Archives For Creative Confidence

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One of the most important choices I made in my career was one I didn’t even realize I was making.

When I graduated from design school, I was pretty sure about what I wanted to do with my life. I was fascinated with industrial design, and was happily imagining spending the rest of my career developing skills and creating products that would have lasting impact. I hoped to emulate my heroes, iconic designers like Dieter RamsEttore Sottsass and Philippe Starck, whose bodies of design work have spanned everything from timeless furniture to spectacular architectural monuments.

While I did stay on a design career track, it followed a path I never anticipated. Rather than diving deep into the single discipline of industrial design, I accidentally discovered the joys of working across disciplines. Thanks to my mentor, the co-founder of IDEO Bill Moggridge, I quickly added other design work to my arsenal: design strategy, user research, interaction design, service design and ultimately, as I took on the role of CEO of IDEO, business design.

The more confident I became in my ability to explore new disciplines and cross boundaries, the more I became intrigued with complex problems, such as designing healthcare or education systems. In fact, I believe these are some of the most compelling creative and business challenges today, and I’m happy with my choice to go wide.

But this is not meant to be an argument in favor of choosing wide over deep. I have many colleagues who took the alternative path and have achieved incredible impact in the world, such as Apple’s Jony Ive or Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa.

Here’s what I’m saying: Although my unplanned career path turned out fine, choosing to go wide versus deep should be made consciously, not accidentally. Each path offers tremendous reward if followed with passion and commitment, but each requires different skills and approaches to be successful.

Going deep requires incredible focus, lifelong commitment to a single cause, a willingness to be patient towards achieving success, and the confidence to follow a path others may not understand or value. Whether it’s as a research scientist, designer, chef or software engineer, committing to a single discipline and pushing it as far as you possibly can holds the potential to make a significant dent on the planet.

Going wide, on the other hand, is about making connections between what you already know and what you’re curious about discovering. It requires systems thinking in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. It means developing the skills to collaborate for the purpose of learning. It’s about seeing the creative possibilities in breaking down boundaries and describing the world, your organization, the problem in new ways. It probably means having a difficult time describing to your parents what you do.

Taken seriously, though, the interdisciplinary path opens up a host of purposeful challenges that can be approached through the lenses of science, the arts, business or non-profit and, of course, some combination of all of them.

In your career, what choices are you making between going deep or going wide?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

I hardly ever look at résumés. In general, they don’t help me achieve my goal—to discover people who will be a great fit at IDEO.

I get that the résumé is just the first step in the journey, but what a terrible first step it is, especially when you have to read through several thousand of them every year. Just last year, we had about 14,000 candidates applying for jobs at IDEO. You can imagine how tedious it would be to look through that tall stack of 8.5 x 11 black-and-white typed documents. At a certain point, they all start to look the same, and your chances of singling out that special person with unique skills are very slim.

In a job market where creative confidence, collaboration, and storytelling are valued across sectors, it would make sense for your first impression to be a showcase for those qualities. Rather than standard, it should be exceptional.

So, how would I fix the résumé? Here are a few ideas from a design-thinking perspective.

First, I would ask: What are you trying to communicate?

Do you want to merely list standard qualifications, or describe more unique skills? Are you showing off your depth of experience, or a particularly remarkable journey? Do you mean to infer your qualifications by being linked to the companies listed on your résumé, or to show that you’ve developed your own point of view?

Second, I’d add some visual flair.

Your résumé might convey what’s important to you and what strengths you want to emphasize through creative visual puns. IDEO mechanical engineer Jordan Lay impressed us with his engineer’s rendering. (see above)

Perhaps you’d like to feature an illustration of your character, offering insight into who you are as a person and your combination of skills and experiences. Business designer Joe Brown introduced himself to IDEO staff with charming cutout illustrations.

Third, think like a digital native.

In the not-so-distant future—and some might argue, right now—the résumé will likely be digital, not even printable on paper. That allows video and animation to play a role in telling your story. Take a look at this clever video created by IDEO systems designer Deirdre Cerminaro, when she applied for a job. It showcases her personality, imagination, as well as her video-producing chops.

Whichever creative approach you take, remember that your résumé is a design challenge and that you must think about the user. While it might pay to be visually compelling, it’s just as important to be clear and legible.

It’s a tall order, but making the effort to get your résumé right will make you stand out from the pack of job seekers. So go ahead and challenge yourself to put your best foot forward.

Images courtesy of IDEO / Jordan Lay + Joe Brown

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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I’m a big believer in the value of internships, that’s why IDEO runs a substantial program every year. As well as getting experience working on real design projects, our interns are tasked with a series of conceptual projects so they get the most out of their time with us—and vice versa. One of those activities is the Summer Intern Design Challenge, run out of our San Francisco and Palo Alto offices. Interns are asked to team up, tackle a design brief, then present their final prototypes at an exhibition. The Challenge not only gives interns a chance to collaborate with each other, but they leave IDEO with work they can share publicly.

