Friday, October 6, 2017

Spotlight on CEE Presenters: Janice Francisco

Spotlight on: Janice Francisco

Written by Alice Jacobs

My interview of Janice Francisco took place via Skype, 15 minutes late, as she was seated underneath a gorgeous blue and gold abstract painting.  She was late, she explained, as the recently hung painting had fallen off the wall overnight. She needed to rehang it as she was hosting a dinner party, presumably with it in the background, that evening.  As I reflected on my conversation with Janice, I realized the scene of a dinner party set underneath an abstract artwork was a good representation of her approach to instilling creativity and innovation in her client organizations.  Understanding how to take the abstract principles of creative thinking and innovation, and helping her clients realize how to inscribe them on the wall, to actualize them in the daily life of their organizations. 

Janice’s approach to serving her clients came from the realization that while the vast majority of companies will say they seek innovation, most also do not have an understanding of what that means, to translate the concept of innovation into their work. With the exception of companies engaged in the production of widgets, as everyone gets the concept of a new and improved widget, other types of clients did not look at innovation as something that needed to be internalized in their businesses.  Yet her clients needed an approach to deal with change.  Once exposed to the field of creativity, Janice saw that integrating learning around creativity and innovation into her toolbox opened the possibilities for clients to achieve better outcomes to the challenges they faced.   Janice has also found that while you can impart to clients the practical tools of a system such as Creative Problem Solving, this in itself, is not enough to evolve the organization into one in which creativity, creative thinking and innovation become part of the DNA.  Janice’s ideal outcome for her clients is the transformation of their environment into one in which creative thinking and learning occur continually, not just when attempting to accomplish change.  This positions organizations as ones that are capable of dealing with change as it is needed and occurs, on their own. 

Janice’s talk at this Fall’s CEE, entitled “Want to be more innovative?” , focuses on what she refers to as the  “learnscape” for innovation she has developed.  As I understood her ideal approach, it has three stages of development, getting employees to connect to their own creativity, helping them understand how to operate to optimize their creative thinking as a team, and then understanding how to use this creativity to have organizational impact.  To achieve these goals, there needs to be an organizational commitment to learning over time.  Just as many of us, as students at ICSC, developed our creative potential individually and within groups over time, it is unrealistic to expect others to fully internalize creative thinking without a commitment to extended learning over time.  Janice will also address the topic of how we, as creativity professionals, need to be contextual and mindful of how we talk about who we are and what we can provide.  When talking to clients, she focuses more on the product she can deliver to help them manage change, and less on the concept of a creativity expert. 

Janice is currently working on how to teach organizations to be more comfortable with the risk of failure inherent in innovation.  We all know the nature of innovation is that to fail is part of the process, and yet many clients are uncomfortable with this risk by virtue of their culture (she cited a group of auditors as an example) and also lacking the emotional tools to deal with the impact of failure.   As one part of her arsenal of learning tools, Janice designed a new course entitled:  “Risking and Learning From Failure”.   The ½ day course aims to reshape how employees think about failure: 

Viewed as a final and, unfortunately, fatal frontier, failure needs a makeover… We’re talking about the fumbles, foils, falls and “miss-takes” that come from making the choice to engage in our best work in a spirit of adventure and challenge – work that has good purpose where in the process we find ourselves saying “Oops!!! That’s not what I hoped for”. When this happens, if we choose to learn from it and share what we’ve learned, it’s called wisdom, resilience and growth.

Janice sees an area of growth in the field of creativity and innovation work around the affective skills, how to prepare individuals to manage themselves and others through the innovation process on an emotional level.  Her course on risk and failure is a step in this direction.

As I reflected on my conversation with Janice and my own work, I see a couple of connections with issues I am struggling with.  In the field of nonprofits, it is a particular challenge to impress upon boards the need to be innovative.  With limited resources and donor expectations of immediate impact from their support, the risks seem perhaps greater than in other contexts.  But innovation is difficult to understand and achieve in an outcome vacuum, it needs to be woven throughout the organization, to become part of its culture at all levels.  And changing the mindset of failure to one of constant experimentation might be a tool to utilize in talking to donors about the need to invest in new, untested initiatives.  Janice brings a great perspective to our field as someone who works over time with clients in the field.  I look forward to learning from more of her insights at CEE.

Alice Jacobs is well known in the Western New York community for her philanthropic leadership of numerous community organizations. She is an attorney who practiced corporate and business-related immigration law.  She holds a Graduate Certificate in Creativity and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree.  Her philanthropic leadership includes service to the WNY Women’s Foundation, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

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