Meira Spivak shares the five templates of her SIT Method and how you can use it to innovate on demand and to find opportunities in your business hurdles.
Innovation is key to any successful business. Even more so when you’re met with a business hurdle you just can’t solve. Meira Spivak is the director of Oregon NCSY and a seasoned speaker who has helped many by sharing techniques that can help anyone innovate on demand. She sits down with host Meny Hoffman and talks about the five templates of her Strategic Inventive Thinking or SIT Method and how you can use it to find opportunities in your biggest business hurdles. Meira believes that creativity and innovation are skills that you can develop and shares the tools to help you do just that.
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5 Creative Ways To Clear Your Biggest Business Hurdles―with Meira Spivak
Our guest is Meira Spivak, a seasoned speaker. Meira is known for motivating her audiences to take action. She teaches techniques and structured creativity to a variety of different audiences using the SIT method, which has been used by hundreds of companies around the world to reach creative solutions to pressing problems. She specializes in topics like transforming unproductivity into efficiency, setting business and personal goals, and how to be innovative on-demand.
In our interview, Meira talks about the concept of thinking inside the box. She explains that by using the right strategies, we can find solutions within our own minds, versus pushing ourselves to look outside of the box. She also explains the five templates of SIT in-depth, so that you can have them at your disposal whenever you may need them. Her creative problem-solving methods are sure to open your minds to new ideas and strategies to overcome your biggest business hurdles. Without further ado, here is my interview.
Meira, thank you so much for joining me on the show.
Thank you for having me here. The pleasure is mine.
I’m always excited when it comes to interviewing somebody that got referred by another guest on the show, which means they enjoyed the show and felt that you are the right fit to bring no-nonsense advice to our readers. I’m happy we’re able to connect on that front. I’ll start as I start with most of our guests, especially a lot of the readers who don’t know what you’re doing as far as your background and how you got to what you’re doing now. Tell us a little bit of your past, what you’re currently working on, and ultimately, why you’re so passionate about the topic that we’re going to be discussing.
I grew up in New York but somehow ended up in Portland, Oregon, where I’ve been living for years with my family. For my day job, I work in the nonprofit sector, and I’m involved with a lot of leadership management in different roles. I wear a lot of different hats. My experience in the nonprofit world has been changing. It’s very diverse over the years. I have been doing a lot of work with innovation teaching and helping businesses to overcome challenges by using simple templates that will give them the skills they need to innovate on demand and to overcome any problems that they’re facing. It’s been amazing taking these new skills, bringing them back to my organization, and also helping others to overcome their challenges.
Tell me more about the concept of speaking about creativity and innovation. These are two topics that a lot of people look at the shiny object syndrome. Everybody wants to innovate and be creative but how do you bring that into the day-to-day operations of a business?
When a lot of people think about creativity, they think about the one person who is so creative and who has the best ideas. That notion needs to leave people’s minds because even though it’s true that some people have tendencies towards certain nature’s, creativity and innovation are skills that anybody can learn. It doesn’t matter if you were born more creative or not. You can learn the skill of creativity and innovation.
Systematic Inventive Thinking, the method that I use and I’m trained in, teaches is that all you need to do is follow five templates and ask certain questions. Have you heard of the concept of think outside the box? This is my biggest pet peeve because how many times have we sat in these brainstorming sessions? They’re a 3-hour offsite, an 8-hour offsite, and it could’ve been all day. I was at one where we rented a cool apartment in Greenwich Village, a penthouse with blink walls, all these like cool things, we woolen the walls, and we came out. It was like, “This was great. What came out of this?” We thought outside the box, came up, and woolen the walls, but ultimately speaking, if someone comes to you and says, “Do you have an idea?” You’re like, “No,” and they’re like, “Think outside the box.” You’re like, “I don’t know what to think about.” Telling someone to think outside the box doesn’t work.
