The Joy of Solving Problems
The Joy of Problem Solving
Greg Roland ’12: Innovation Consultant
BY JESSICA YARMOSKY
Picture this: a major company is going through a transition. Maybe it’s expanding, and needs help sharpening a new vision. Maybe it’s welcoming new people onto a team. Maybe it’s wondering how to respond to external factors like, say a global pandemic. In any case, executives at this company have a problem they can’t solve on their own.
Enter Greg Roland. His official job title may be “senior lab producer” at Deloitte, but his daily work is much more than that. “We’re innovation consultants,” he explains. “We’re camp counselors. We’re corporate therapists. We’re producers. We’re event planners…It’s a combination of a lot of different hats.”
The throughline to all of those hats—and what becomes immediately obvious as soon as we start our interview? Greg’s a people person, through and through.
“I’m a big extrovert,” he confirms. “I love being around people.”
These days, the people that Greg is most often around are c-suite executives from major companies like his employer, Deloitte, and other large firms. Executives enter Deloitte’s Greenhouse with a problem—or problems—to solve. And if Greg has his way, they leave with concrete solutions and the know-how to reach them.
That’s thanks to a carefully curated experience, designed by Greg and his colleagues at the Greenhouse. Over a short time span—usually eight hours—Greg designs activities and environments for team members that foster collaboration, creativity, and innovation. “We’re designing an experience for them that helps them achieve their goals in a very concentrated time,” Greg explains. “We’re not solving the problem for them, but we’re providing an atmosphere where they can do the solutioning in an environment that promotes psychological safety and innovative business thinking.”
I admit to Greg that in my mind, I’m picturing a bunch of high-level executives attempting to untangle themselves from a human knot. He laughs—but it turns out, I’m not far off. Attendees do dabble in team-building activities—hence Greg’s quip that he’s part camp counselor—and also get deep in frank conversations about goals and purpose. Teams use the Greenhouse for big reasons—like aligning folks after a company merger—and small, like welcoming employees into new roles.
Greg’s work looks different every day. He’s often designing multiple Greenhouse experiences at the same time, touching base with clients and stakeholders to make sure the labs are ready to go off without a hitch. But Greg’s pre-work mornings all look decidedly similar—he does something to spark creativity. “Sometimes, I’ll read a good book, or I’ll start with some journaling or some devotions,” he says. “Or honestly, sometimes, I’ll start with watching a cartoon.” His favorites? “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and 2003’s “Teen Titans.” “I love just being creatively inspired,” he says.
How do you pivot?
It doesn’t take long into our conversation to establish what Greg brings to the table at work. His road to this job—which seems like it was made just for him—was winding, and included stops in accounting, an abrupt change of major, and real estate.
Greg joined the Saints community as a seventh grader, in 2006. One fond memory from that time? Math classes. “The teachers that I had really made me excited about the possibility of being an engineer or an accountant,” he says. “So, going through high school, that’s what I wanted to be, a forensic accountant.”
Forensic accountants investigate white-collar financial crime like fraud or embezzlement. They also analyze financial documents and information to be used in criminalproceedings, and often serve as witnesses in high-stakes fraud trials. It’s an intense profession, but Greg kept his focus trained on it throughout his time at SSSAS, taking accelerated math and physics classes. Then came time to pick a college. “Through the grace and help and guidance of the amazing college counselors we have, I found my way to William & Mary,” Greg says. He stayed in the accounting track throughout his first two years at the Mason School of Business in Williamsburg, Virginia.
But his forensic accounting visions grew cloudy after a while. “After taking some advanced accounting courses, I realized, Oh, this actually is not for me,” Greg says.
For someone with a razor-sharp focus on one future for the past six-plus years, the realization was alarming. “It was kind of stressful, because I was in my junior year, my second semester, realizing I wanted to change my major,” Greg explains. While his classmates were honing in small seminars and labs concurrent to their long-ago-declared majors, Greg says the pressure was mounting for him. He had to ask himself a question that every befuddled innovator, like the ones who show up at Delottie’s Greenhouse, has to ask: “How do you pivot?”
Temporarily rudderless, Greg turned to his community. “I talked to my parents, I talked to my friends that I had in college,” he explains. “My roommates, people who knew me, and knew what I was good at, who were also in the business school. And I asked them: Hey, you know who I am. What do you think I would be good at?”
Greg says multiple people in his community kept emphasizing the same thing: his creativity. “The closest throughline for that in the business context,” he explains, “was marketing. I had several people just say, ‘Hey, you should think about marketing.’”
That’s all it took: Greg switched his major to marketing. What followed was an almost mythical rush of opportunities coming knocking.
First, he met Dr. Dawn Edmiston, Clinical Professor of Marketing, in one of the first marketing classes he took. Edmiston, Greg emphasizes, “absolutely changed my life.” That’s high praise for any educator, but Greg says what he got from Edmiston’s class changed his entire perspective on marketing, and what it was.
“I fell in love with marketing. I fell in love with how people-centric it is, how important it is to understand what people feel, what people think, what people desire,” he says. “And [understanding] that marketing is really about having relationships with people. And once I kind of got that, and started to experience that, I knew that I was in the right space.”
It was Edmiston who had the idea that Greg might find success after graduation in the world of real estate. He says Edmiston noted how much of a “people person” he was. “I’ve got great EQ,” Greg explains. (Author’s note: can confirm.) “I’m really good at reading people, and responding.” Greg saw real estate as a way to take all of his business and marketing education into an entrepreneurial context, and to put people at the center of his business pursuit. “That’s kind of how I approached it, the opportunity to be the kind of business that emphasizes, we really, really care about our customers,” he says. “We really really care about how they are and what their needs are, and meeting them at their level.