This year, we decided to try a little time travel. Nearly 20 years ago, I participated in a project along with a team of other designers at IDEO. The brief: design a series of light switch prototypes for an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Our submissions explored unconventional materials like satin, fake fur, and rubberized Lycra, but their overall forms—panels mounted on walls—were relatively traditional.

This year, we tasked our interns with the same brief, but boy were the results different, a sign of how much design has changed over the intervening decades. While some of the interns focused on material explorations and the physical experience of a light switch—like my team and I did in 1995—others went much further afield. From a collaborative game called Smile Switch that converts facial expressions into light, to Brighter Moments, a fixture that plays meaningful messages for loved ones when they turn on the light, to a social impact service called Let It Shine that helps families in developing countries pay for energy, the idea of a traditional light switch was explored from every angle.

The diversity of approaches to this humble, often overlooked object shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, as I mentioned in a recent post, a design career is much more open today. In 1995, my prototyping team all came from industrial design and engineering backgrounds. This year, in addition to ID and engineering interns, we had interaction, business, environments, and org designers along withdevelopers and other folks joining in the fun.

The experience reminded me of a few things I’ve learned from these and other interns over the years.

Interns ask “why.” Because they’re new, interns don’t know what’s been done before. When they ask why you’re doing something a certain way, you have to explain yourself, which can reveal long-held assumptions—and force you to rethink them.

Interns energize a workplace. The best interns are eager to roll up their sleeves and jump in headfirst. Their enthusiasm is infectious and can help unlock even the most stuck teams.

Interns don’t just learn from you, you learn from them. The assumption is that interns will leave your company smarter for it, but I’ve found the learning is definitely two-way. Whether it’s beautiful wall murals, hacked knitting machines, or teaching pasta-making classes, our best interns have given back as much as they’ve been given.

When I see the caliber and diversity of the interns that spent this summer with us, and the creative approaches they took to a challenge as mundane as a light switch, I’m hopeful about the future of design. Thank you, interns, for a Master Class in optimism.

What have you learned from interns?

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Typically, the soundtrack of Fourth of July is the deafening boom of fireworks. You can barely hear yourself think, let alone have meaningful conversations with family and friends. This year, why not try something different and hone your creative listening skills in the time it takes to fire up a grill?

IDEO’s New York studio recently put together a short “Creative Listening” course in the form of a podcast for the Aspen Ideas Festival. Designed to help conference goers maximize their experience, the four bite-sized segments can help anyone develop better creative listening habits in 30 minutes. Here are a few things you’ll learn:

How to utilize your intuition: Sometimes too much information is just that. It can be overwhelming and logic can only get you so far. That’s when you need to trust your gut and ask, “What’s really important here?” “What’s going on behind the surface, the unsaid versus the said?”

How to hone your interpretation skills: Industry jargon and wordy explanations often mask the true value of something. Learning how to distill a message down to its essence, into simple, understandable language isn’t “dumbing it down,” it’s giving it wings.

How to find inspiration in unexpected places: Looking outside your normal, go-to sources can be a great creativity boost. For instance, one of our teams was working on new membership program for a credit card company. Instead of looking at the competition, they spent time with a rabbi who encouraged people thinking about changing religions to experience different types of synagogues to find the right “fit.” That extreme, analogous experience helped the team turn the corner.

And finally, learn how to amp up your curiosity: Curiosity pushes us beyond what we know and challenges us to look at long-held beliefs in a new light. Staying curious—always asking “Why?” like an earnest preschooler—is a critical muscle that needs to be continuously flexed if you want to have new, game-changing ideas.

Best of all, the course is free to download on iTunes.

Creative listening is a great tool to help you solve tough problems at work. But this holiday weekend, you might want to apply what you learn to tackle a more pressing challenge: keeping everyone happy on vacation.

Happy Fourth!

 

What’s the most surprising thing you learned when you listened creatively?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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Are you “vacation deprived”? According to a 2013 study by Expedia.com, Americans only used 10 of their 14 annual vacation days. That’s twice as many unused days off as in 2012. While the restorative powers of a good, long vacation shouldn’t be ignored, there’s also something to be said about creating mini-getaways within the workplace to help people quickly reset and recharge.

Intuitively, we all know how much our environments affect our moods and behaviors. Our offices can either be numbing or energizing; encourage rigid manners or enhance creativity.At IDEO, we continually experiment with mood-altering environments.

In a few of our locations, you’ll find picnic tables, which spark memories of summer vacations and encourage friendly, casual conversations between colleagues. In our Chicago studio, there’s a cozy, under-the-stairwell fort some of our interns constructed. You need to crawl into it on your hands and knees, like a child. And at our Palo Alto location, an old-fashioned tree house was built one summer weekend, again, by some creative interns. As you climb up the ladder and perch amid the sturdy branches and rustling leaves, you soon find yourself next to some unexpected office mates, namely, bugs and birds.

The nice thing is that all these in-office escapes were easy to do and relatively inexpensive, much like a spontaneous weekend road trip. To be fair, none of them truly solve “vacation deprivation.” To my knowledge, only an actual vacation can cure that. But they do provide quick, midday pick-me-ups and that rare workplace commodity: free headspace.

Where do you go to temporarily disconnect during the workday?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)