We need a new method. The method of thinking inside the box, which means that what we’re doing is instead of thinking about like, “Where does my brain go think outside the box?” What I’m going to do now is I’m going to constrain your brain. I’m going to ask you questions that are going to force you to think so narrowly that you’re going to have to innovate because you’re going to have no choices left. For example, if your business is struggling with something and you’re like, “We have a real problem with money.” Most people say, “Let’s think outside the box. Let’s come up with a new method to raise funds.” I want to do the opposite. I’m going to say, “Let’s imagine that you lost all of your money. What would be a benefit of running this business with no money?”It doesn’t matter if you were born creative or not; you can learn the skill of creativity and innovation. Click To Tweet
You’re going to be like, “What? What’s that mean? I can’t remember this.” Forget practical. We’re not being practical here. I want you to think and then you’re going to start saying, “Imagine if all of our employees were volunteers, what would that mean for the work ethic in the organization? What would happen?” Your brain starts going to new places. What I’ve done is instead of telling you to, “Let’s come up with a new way to raise capital.” Now I’m telling you let’s subtract. That’s one of the methods. Let’s imagine we had no capital and think about some of those benefits, and then follow our train of thought and let our brain go in new ways. It’s fascinating and trying to counteract this like, “Let’s think of a big idea, anybody?” You’re in these meetings and one person dominates the meeting. They come up with these ideas that are ridiculous and you’re writing them on the whiteboard knowing they never go anywhere. They’re not realistic. “This isn’t very realistic.” Does that make sense?
Yeah. I want to back up a second on this topic and say, “The reasoning for thinking that way is because you believe that people think too big of ideas and it doesn’t go anywhere, therefore, work with what you have, so to speak?”
It’s a little bit more than that. Obviously, some big ideas are great and there are people that come up with great big ideas. What this is trying to counteract is that idea or that feeling you get when you’re told to think outside the box and you’re like, “I don’t know what to think about.” Those people that come up with these crazy ideas or wake up in the middle of the night with some epiphany, that’s great. The more, the merrier. I hope a lot of people could do that but it’s not a realistic plan to hope someone is going to wake up with some big idea.
What this is saying is instead of trying to come up with the next big idea, why don’t we ask the right questions and think a different way? Saying, “Let’s think big. How do we innovate? Let’s go to a creative offsite, a cool space, and we’re going come up with it.” What are you doing in order to come with those ideas? Being in a creative space is not going to help you come up, especially for 9 out of 10 employees who are not naturally creative, they’re going to be useless, sit there, chime in a little bit, and probably give some bad ideas. They’re not going anywhere.
Let’s be a little bit more practical over here and discuss it. Businesses are faced with challenges, obviously. Nobody is exempt. The bigger you are, the bigger the challenges are. Apple computers, the most successful and profitable company, probably have their challenges. I bet you they’re sitting in the boardrooms and some tough conversations are happening on a daily basis over there. At which point would you say what is it that you are looking at the method that you mentioned and when is it that won’t get you anywhere? You and the company need to think, especially you saw it throughout the pandemic with COVID, where companies were pivoting and making major changes. What is the balance for a business owner or a leadership team to decide at which point we need to do it one way or the other?
It’s funny you mentioned Apple because Apple has used these methods possibly without even realizing it time again. I want you to think about where we have this iPod that came out many years ago. It was developed over time and the iPod became the iPad and each thing. Imagine when the iPod came out, it doesn’t have a phone yet or whatever, but it had this music with a screen. One day, they’re trying to innovate and say, “How can we make this cooler, better and the next big thing?” What would most people do? Let’s think outside the box. We’ll have more screens or whatever. What they did is something called subtraction.
What they said is, “What would happen if we don’t have a screen?” “You’re not going to have a screen? The screen is cool and the new thing.” That was like, “Let’s show the world we are on top of things.” This is a key question we ask, “What are the benefits of subtracting the screen?” “It would make the product lighter.” “Who would want a lighter product?” Ultimately, they came up with the iPod, the nano without the screen, which was geared to runners and people that didn’t need that screen. Instead of thinking, “What can we add? What can we do? What’s next?” They innovated by subtracting.
Think about this. We’re during COVID and you are an event rental company. You have rented tents for weddings and big things like that. You have two options. You can either freeze and say, “Let’s shut our business down and sell our inventory because no one is making weddings. It was COVID,” or you could say, “What are the benefits of having all these extra tents now during COVID? What can we use them for?” The smart companies started setting up and renting the tents for testing sites for COVID, and they found other uses for it.