Greg joined his local Keller Williams real estate office, starting his own business as a licensed real estate agent, and worked there for the next five years. He says he found success there, but soon grew antsy and realized it was time to take on a new challenge. That new challenge was grad school, which found him back in the Mason School of Business at William & Mary, again working with Dr. Edmiston. Pursuing a master’s degree in marketing let Greg, he says, nurture his creative side in a different way than working in real estate afforded. “It’s like I got to give myself permission again to be as creative as I wanted to,” he says. “And to really flex that growth mindset and that design thinking mindset and that innovation and creativity mindset.”
Conversations with friends and colleagues led Greg to recruiters at Deloitte, and then to the Greenhouse. He began his job there in June, and has been flexing those mindsets at work ever since.
“I want to create things that people can’t live without”
Greg may spend the hours between 9 to 5 getting deep on how to help people solve problems. But as any seasoned veteran will likely tell you—work is just one part of life, not the whole thing. It’s what Greg curates outside of the Greenhouse that has had perhaps the biggest impact on is life: music.
Greg says he was surrounded by music from a young age. “I have distinct memories of listening to Motown and the Temptations with my dad,” he says. By age four, Greg was plucking out songs on the piano, and writing his own. Every Sunday, he’d “stare for minutes on end” at his church’s piano player. “I was just absolutely fascinated with the pianist,” he says. He sang in the choir in elementary school and at church, and in seventh grade, joined the SSSAS choir—albeit somewhat reluctantly.
“I wanted to join the drama [department,]” Greg admits. But as they often do, Greg’s mother knew best: Greg could sing, and sing well. “My mom forced me to join the choir. It’s so funny to look back at that, because man, what I would’ve missed out on.”
In February of 2010, Greg’s sophomore year, Alexandria was blanketed in several feet of snow—one day saw almost nine inches of new snowfall. Greg remembers being out of school for around two and a half weeks. While other teenagers may have taken it as a sign to sleep or lounge around in front of the TV—and we wouldn’t blame them—Greg got to work.
“It was the beginning of my songwriting journey, in earnest,” he says. “During that time, I wrote upwards of 15 songs.”
He’d written little melodies before, he said, but by the time school resumed, Greg had an album’s worth of full songs: “piano, intro, chorus, melody, verses, lyrics, all of it.”
For his senior project, Greg perfected those songs—and kept making more music.
Twelve years later, Greg says he’s composed around thirty original songs. He does it all: writes lyrics and instrumentation, sings, does background vocals, mixes, and masters each song. His music is catchy, layered and complex, and—like Greg’s career journey—relies on pivots. One song can span R & B to synth-heavy electronica before turning into a disco-flavored ballad. “Gravity,” which he released earlier this year, is a song originally performed by Deitrick Haddon, one of Greg’s favorite gospel artists. The lyrics are both hopeful and profoundly sad:
Trying to make it to heaven
Stuck on the moon
How beautiful Earth is form this point of view
So much evil back on the ground
Gravity keeps on bringing me down
Greg says he challenged himself to both stay as true to the original song as possible, while also adding his own spin on it through production. He shared a snippet of his version of the song on his Instagram, and Haddon saw it and commented on it. “Needless to say, I was ecstatic,” Greg says.
Beyond his own album, Greg has composed music for podcasts, small businesses, his church, and even his company, Deloitte. He’s just hungry to make music, no matter the context: “whether it’s kind of like R & B, or a pop style, or a quartet style where I’m kind of layering voices, or something acapella-ish, or if I’m kind of scoring something for a film.” That frontier—sound design for films and television—is the next thing Greg wants to conquer.
“I’m all about pushing my own creativity and [asking], how can I improve? How can I get better?” he says. He has a mantra that he’s developed for himself and his work: “I want to create things that people have neither seen nor heard before, and cannot live without.” Greg says that mantra, which he honed over many months, helps push him when he’s feeling creatively stuck.
Action and proactivity
During his tenure at SSSAS, Greg says—and this should surprise no one—that his ability to mesh into a lot of different social circles became something of his calling card. “A lot of people knew who I was,” he says, “and I took that as an opportunity to really develop these relationships I had, and to be there for my friends, and to kind of be somebody that upholds the values and cultures of what it means to be a Saint.”
Greg says he took that role seriously, trying to “be as good a representative of the community as I could be.”
“And I love coming back [to the school],” he says, noting that he’s formed tight relationships with both people he graduated with and also alums from other grades. “That’s kind of what made my time at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes special, being pulled forward [to] people who are older than you, and then reaching back and pulling [up] people who are younger than you into that community, and giving them a safe space to be who they are.”
“I’ve learned that JOY isn’t something I can simply wait for to come to me. I had to intentionally find, and even create, opportunities to experience JOY— and that happened for me by leaning deeper into creativity and community.”
He says when he returns to his alma mater, it’s not uncommon for students and staff to greet him as “Conrad Birdie,” his role in the school musical his junior year. “I still have the jacket in my closet,” he laughs. Another fond, stereotype-thrashing memory? Being on the football team. “I wasn’t a star or anything, but I was fast, and I had a lot of respect from my coaches and from my peers.”
These days, Greg seems to exist at the perfect convergence of his past experiences. The thrum of his own music, sharpened at the school, is the basis for the ideas he comes up with on how to help people solve problems at his job— ideas basted in a creativity that he’s been honing as a student, athlete, musician, business major, marketing professional, and cartoon-lover.
Perhaps the best word to sum up Greg’s life? Joy. That word was at the center of a piece he wrote for LinkedIn in September of 2021. “Sometimes, creativity and joy require that you intentionally create opportunities to obtain it,” he writes. “Creativity and joy aren’t just perpetual states of being, they’re tied to action and proactivity.”
And it would seem that no one is more proactive in the pursuit of joy than Greg Roland.