaining why it was important
    • growing into connective hub
    • being a safe space for creative insights
    • keys to creative mindset

22:24 “I knew the value of something about creative thinking was needed. I recognized that gradually that the element that was missing, and one of the reasons why there’s a big gap between those who work in the art space and those who don’t work in the art space and feel a lack of creativity was because there was no programs, no community that talked about creativity or creative thinking in that mindset of thinking space from a traditionally non-creative voice and perspective.”

  • testimonials from people who’ve gone through the program
    • is not surprised from anything she hears
    • wants to empower people to take on a creative mindset
    • people’s perceptions of creativity has changed
    • believes consistency, being open minded and willing to go outside of your comfort zone are crucial to a creative mindset
    • challenges are opportunities to do something good
    • all businesses started as a challenge to solve
    • innovators also ask questions, they don’t wait to be told what to do
    • she has found people who do the best are optimistic realists

28:31 “Essentially all businesses started because of a challenge they wanted to solve and opportunities come out of it. Innovators are people who, when they see a problem, they see a challenge… and ask questions.”

29:00 “When you start asking questions and have an open mind and you’re willing to learn, you’re permitting yourself to actually grow and expand your comfort zone, and always… find there is unlimited possibility.”

  • getting people to jump out of their comfort zone
    • first you have to see where people’s comfort zone territory is
    • we are all creative in different ways
    • where is your comfort zone and what is it?
    • be mindful of where your comfort zone is at any moment

3:26 “In regards to determining what’s the right method, it’s really going to be a case by case. But along the way, to know that, know the right method, the right time, one has to build a strong sense of self-awareness and understanding of their insights, and in essence, know when they feel comfortable, and know when’s the right time to get out of it.”

  • recognition and self-awareness through the day
    • do digital unplugging to build awareness
    • practice 5-15 minutes unplugging or taking a walk and observe everything around you

7:50 “Sadly, we’re so used to staring at screens… and along that point, we’re so used to acting and responding when something happens, and not knowing what to do when something doesn’t happen, that we forget to be actually thinking through what’s happening and being fully aware.”

9:18 “Notice all these details so that you are being more fully present and being aware. and when you do that more regularly, that really trickles down into everything else you do. And so when you do face challenging situations, instead of feeling like ‘Ah, I don’t know what to do,’ you’re like ‘Hey, this is not great, what can I do? How do I feel about this? When do I want to tackle this?’ And you start breaking it down.”

11:09 “Just take a silent walk and let yourself go for a bit. And I think that initial practice of pausing and giving yourself space is important. That’s would recommend the next time you’re feeling this. And if you’re feeling this right now, I recommend taking a five minute break. It’s not going to change, make a difference, you actually feeling a little more rested and more centered is going to help you make the right decisions instead of you feeling stressed. And I think that’s essential even as someone who’s creative… who’s trying to make important decisions.”

  • advice for people who want to make the leap from where they are now
    • 1 – recognize you are unique
      • identify your strengths
    • 2 – practice small steps of mindfulness/self-care
      • crucial to also unplug
      • being creative is energy consuming
      • rest and take a step back
      • if you don’t rest, you will feel burned out
      • try something different
    • 3 – recognize it’s a long journey
      • be willing to learn and be open to the journey
    • 4 – recognize how you learn and allocate time for it
      • she sets aside time to read
      • figure out what you like doing
      • allocating time to things you love to do
    • 5 – respect yourself
      • enjoy the process, have
    • 6 – find the right community
      • people you can relate to
      • “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
      • get away from toxic people
      • spend more time with the people you want to be with and learn from

17:56 “If you’re not spending enough time doing that unplug, taking a step back  and reflecting, building self-awareness, and being mindful and being present, you’re not actually being your 100%. So, the more burnt out you feel, the more tired you feel, the more lost you feel, start taking that five – fifteen minute break. Take a walk… take a different stride. Try something different.”

18:50 “It’s going to be something that’s going to take long to cultivate and it’s important that you recognize that you are in this long haul and being willing to learn and hone, and be open to that journey I think is crucial.”

20:50 “This is a journey and it’s going to take time. So enjoy the process and have fun with it and be your full self.”

  • morning routine
    • balancing time as a full-time entrepreneur
    • wants to find time to exercise and unplug
    • checks calendars for meetings each day
  • creative people
    • Ed Catmull from Pixar
      • Creativity Inc – has helped her understand creative thinking and inspired her to create InnovatorsBox
      • pours out soul/heart into something he loves in a new industry (3D animation)
      • had to convince someone to believe in his vision without a tangible product
      • creating a great company culture
      • not centered around him, it’s centered around the culture
    • family – had the courage to send her to US on her own and build her career
      • gave her support and helped build her creative mindset
      • mother was a housewife who was hungry to learn everything
      • helped teach her people are creative in different ways
  • definition of creativity

28:29 “Creativity is a mindset and a skill set. It’s something that we all have and it’s something that we uniquely all have that’s different. And to build it, you first need to believe it. Once you believe it, you need to find… your strength and your weakness, kind of getting to know yourself, and then understanding how you like to learn and how much you are willing to take risk and how you feel about it.”

29:16 “That how part is going to be different for every individual. So being self-aware along that process and being mindful is going to be so crucial… One way to easily understand this is start practicing in small amounts. Spend 5-10 minutes on what it means to be creative… whatever that is for you, start doing that and figure out what is it that makes you most creative and excited. My definition of when someone is creative is something that makes you feel most alive because you are actually truly integrating your insights and perspectives as well as your thoughts. That’s really exciting because your’re seeing in front of your eyes, your ideas coming to life in front of you, whatever that result is.”

30:36 “We all have the potential… and you have the capacity to build that mindset and that skill set. And if you feel like you can’t, find the resources. Find what resources you like to get to build that mindset because we all have different ways of getting there and you don’t have to leave your job to feel like you need to get it.”

  • challenge
    • ask one silly question per day and really think about that question and be open with it
      • ex: Why is the sky blue?
      • helps you think outside of the box and be open to possibilities
      • do something more regularly
    • take more walks
      • ideally for 30 min.
      • know where to start/end
      • unplug and don’t analyze
      • be open to possibilities and observe while being fully present

InnovatorsBox  |  LinkedIn

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