When you have a challenge, the key is not to start looking for more things. The key is to first ask yourself, “What are the benefits of this challenge?” Every challenge is an opportunity and the question is, “Are we going to find it?” It’s always there. What this training has done for me personally is my go-to used to be like, “I’m sure everything is for the best.” That was my go-to before when a challenge hit. Now, my go-to is challenge and opportunity instead of getting stuck on what is bad because it is bad that I had a tent rental company and now there are no weddings. That is bad but let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus on finding the opportunities. Let’s focus on asking ourselves what the benefits of this challenge are? What if we took away all that business? Maybe there’s another opportunity here those companies probably have more business than they did before with their weddings. It’s amazing how companies can shift and pivot as long as they have the right attitude and perspective.
You mentioned before a couple of times that this method has five templates of innovation. Would you mind sharing them? I’m not sure how much time you need for all five but maybe mentioning them quickly and then expanding 1 or 2 of them that are most important.
There are five templates and what’s interesting is you’re going to notice a lot of them seem like Math. In math, there is subtraction, as we said, multiplication, division, something called task unification, and attribute dependency. I’ll tell you them shortly but I want you to notice that there is no addition here. I was listening to Simon Sinek audiobook, Starts With Why, and it’s so funny because he says at one point, “Every company wants to be innovative, do this, and put out the new thing but Colgate toothpaste, which has 30 flavors or whatever, now comes out with four more. That’s not innovation.” Adding something else is not innovative. We have sneakers now we add another color. That’s not what innovation is.
Subtraction—Less Is More
There are five templates that we use. One is subtraction, which would again, instead of adding on, it’s taking away that screen, all of our income, our stuff, and imagining the benefits. It’s counterintuitive. It’s like, “What do you mean I’m going to take away all my stuff?” Imagine running a company with no staff.
Multiplication—Don’t Just Add. Elevate.
I got it, but it’s going to help us lead to new ways if we can force ourselves to answer these questions. We have subtraction and multiplication. Multiplication would start with if you have a product and you want to make a new variation of that product. You’re not adding on another line.
For example, if you buy an air freshener and you’ve seen these in the bathroom, they might have an air freshener that pumps out a smell in the bathroom. If you’ve seen some of them, they have a second flavor next to each other that when the smell dies, a new flavor is pumped out. You’re not just saying, “Now we have another line.” You have this new contraction that is constantly pumping out new smells because they’ve now multiplied what the product can do. There’s a lot of pieces to it but that’s like a short description of it.
Division—Break It Apart And Rebuild
I love the division. It’s great. Division is where we take a process. It could be we have forms that a company filled out. An intake form when we’re bringing in new customers and it’s looking at our methods, dividing it up, and moving things around. When we used to check-in for an airport or at least go on a flight, we used to have to do everything at the airport. We start to go, check-in our luggage, and then they said, “This is like a five-step process.” We’re getting to the airport, have to get our tags, and check in our bags. Now, they’re like, “Why can’t we divide that up and do the check-in at home? Why can’t we check-in luggage earlier?” It’s taking a process that you have and dividing it up.
They used to sell one oven. Let’s divide it into two ovens and now we have the double wall oven. It’s taking a product and literally dividing it into pieces. It could be randomly like a puzzle. That’s how a puzzle was invented, take a picture, and randomly divide it up or taking a process and saying, “This is our steps now.” When we have a meeting, first we open with the icebreaker, then we have a report. What happened if the icebreaker went last? I don’t know. What would happen if the president’s report was earlier? You start shifting things around. Imagine using a sticky note to move everything around, that process is helpful when you have again a structure of the way you do things, intake and meetings, and getting fresh ideas. You have a conference that you’re running. How come lunch has to have a keynote? What would happen if it was at breakfast? What would happen if the buffet was over here and it was first, and the food was given out earlier? You’re re-imagining everything that you’re doing. That’s division.It’s amazing how companies can shift and pivot as long as they have the right attitude and the right perspective. Click To Tweet
We have something called task unification, which is great when people are low on resources. Task unification means that we’re actually giving an additional job to a product. Before this product or this staff member was in charge of whatever in your company, now we’re going to give them an additional job or we might give not a person, but we might give an object an additional job. This is a silly thing but you were a rock, and you’re the door opener also. Imagine at a supermarket and you’re trying to get employees to your store.
