I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Kang, Founder & CEO at InnovatorsBox®, author of “Rethink Creativity”, and speaker. Monica is a renaissance woman that guides organizations through engaging, thought-provoking programs designed to redefine creativity in the workplace, and make creativity accessible for all. She has been awarded the Young Innovators Award by WeWork, recognized as one of the top young innovative social entities by Fulbright, and featured by the White House in the Nation of Makers Initiative, among others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
The journey of InnovatorsBox® began while I was in my dream career, yet I felt utterly stuck. The lack of creativity in nuclear non-proliferation had made me risk-averse. I couldn’t remember the last time I created something on my own simply because I wanted to.
It wasn’t until I integrated creativity into my daily routine that things started to transform. My productivity skyrocketed. I got promoted. My insights and perspectives changed. I started thinking differently and began sharing fresh outlooks with top clients. And on a personal level, I was less stressed, more confident, and eager to attack what life threw at me.
Why did you found your company?
When I realized that 87% of all professionals do not feel very creative, and that I was not alone in feeling this way, I decided to gather my diverse expertise to create a space for everyone to rediscover their creativity. That’s what led me to start InnovatorsBox® and this wonderful, creative journey!
A creative mindset helps people be better communicators, more open-minded, optimistic, patient, and value diversity of thought. That is why creatives are better problem solvers in the face of change and complexity. Creativity is more than ideating a product. It’s a way of living, thinking, and processing. It is also the main pillar of innovation. What if more people were creative regardless of their industry? What if 87% of the workforce that is stuck today were more engaged? That’s a game-changer.
Through InnovatorsBox® programs, we work with Fortune 500 companies to help apply new thinking to familiar problems. We partner with business leaders to establish a sustainable creative culture and shift their teams into an innovation mindset. We guide leaders in higher education and nonprofit organizations through creative leadership training.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Unlike many companies who focus on process-driven formulas to define innovation, InnovatorsBox® helps people discover their innate creative mindset and how to use it to solve problems in the face of change and complexity.
In the programs that we deliver, our clients are establishing sustainable cultures of innovation among their teams. Newly formed organizations are getting creative on tough topics. Business leaders are bringing change into their environments in thoughtful and intentional ways. Individuals who have never considered themselves creative are practicing creativity regularly in their personal and professional lives.
Whether you are a politician, accountant or artist, it is my mission to redefine creative thinking by making it accessible for all.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I’m deeply grateful for all the mentors who remind me to stay courageous, humble and persistent. In particular, female entrepreneur mentors like Nina Vaca (Pinnacle Group), Ann Ramakumaran (Ampcus), and Kristina Francis (Esteem Logic) remind me how to walk the talk of building a powerful business. My family has also been a north star who reminds me to see the marathon, not the sprint.
How are you going to shake things up next?
There are so many people out there who have had enough with that ‘stuck’ feeling. On September 12, I launch my new book “Rethink Creativity”, which teaches you and your team how to start constructing a creative mindset by allocating time to change up your daily routine.
It will help you rediscover the passion you felt your first day on the job! Not only will leaders and managers be able to benefit from proven strategies, thought-provoking questions, and effective training techniques, but as you move through the book, you’ll start enjoying your work more, be a better leader, and find new ways to be creative, curious, and innovative every day.
My global book tour kicks off at Washington, where it all began for me.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
“Find people who look like you and think like you. Find people who look like you but don’t think like you. Find people who don’t look like you but think like you. And find people who don’t think like you or don’t look like you.”
My friend and mentor, Kristina Francis, shared this with me when I was struggling with how to manage my professional relationships and not stay discouraged in the face of challenges.
While having people who believe in you is important, you need some people who believe in you, but can give you a wake-up call and critical feedback. This message always reminds me to keep my mind open wide to recognize the value of every relationship, and not to seek it only within your immediate circle. That’s when you grow the relationship and you as a person.
Know when to stop and and when to continue.
Priority is everything and knowing when to say NO is equally as important as knowing when to say YES. So much focus is on saying YES to every opportunity that we forget to make time for bigger things when it happens. I’ve learned to do this better, so I can do more with less instead of getting involved with too many things with little return.
It’s a marathon. There is truly nothing that happens overnight.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
“The Triumph of Happiness” is one book I keep recommending to anyone who wants to understand what it means to live more wisely and why. Despite the thickness of the book, I could not stop putting it down. It reminded me so much of how little we know about human beings and about living. It encouraged me because there is still so much hope for what we can do better.
While in his 30’s, the author was researching participants that were in their 40’s, and he did not understand why they would do certain things. As he reached his 40’s and experienced more in life, he understood how unexpected and messy life could be. I try to always keep this in mind as I live each day. We think we know it all but how much do we really understand its impact until much time passes?
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would LOVE to meet Jack Ma from Alibaba. I admire how he started his company. I would love to share how I am working towards tackling some of the greatest education and soft skill challenges he keeps bringing up in his presentations about the global problem. I’d love to have the opportunity to work with him to share and spread the message further.
I would also love to meet Emma Watson. I have been a long fan of Harry Potter, but incredibly inspired at how she is using entertainment and her role as an actress to speak on critical matters like gender equality, education, reading, and environment. I also admire how she focuses on continuous learning and stays authentic in her role. I love how she plays an active role in entertainment and beyond, such as speaking at the UN and partnering with nonprofits to do good work. We need more cross-sector collaborators, and she is doing it well. I’d love to talk with her about what I’m doing in education and help find ways to share it with a bigger audience.
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