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June 01, 2021

Q&A with BMO’s Inventor Mentors

Catalina Vargas, Manager, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives, BMO

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

Don't hold back during brainstorming and avoid doing this alone. Sometimes the craziest of ideas can happen and they could come up during conversations. Bring people into the ideas to crowd-source solutions. Sometimes just speaking the problem out loud leads to a solution.

With all the things happening on a daily basis, sometimes it's hard to remember things. I used to have a ton of sticky notes around or in my agenda but now I've switched to an electronic to-do list. To make things even simpler, I create shared notes with my husband and my family for food shopping, books – all so we can share our lives, work on the little things together, and leave more time for the more important things every day.

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

Laugh at yourself! Over the years I learned this was something very useful to embrace whatever came my way. I started being more open and sharing with others what was on my mind and that led to really interesting conversations that otherwise may not have happened.
Christopher McIntosh, Vice President, BMO

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

Try everything, make mistakes, listen to those who wish to share wisdom. Think bigger than yourself; even the smallest acts for others can make huge impacts.
Dale Baker, Senior Relationship Manager, BMO

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

There are no bad or "silly" ideas! No idea that is too big, or too small, to create a change, solve a problem, or improve something. There is power in numbers and teams, and adding creativity to brainstorming will improve results. Look for simple issues that need solving, or gaps with a product or service, and figure out how to improve it! That is innovation and creativity.

I don't like waste/garbage, so a creative solution I'm working on is developing a reusable system for grocery stores or supermarkets to dispense products into reusable containers, rather than the manufacturers creating more plastic waste, which ends up in landfills.
 

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

Don't be afraid to speak up, try new things, or say "I don't know but I'd like to learn." When you show curiosity and question the status quo, that is where growth happens. Adopt a growth mindset and instead of saying "I can't," say "not yet." Always keep trying, learning and growing. Don't be afraid of failure.

Last tip:  Participate in and practice math! Numbers, information and people shape our world. Get involved in class, talk to parents, mentors or teachers about things like saving money, budgeting or managing family finances. This will help you in the long run if you start early!
Dan Gallagher, VP-Risk Manager, BMO Harris Bank N.A.  

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

Think and reflect. Let all thoughts flow freely and write them down. It was upon reflecting that I realized  that a potential solution for an existing door to a shed that only opened inward was to flip it over and add new brackets to make the door open outward. We were able to save the door and make it useful again!

What’s an invention or innovative idea that you have helped to develop and what steps did you take to develop it?

An innovative idea was the shed door being re-evaluated. The steps I took included asking my daughter for her view as she was a stage crew leader for high school musicals and plays. We discussed the goal, measured the door for inward/outward swing, and searched for potential new brackets that were secure and strong. Collaboration and listening were the key steps! 

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

Be curious, ask questions, read about the topic you are interested in, and read broadly about many topics. I have found that many ideas I have to solve business needs came from focused as well as random reading and conversations.

Tell us about a time when you did something awesome and innovative. 

I had a heavy television to move to a lower level of the house and could not carry it or use a dolly or lift truck in a tight staircase with a 90-degree turn involved. I cut up a box and tied a rope around the television and safely slid it down the stairs.
Nicole Tryhorn, Sr. Manager Project Lead, BMO
 

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

I had a toilet leak and needed to get a bolt off but I couldn't seem to stop it from spinning and didn't have help. I found a binder clip in the house and used that to hold onto the washer to remove the bolt.

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

Experiment with everything! Even if you think you won't like something, just try it. Also, every subject I avoided I ended up taking in university so, even if you aren't good at something, it is better to face it than run away... it might eventually catch up to you!
Sheli Gelman, Personal Banking Associate, BMO
  

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

My best tip for finding a solution to a real-life problem is to evaluate what the ‘Big Picture Problem’ is and then identify the ‘Detailed Challenges’ that are involved. This helps you assess whether you need to nitpick at one or a few small aspects of the problem, or simply overhaul your entire approach to the task at hand.
 
I love to use the Big Picture Problem vs. Detailed Challenge method when I create and collaborate with other people on music. When I was in a band, the music writing process was pretty straightforward most of the time – one person would write lyrics and a basic melody, they'd present it to the rest of the band members, and then everyone would add onto the song with their own instrument.
 
If something didn't sound right, we'd often home in on a few specific notes that one or a few of the band members were playing and then slowly work out different notes for those parts to bring it all back to cohesion.
 
Every once in a while we'd get stuck doing this over and over again to no avail, with the song still having a sound that none of us was happy with. We started to realize that each time we got stuck like that, we were better off just scrapping everything we already had and coming up with a totally new melody, or lyrics, completely from scratch!
 
No matter what, in the end we'd always end up with a song we were all happy with. One approach wasn't always specifically better than the other, but it was important for us to recognize when we had a Big Picture Problem or a Detailed Challenge on our hands to be able to continue making great music.

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

The best advice I could give my middle-school self is to remain open-minded to opportunities that are presented and remember that focusing on your personal values will make any opportunity the right one for you.
 
When I first started working as a bank teller, I assumed I would only do this job part-time while studying in university to become a psychologist, and once I was done university I'd ditch this career. I felt as though I hated what I did for work because it didn't align with my dream of being a therapist, even though I felt pretty good and satisfied while I was at work.
 
Over time I started to realize that my biggest motivator was actually the desire to help people and make sure they're feeling positive and successful, and I noticed that I was doing this every single day at my job.
 
Once I clued in to the fact that my personal values were at the forefront of what I did every day, I started to love my job, saw the benefit I provide to my clients on a daily basis, and decided to pursue a full-time career in banking. Every day, I make sure to apply my personal values to my role as a banker. I provide all my clients with the tools to be successful, treat them with unconditional empathy and respect, and provide them the opportunity to express themselves in the way that feels best. I find myself going home every day happy that this opportunity found me and that I didn't give up on it just because I never originally dreamt of being a banker.
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Our inventor mentors tell students their top tips to find a creative solution to a real-life problem.
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