Now the cashier is not just going to be the one checking out the customers, but here she is also be the one who’s going to be telling your customers about the coupons in the store and the sales. Imagine the aisles in your store were structured in a way where it would be a little bit narrower and take customers a little bit longer to get through the store or the lighting, music, messaging, bathrooms had an additional job of telling people about the sales. We put all those signs in there. It’s thinking about when I have limited resources like, “What else can I do to multitask almost?” There are different methods to that, so that’s task notification.
The last one is the hardest to implement. There’s an app that was created to help implement this process. It’s called Attribute Dependency. What that is that saying let’s have things depends on something else. I’ll give an example. We like to do this with MBA students. Imagine the NBA. It’s the basketball game. Why the number of points that you score will depend on how far you are from the basket? What about if the number of points you get doesn’t depend on the distance but it depends on a swish shot, a bing shot or whatever. You get more points if it’s a swish. What about the price of the tickets would depend on how many points the team scored the night before? We charge based on the night of the week or what teams they’re playing. How do we change it up? What if the company salaries that we offer might be based on years of experience? What’s about if it depended on something else? Maybe it depended on productivity or different bonuses.
What it is you’re taking something you’re doing anyway? You’re looking in and saying, “How can we change the dependency?” Instead of doing things status quo, let’s do things a little bit differently. Let’s create new dependencies to innovate our entire structure. Those are the five methods. Each one obviously takes a while to learn and implement but it’s not hard. Once you get the hang of it, these are literally tools at your belts and you know right away. As soon as I have a challenge, it’s like, “Let me pick one and try it.” There are certain ones you start realizing, “This is good for this and that,” but they are like go-to solutions for anybody.
I’m actually so excited to be talking about SIT since I’ll be launching a course on these 5 templates very soon! Be sure to check out all of the details at meiraspivak.com.
If I understood this correctly, these are ways of thinking when you hit the roadblock or you’re stuck, and you need to get unstuck of a situation, then you’re using those learnings, so to speak, 1 of those 5. You’re not doing them all. It’s not like you’re creating a process for everything. You’re picking 1 of those 5, which will get you out. Correct?
You could be using multiple like I might go through the same challenge and use a different template to get different angles. You could use multiple at one time. It’s not even when you’re at a crisis. If I want to innovate, I might use this, too. It’s not that I’m only using them at a challenge. Let’s say I’m sitting there and I’m like, “We need to offer a new program.” Again, depending on what your business is, but you want to now do something new with your tents. Now, you were offering your tents and you were doing it per wedding. Maybe it should depend on something else or the price won’t depend on how many days the customer rents it for. We’re going to give you the tents based on the weight of the tents, and the cost is going to be based on the weight as opposed to on the time length or the cost of the tent is going to depend on how many people are using the tent. It starts like, “The sale of the suit will depend on the weather of the day.” If you want to change things up, you can use this, too.
I want to touch on another point. You often speak about the importance of setting and achieving our goals. You have an entire workshop dedicated on this topic. I want you to share with us a little bit on how to probably set the right goals and when we do, what impact can I have? What type of impact it has on us as individuals and as a team and why it’s so important?
I’ve been to all these workshops, smart goals, and all these different goals. The system that we use in our organization is called OKRs. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. It’s used by many of the big companies like Google. OKR stands for Objective and Key Results. What this does is amazing. If you think about employee evaluations, a lot of times at the end of the year, we look back and judge our employees based on results like how many sales and phone calls? Whatever metrics they want to hit, we look back and we’re like, “Did you do a good job or did you not? Did you bring in new customers or did you not?”
I feel that sometimes it’s a little bit hard for employees because the term we use is psychological safety. That’s the big term that’s out now. We want everyone to feel safe in what they’re doing. A lot of times, employees don’t know if they’re being successful or not because they’re trying hard and maybe that deal didn’t close because of a specific reason or they lost it at the last second. They’re like, “I’m putting all this effort,” and they’re doubting their worth in the company.
