Adobe’s Creative Problem Solvers

Meet three independent and innovative employees from the Digital Media team

by Bryan Lamkin

posted on 05-07-2018

In an increasingly automated world, it’s more important than ever that students learn creative problem-solving skills to succeed when they enter the workforce. Creative problem solvers, for example, can learn independently, accept challenges and take risks, and demonstrate persistence and grit—what we typically refer to as “soft skills.”

But according to a global Adobe study released earlier this year, schools aren’t doing enough to teach students these skills. A lack of access to technology, resources and training are just some of the factors contributing to the gap between what students are learning in school and what they will need when they join tomorrow’s workforce.

Adobe is committed to helping bridge that gap. Last week we announced that K-12 schools will be able access the full suite of Adobe Creative Cloud apps for $4.99 per user license per year. And earlier this year we made a premium version of Adobe Spark free to K-12 students around the world.

“The world is increasingly digital and students want to participate, to create and to make their mark,” says Tacy Trowbridge, the study lead. “Adobe’s tools give them the power to bring their visions to light.”

I agree wholeheartedly that students will benefit from strong creative problem-solving skills, but I would also argue that those skills are as essential for the employees of today as the workers of tomorrow.

As an employer and leader, these are the kind of people I need on my team – people who can think outside of the box, who can “think left and think right and think low and think high,” in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss. Adobe would not exist, much less continue to thrive, without some seriously independent, innovative, inquisitive, gritty and persistent employees. Let me introduce you to just a few.

Stefano Corazza, who heads Adobe’s immersive media team, wasn’t taught creative problem-solving – but he learned it as a kind of survival skill.

He remembers the first day of a math class at the University of Padua in Italy, when the professor told the 400-plus students that only a third of the class would make it through.

“You looked to your left, you looked to your right, and you realized that only one of you would survive,” he recalls. “There was a lot more discipline, a lot more natural selection.”

So he began running a statistical analysis on what questions and subjects would likely appear on a test, and then selectively studied those subjects. He used math to pass math.

“For those of us who made it through college, it trained us to be in the mindset of like, okay, these are the rules, but those are only apparent rules,” he says. “How can I think outside the box and go beyond the rules without breaking them?” He earned doctorates in mechanical engineering and computer vision.

At Adobe, Stefano leads the development of our tools and technology for the creation of augmented reality experiences. His job is literally to challenge the way people experience reality. So when he’s hiring for a position on his team, he looks for someone who is comfortable “swimming sideways.”

“Some people create in their mind a set of rules that this is how you compete in the world—that if I want to be better, I just need to try harder at what I do,” Stefano says. “But sometimes the solution is not forward, it’s sideways.”

To draw out that quality in the interview process, he says, he will sometimes derail the conversation and ask random questions to see how the person is “swimming in the process.” Creative problem solvers are usually a lot more comfortable looking, or swimming, sideways than their less creative counterparts.

Jessica Waters Davis, who leads enterprise product marketing for Adobe Document Cloud, also looks for creative problem solvers when she’s hiring for positions on her team.

“I want to know what mental model or process they would go through to solve a problem,” she says. “One question I ask in an interview dialog is, give me an example of when you tried something and it failed, because you learn so much more from your failures versus your successes. And the ability to take that learning, build on it and create something new is, to me, what I’m looking for.”

Unlike Stefano, Jessica attended a small liberal arts college – the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Wash. She received a degree in business, but also studied a range of other subjects, including theater, psychology and philosophy. That educational experience taught her to think from a variety of angles, a skill that continues to be essential as she works closely with Adobe’s customers.

“Work is so much about people, whether it’s the people I’m working with or the customers we serve. That, combined with working on really fun and interesting technology, is where it all comes together. It’s rich with opportunity to be creative and to creative problem solve,” she says.

Tacy Trowbridge says that with a small team and a lean budget, she doesn’t have the luxury of hiring someone only competent at what they currently do and the immediate task. A key team value is creative persistence.

“One characteristic I look for is a restless innovator,” she says. “I want to hire someone who is not satisfied with good enough but looks at a situation and sees new possibilities, improvements to make. I want to hire people whose personal satisfaction is tied to making the world better—making the world better for our customers and for the problems we’re solving.”

And, as Tacy points out, those qualities are essential not only for our internal teams, but for Adobe’s continued trajectory of innovation and success.

“We’re really trying to invent the future. We’re trying to figure out how we help people communicate in new ways,” she says. “We have to rethink our own products. We have to rethink the way we engage our audience. There’s no script for that.”

Topics: News, Leadership