Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 3, Page 3
Spring 1994
Knocking out killer phrases

     Charles "Chic" Thompson's promotional brochure features him
jumping up in the air as he breaks out of an eggshell. There's also a
picture of him juggling. And another of him holding a box of baking
soda above his head. It's a glitzy, glossy, highly effective promotion
for a well-known author and motivational speaker whose client list is
a who's who of major corporations and organizations.
     In 1984, Thompson, Delaware '70, '73, founded Creative Management
Group, the Charlottesville, Va., consulting business that helps others
achieve professional and personal success, while developing new
products and new markets. Thompson's operating philosophy and advice
are consistent: Creativity opens doors you never knew existed.
     Bell Atlantic, Corning, DuPont, General Electric, Hewlett-
Packard, IBM, Price Waterhouse, the CIA and the FBI (and that's just
to name a few) all pay Thompson to integrate creativity into their
workplaces. He teaches managers to rid themselves and their
departments of "killer phrases," the term he's coined for statements
that stifle creativity. He encourages looking at opposite extremes
("What would you never do?") to uncover solutions to problems, and he
touts stream-of-consciousness "idea mapping" as a successful way to
     His first book, What A Great Idea!, is an energetic presentation
of those techniques. His latest book, Yes, But...The Top 40 Killer
Phrases, is a guide to identifying and eliminating your killer phrases
(such as, "That's the way we've always done it") and encouraging
creativity in those around you.
     Thompson's creative approach to problem-solving-and life, for
that matter-was born partly by necessity. He has dyslexia, a learning
disability that impairs his ability to read. Dyslexics, he says, look
at problems or words from a different point of view than the normal
learner, coming up with different definitions to reach the same
     "For me, now, dyslexia has become the backbone of all of my work.
I've taken the tools that we use with children who have dyslexia, and
I've turned them into techniques for adults, to help them look at
business challenges and life challenges from another perspective,"
Thompson says.
     Thompson was 30 when he discovered he had dyslexia. At Delaware,
he did well in math and chemistry, his major, but he had trouble with
foreign languages and liberal arts classes that required reading and
writing. He says his curiosity- not his grade point average-prompted
Wilbert (Bill) Gore, of W.L. Gore & Associates Inc., to hire him as a
chemist responsible for developing new products. It was nine years
later that Thompson would have his dyslexia diagnosed.
     "When I was tested and they started giving me some techniques to
help improve my reading, it was like night and day. I didn't feel
stupid anymore," he says.
     Today, his clients give him high marks, not only for his creative
techniques, but also for his innovative presentations. He asks
executives to write down three killer phrases they hear most and then
to share that list with the person next to them. That person is asked
to crush the paper into a ball. He then encourages people to throw the
paper balls at the first person who utters a killer phrase.
     Walt Sirene, a supervisory special agent with the FBI, says the
organization is adding questions about creativity to the written
reviews that peers and subordinates fill out about their managers. The
addition reflects the increasing importance the FBI places on
creativity, an attitude for which Thompson can be partially credited,
Sirene says.
     "He developed a unique knowledge of being creative, and he has
the ability to engage people in dialogue about creativity so they too
realize the value of it. There are no airs about Chic Thompson. He's
just a good person," Sirene says.
     Thompson's former employers include Johnson & Johnson and Walt
Disney. He left Walt Disney to form Creative Cartoon Co., which
produced the first posters and video on the Heimlich maneuver and the
country's first video about the AIDS virus. He sold the rights to his
videos to distributors and formed Creative Management Group, after
receiving many requests to conduct motivational workshops.
     Thompson's greatest triumph over killer phrases was a few years
ago after he and his brother bought their 80-year-old parents a
computer. (They decided on that gift after Thompson asked, "What would
we never buy Mom and Dad for Christmas?") His parents said the
computer was nice, but that they'd never find time to use it. They
were talking about the computer with friends when a child overheard
their remarks and asked if he could use it. In three months time, he
taught them how to use it, and just before his father died of cancer,
Thompson received a letter his father had written on the computer.
     "I took that letter, framed it and put it on my wall. I took my
diplomas down and put that in their place. Creativity is most
important with your family and at the dining room table. That's what's
challenging, not your GPA or your BS or your MED. It's the continual
curiosity about life that matters," he says.
     When his mother entered a retirement home, she took the computer
with her. Thompson instituted a program there in which high school
students taught computer classes to senior citizens. When she died
this past winter, Thompson donated the computer to the home. He tells
her story in his seminars, and already it has sparked Hewlett-Packard
to donate computers to senior centers.
     Thompson peppers his conversation with statistics. We're most
creative at age 5; least creative at age 44. Children hear 438 "no's"
per day as opposed to 37 "yes's." The average child asks 65 questions
a day; the average 40-year-old, five. Creativity is stifled at an
early age, yet adults, their children and their businesses best thrive
when creativity is part of everyday life, he says.
     His strongest trait, Thompson says, is optimism. From it flows
persistence, which keeps him focused and helps him achieve his goals.
He always wears a smile, which "helps other people deal with my
persistence." When asked what scares him most about life, he says it's
the discrepancy he sees between social classes. On business trips,
he's picked up in a cab or limousine at his 5-star hotel and, enroute
to the airport, he's driven past inner-city neighborhoods where
people's lives are filled with despair.
     "I feel a tremendous dissonance. Here, I have just been paid
$5,000 or more for a talk, and I'm being driven past people who don't
even make $5,000 in a year," he says. "I never have enough time, and I
get driven past people who have too much time. My life is changing
every day. Their lives never change. Einstein said, 'In a world with
no change, every day is the last day of your life.'"
     Through that dissonance emerged the "What A Great Idea
Scholarship," which he initiated this year to help improve literacy in
inner-city Charlottesville schools. He has pledged $100,000 ($10,000 a
year for the next 10 years) toward the program. The young scholarship
board, composed of fifth and sixth graders who are "educationally
challenged and learn differently," decides how the money is spent.
Thompson meets with the students to teach them how to generate,
collect and evaluate ideas. The group now is collecting ideas on how
to incorporate reading, videos and pictures to help kids who struggle
with the written text.
     "The kids are unbelievable. After every meeting, I have tears in
my eyes. We meet after school, every other week for an hour. We have
no rules. They are allowed to throw out any ideas at all. As they say
at Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, 'the weirder, the better.' If they buy
comic books or ice cream, that's OK with me. I know they will be self-
correcting and will come up with ideas better than anyone else," he
says, adding that it was the kids' idea to put a $1,000 limit on any
one purchase.
     Thompson has a challenge for Delaware and its graduates. "Look at
the system of evaluating success-the idea that the better your grade
point average, the better the job you'll get, the more money you'll
make. The GPA doesn't determine success; it's more curiosity and
persistence," he says.
     And he urges all families to use creativity at their dining room
tables. "Ask, 'What would we never want to do this weekend?' Then,
challenge your list of never-do's and see if there's anything there
that could create a weekend like you've never had before."
                                         -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83