What the system of OKR do is it sets you up that the employees are now going to be measured based on their efforts and not on the results. It’s a mind shift. Discussions are happening every week. I’ll give an example. Let’s say our company wants this quarter to reach a revenue goal and whatever to increase X percentage. In order to do that, the higher-ups of the organization sit down and decide that each employee, in order to hit that, the most likely way they’re going to hit this revenue target is by doing the following and they come up with 3 or 4 metrics which might involve how many conversations they need to have with potential customers, how many deals, or whatever it is.
What they do is they set that up and these goals become clear to the entire organization. Everybody knows that in each week, they’re tracked. There’s a system. They’re color-coded or number-coded. Everybody knows. At the end of the day, I was supposed to make twenty phone calls this week to new customers. “I made ten this week.” Now, what happens at the end of the month? We’re looking back, speaking to employees every week, and we’re like, “Everyone here is supposed to make twenty and you made ten. There’s a problem here.” We’re not looking back at the end of the year and saying, “I guess you only closed half the deals.” We already know right away where are these employees’ weak spots, where are their challenges, what are they not able to do or maybe where they need help.
We’re able to get them that help because if they reached that, they make those twenty calls, they are much more likely to hit targets. What this does is the employee knows themselves. There’s no shock at the end. He’s like, “I guess I can’t do this. Maybe this job is not for me. Some people might even step out and realize this is not the right role.” What you’ve done is you’ve set up a system. When those goals are set and if you set the goals and then you give your employees the clear steps to take it to reach those goals, as opposed to being like, “Go, get there.” Not everybody is able to go get there. Some are and they’re independent or very lucky to have them but the ones that aren’t, we got to give them those clear direction of what they’re going to do each day and we’ll be able to reach those goals.
This is something that I’ve spoken so many times when I speak on this topic of goal setting as well. You don’t control the outcome, you only control the input. If you create mini-goals, which is micro-goals on the input you’re doing and you’re tracking that, chances are you’re going to reach the goals and the outcome will be there. If not then you ask yourself, “What in the input did I not do as planned that therefore, I did not get my results?” A good example is the insurance industry. They know if I have X amount of calls and X amount of appointments, you could still be calling the wrong people and your metrics might be off then you know what to fix. “My percentage is not closing 1 of every 4. I’m only closing only 1 of every 6. My input needs to be bigger and I need to have a bigger pool of people I go after.”
This is a very important for our readers to understand that creating goals doesn’t mean that you’re looking just at the outcome, which is the final will yield the results so to speak, but the input needs to be connected to it. I had a conversation with somebody that has a large company and he said, “We want to be a $100 million company.” If you can’t back it up with how you’re going to get there, what exactly specifically are you planning to do now, tomorrow, next week, or next month? You can put it on the whiteboard. It’s very tempting to see in a whiteboard but every day that passes by, you’re further away from achieving that goal. I want to speak about something else that you mentioned. The four-minute mile run that everybody was opposed to that it won’t happen and ultimately, Robert Bannister broke it. What is the lesson there and what can we, as business owners, learn?Start asking yourself, what are the benefits of this challenge? Just doing that is going to be a game-changer. Click To Tweet
It’s so funny because I use him as an example when I start some of my talks. It’s so interesting because what happened is he broke the four-minute mile. Before then, it was never possible. Right after that, many people followed suit. Everyone was able to break the four-minute mile. I became normal and what it was. This is the inside of the box model but if you think about a box, a lot of times, we’re confining ourselves to this box. What Systematic Inventive Thinking does is it almost confines us but people, a lot of times, look at themselves and they think, “I can’t,” or we’ve hit a roadblock and it’s over. They need to realize like Robert Bannister, thought that was impossible. It was impossible and the doctor said it was impossible, but it wasn’t. All you needed was that one person to say, “Let’s find it, work hard, and we’re going to do.”
To keep striving for the goal, even though it seemed impossible, he found a way. A lot of times, we stop and we think, “We’re out of capital. We’re out of this. We can’t. We don’t have the workers. We have the wrong staff. We have the wrong people on the bus.” Every challenge we have and the real challenges but if we’re able to refocus, find those opportunities, set our sight on the right goal, and stay focused, we will reach that four-minute mile. We will overcome these challenges. He did it and once he did it, it would become a no-brainer.
For people reading this and knowing this new concept, definitely out of comfort to speaking in the box versus out of the box, they are having a situation in their business, what is the one practical piece that you could say, “This is the first step in this process that you could go ahead and do to achieve and get to the next level?”
