How do we find employees with enough creativity to get the most out of today’s high-tech digital menu board systems and related technology?

During my 40+ year career in menu boards and displays, I have noticed older people like me tend to shy away from new technology. Since top management usually tends to be more experienced and mature people, do they avoid adopting new technologies more than they should? I have never understood that because I have always loved new technology and what we can do with it. I may have discovered why this is. I will explain later.
As an example, I developed and built a digital menu board system more than five years before flat panel screens were developed. We made videotapes of the content and loaded it on old and huge VCR machines.  We connected the VCR’s to six old and huge 26″ television sets and played them on a continuous loop setting. Many thought this was a crazy idea but it worked. I developed these for one of the greatest restaurant operators I have known named Dick Ripp because he told me he wanted to play Arby’s commercials in his restaurants. We installed them in 12 Arby’s restaurants he owned in the Richmond, VA. area. The sales and profits at his restaurants were almost double the average sales in that chain,. That was not just because of the digital menu boards but other things he did differently.

Dick was so far ahead of all the other restaurant operators that many still have not caught up today. Since then many new restaurant technologies have been developed. They are now being developed so quickly it’s very difficult to keep up with them and learn what they can do for you. As an example, just a few years ago the current digital menu boards were considered a new technology by many and many are still having trouble understanding how to get the most from them. Now we have added all the new applications such as geofencing, touch screens, order ahead and pay on a cell phone, voice activation, plus many more incredible marketing and management tools and they just keep coming!

It requires a lot of creativity and skill to determine which of these new technologies to use and how to get the most from them. So how do we do that? I may have discovered an answer. Maybe we should hire more young people and let them come up with new ideas on how to use it. Following is information I recently obtained from a report I read from some scientists at NASA.

We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down, according to NASA scientists.
At TEDxTucson, Dr. George Land dropped a bombshell when he told his audience about the shocking result of a creativity test developed for NASA but subsequently used to test school children. NASA had contacted Dr. George Land and Beth Jarman to develop a highly specialized test that would give them the means to effectively measure the creative potential of NASA’s rocket scientists and engineers. The test turned out to be very successful for NASA’s purposes, but the scientists were left with a few questions: “Where does creativity come from? Are some people born with it or is it learned? Does it come from our experience?”

To find answers to these questions the scientists gave the test to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found shocked them. The test looked at the ability to come up with new, different and innovative ideas to problems. What percentage of those children do you think fell in the genius category of imagination? A full 98 percent!

It gets more interesting. The scientists were so astonished they decided to make it a longitudinal study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old. The result, only 30 percent of the children now fell into the genius category of imagination. When the kids were tested at 15 years the figure had dropped to 12 percent!

What about us adults? How many of us are still in contact with our creative genius after years of schooling? Sadly, only 2 percent. And for those who question the consistency of these results — or think they may be isolated incidences — these results have actually been replicated more than a million times, reports Gavin Nascimento whose article first alerted me to this amazing study and its shocking implication: that the school system, our education, robs us of our creative genius.

What now? Can we recuperate our creativity? Land says we have the ability to be at 98 percent if we want to. What they found from the studies with children and how the brain works; there are two kinds of thinking that take place in the brain. Both use different parts of the brain and it’s a totally different kind of paradigm in the sense of how it forms something in our minds. One is called divergent — that’s imagination, used for generating new possibilities. The other is called convergent — that’s when you’re making a judgment, you’re making a decision, you’re testing something, you’re criticizing, you’re evaluating. So divergent thinking works like an accelerator and convergent thinking puts a brake on our best efforts.

“We found that what happens to these children, as we educate them, we teach them to do both kinds of thinking at the same time”, says Land. When someone asks you to come up with new ideas, as you come up with them what you mostly learn at school is to immediately look and see: “We tried that before”, “That’s a dumb idea”, “It won’t work” and so forth. This is the point and this is what we must stop doing.

“When we actually look inside the brain we find that neurons are fighting each other and actually diminishing the power of the brain because we’re constantly judging, criticizing and censoring,” says Land. “If we operate under fear we use a smaller part of the brain, but when we use creative thinking the brain just lights up.”

What’s the solution? We need to find that five-year-old again. That capability that we as a five-year-old possessed never goes away. “That is something you exercise every day when you’re dreaming,” Land reminds us. How do you go about finding that five-year-old? Land challenges us all: Tomorrow, you take a table fork, turn your five-year-old brain on and come up with 25 or 30 ideas on how to improve the table fork.

This also helps me understand another problem I faced is people when developing new products which I just considered negativity. I experienced this many times when I put teams together to develop new products. I would select teams from several disciplines such as engineering, manufacturing, marketing, sales, finance, etc. I took those teams out to restaurants, convenience stores, and other businesses to see if we could develop new products to increase sales and profits or reduce cost. These visits included interviewing the business owners, when we could, to understand their problems.

After the visits, we met and I would ask my team for ideas on how to solve problems or do things better. During those meetings, I received a lot more comments on what we could not do than what we could do differently. I discovered that negative comments would destroy creativity and reduce the number of good ideas. I usually had to eliminate about half the team because they were so negative. The remaining team came up with some great ideas and products.

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