Archives For Creative Confidence

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Does changing how you make things change the way you live?

The answer is “yes,” according to Made in the Future, an experimental project I collaborated on with some colleagues at IDEO Boston. The Made in the Future website recently launched and it explores how today’s innovations in maker technology might affect designers and society at large five to ten years from now.

To get inspired about what making something by hand means to people, we constructed toy airplanes with kids, cooked alongside chefs, built motorbikes with weekend gear heads, and hung out with gifted researchers at the MIT Media Lab. We looked at cutting-edge innovations in designing, manufacturing and distributing, and asked: where’s it all heading next? It was all incredibly inspiring and we learned a lot.

On the website, we break down what we learned into five themes, each illustrated with provocative product concepts. For example, a device called MatterTone addresses the desire for meaningful customization by creating 3-D recordings of ephemeral conversations.Master’s Archive, a combination camera/laser projector, enables augmented reality woodworking education in real time and speaks to the possibilities of tech-enabled learning and mastery. These are only a few of the types of tools we might create, how those things will change the way we act and learn, and how these technologies will ultimately shape our future.

Many of the advances in manufacturing and communication we enjoy today—not to mention a number of careers like “designer” and “engineer”—trace their roots back to the Industrial Revolution and early 20-century. Some of these seismic shifts took hundreds of years to play out. Imagine what will happen if, in the blink of a decade, mass manufacturing and mass media become massively personalized, variable, and collaborative?

If my predictions are accurate, creative skills will be in ever-greater demand even though access to tools will be significantly democratized, and creative confidence will be a necessary mindset for doing business. It also means we’ll longer be slavishly consuming goods, but collaborating with the most sophisticated, large-scale manufacturers to create the exact things we need when and where we need them.

If all this sounds worrisome, take heart, there’s one thing I know won’t change. Yesterday, today, or tomorrow: the act of making makes us human.

How will you participate in the maker society of tomorrow?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

If You Build It…

March 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Blocks. Legos. Forts. Kids are natural builders. But most schools don’t offer such hands-on learning. They offer sitting at a desk and listening quietly. That’s a shame, because there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Designer-activist Emily Pilloton gets this idea in a big way.

The founder of Project H, Emily’s dedicated her life to improving K-12 education in America through rigorous training in design thinking, vocational skills, and applied arts and sciences. (The “H” stands for the values at the core of her work: “hearts, hands, and hammers.”) Recently, Emily spoke to me about the two inspirational programs she’s running at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA: Camp H and Studio H. Camp H teaches young girls ages 9-12 hands-on design, woodworking, fabrication, and welding skills, while Studio H is a design and build class for 8- to 11-grade students that Emily originally co-founded with Matthew Miller in Bertie, NC. Where literalists see band saws and blow torches, visionaries like Emily and Matthew see these tools’ potential to strengthen kids’ math, design, and visual and abstract thinking skills—and boost their creative confidence.

But don’t just take my word for it. The best way to appreciate Studio H’s potential to transform young minds is to watch the recently released documentary, “If You Build It,” by Patrick Creadon, Christine O’Malley, and Neil Baer. This wonderful movie follows 13 Studio H students in Bertie, NC. Tasked with designing and building a farmers market for their community, “If You Build It” demonstrates how design can give meaning to our lives and shows just how difficult making meaningful change can be. Thankfully—spoiler alert!—their sheer optimism and determination surmounts bureaucratic obstructions and construction challenges.

I left the movie more convinced than ever that a thinking-with-your-hands approach to education provides students with the critical tools they need to build solid futures.

What other education experiments inspire you?

Photo courtesy of “If You Build It.”

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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drawing is worth a thousand words. That’s my version of the age-old adage. When it comes to expressing the functional and emotional merits of a new idea, I firmly believe you have to make it visual.

All children draw. Then, somewhere in the course of becoming logical adults, we unlearn this elemental skill. As Bob McKim, founder of Stanford’s product design program, and “lateral thinking” pioneer Edward de Bono have found, when you use drawing to express an idea instead of words or numbers, you engage a different part of the brain. To draw an idea accurately, certain decisions must be made that even the most precise language can overlook. The result of making that series of small decisions? You’re able to get to novel solutions more quickly.

Here’s an example of how drawing helped us refine a business strategy for a client: Many years ago, when online banking was still in its infancy, a start-up called Juniper Financial asked IDEO if we thought banks still needed buildings, vaults, and tellers. The team wanted to understand how people thought about money. But that’s harder than it sounds. You can observe customers paying bills or withdrawing cash, but it’s tough to scan their brains while they’re at it.

Instead, the team asked people to draw their money. One woman penned little Monopoly-style houses that represented her family, 401(k), and rental properties. The team dubbed her “The Pathfinder” since she was focused on long-term security.

Another woman drew a pile of money and a pile of things. “I get money and I buy stuff,” she told the team. She became “The Onlooker” who focused on day-to-day finances instead of long-term goals.

Talking about money can be emotionally difficult, but asking people to draw their relationship to money unlocked important insights that helped Juniper refine its target market and build a more effective service.

Visual thinking isn’t limited to illustrations, either. It can take many forms. Mind maps, two-by-two matrices, and other visual frameworks can help explore and describe ideas in valuable ways that require little more than a few straight lines and some imagination.

So, next time you reach an impasse, pull out a sketchpad or saddle up to a white board and quiet that inner voice that says you can’t draw. You may end up seeing your way through.

When has visualizing your idea instead of talking about it resulted in a better solution?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

The 7 Values That Drive IDEO

January 21, 2014 — 1 Comment

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Clients often ask me how we built IDEO’s creative culture. For 20 years, I did a lot of hand-waving and gave vague answers. Then, about a year ago, we decided we really should put our values in writing. The result was a slim hardcover called The Little Book of IDEO.

In it, we distilled what makes our workplace tick into 7 human-centered axioms. From “Be Optimistic” to “Talk Less, Do More,” they’re the ties that bind us as a culture.

I spell out all 7 values in the slideshow below, which also lives on SlideShare’s #CultureCode blog, alongside other inspiring companies like Netflix, Zappos, and Fab. Read more about our value system on LinkedIn here and here.

If you’re left wanting a longer peek behind the IDEO curtain, our friends at the Harvard Business Review just published the results of a few months of in-the-field research in an article called “IDEO’s Culture of Helping.” The authors Teresa Amabile, Colin M. Fisher, and Julianna Pillemer clearly took one of our values—“Make Others Successful”—to heart by sharing with the world and, for that, we’re very thankful.

What workplace values inspire you?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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Some think tenacity is the secret to following through on New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s more about asking the right questions and having the confidence to act on them.

I talked with my friend Don Norman recently about the value of asking interesting questions—a central tenant of design thinking. Don is a fascinating guy. A former Apple exec, academic, and author of The Design of Everyday Things, his latest adventure is teaching an online course at Udacity based on key concepts from his book.

The two of us sat down at IDEO to discuss how design thinking not only makes you better at design, but also gives you a set of problem-solving tools to help improve everything in your life, from advancing your career to throwing a great dinner party. Below, you’ll find a video of our conversation, which is also part of Don’s “Introduction to the Design of Everyday Things” class.

Whatever you’ve resolved to do this year—exercise more, learn a language, change jobs—I hope you’ll take my advice on how to start designing your life to create real, lasting, and meaningful change in 2014.

What questions are you asking yourself in the New Year?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)