I said it before but the main thing is that one key question. I want you to start asking yourself, “What are the benefits of this challenge?” Doing that is going to be a game-changer. What I’m saying is I am acknowledging that these challenges are real. I’m not saying that it is not a challenge when you’ve lost your biggest client. That is a challenge. What I’m asking you to do is be able to shift to a mind shift and now ask yourself, “What are the benefits? Let’s think about this. The client took up so much time. I never had space. He told us what to do anyway and the team wasn’t.” Once you could start seeing the benefits, it might take a few days, you want to take a few days’ break but once you’re able to do that, you will be in an entirely different space and then you’ll be ready to innovate. Trust that key question. One of the benefits of this challenge is going to take you to totally new places.
I’ll take it to the next step, which is sometimes a business owner or a leadership team will sit in a room trying to make their goals and maybe ask yourself the same question, why do we want that goal in the first place? What is the benefit that we’re going to be if we bring up our profit margins? What is the benefit of adding another product line? Whatever it is. Sometimes, we see it even with employees. I want to make $100,000 the first year being an employee in a company. Why? You need to ask yourself why? Sometimes, that why will say, “If I could have a good environment, I made $80,000, and my cost of living is $60,000, it’s perfectly fine for me or you might find out that I need more than $100,000.” You gave that number because that’s something what your friend told you that that’s what they’re making or whatever it is. It’s not enough. You have to always ask yourself why because that will dig deeper and when you do that, the reasoning behind it gives you so much more motivation to achieve it one way or the other.
In a sheet of paper, I have this one page that I sometimes share with people which is the goal, date, and obviously the why behind the goal. When I speak about it and I do the four pillars of goals which is business, finance, personal, and spiritual so you don’t forget. It’s across your life. It’s not just business and then next to each one, I put why. For our readers, if you’re reading this episode, if this is the first time you’re reading about this document, feel free to email me directly at Podcast@PtexGroup.com and I’ll send you the template.
It’s a word document. Feel free to use it. Many people have used it in the past. What they told me is every time they look back at the sheet, they’re not achieving it but they’re seeing that why and asking themselves, “Did the why changed?” If it didn’t change, all of a sudden, why am I not doing everything in my power to achieve it? That’s another part of adding to what you mentioned about asking the question of what I could learn from that. I think that’s amazing. Thank you for that. Where can readers learn more about what you do?
You can check out my website, MeiraSpivak.com. You’re welcome to get in touch with me that way. I’m happy to help anybody. I have this method and helped so many people already. It will change the way you think. It’s not hard to learn. It takes a few weeks, and it’s a game-changer.
Let’s close with the four rapid-fire questions. Are you ready?
Number one, a book that changed your life.
Number two, a piece of advice you got that you never forget?
Your employers. Can I read your minds? I’ll probably be your spouse. Open communication is key. People don’t know what you want and if you don’t tell them, they will not be able to help you, and they won’t know.
Number three, anything you wish you could go back to and do differently?
I wish I would have clarified, not even so much my whys, but even my goals a little bit earlier on because I’m one of these people that want to do so many things. I’m in this and my hands in this and that. If I had a long-term vision earlier on, it would have helped me a little bit.
Last and final question, what’s the only bucket list to achieve? If you don’t have a bucket list, that’s also fine.
I don’t have a bucket list.
We get it from all. I have a bucket list, I have no bucket list, or right out they have the answer. We just ask. Thank you so much for joining us. I know your time is valuable. That is why, in the name of our readers, we will forever be grateful for sharing some of your time with us.
Thank you. I appreciate being asked.
- Meira Spivak
- Starts With Why
- Inside the Box
About Meira Spivak
Meira Spivak is the director of Oregon NCSY, where over the past 15 years she has been developing educational programming for teens and parents.
Meira helps organizations solve strategic problems through her Results Driven Innovation workshops. Using the Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) method of creativity, Meira can teach anyone how to innovate on demand – after all, creativity is a skill that can be learned. In her past life, Meira was a caterer, aerobics instructor and owned a gift basket business.
As a mother of a large family, Meira understands the stresses of everyday life and when she’s not busy stressing from them, she’s laughing at them.