Archives For creative confidence

made_in_the_future_3

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)

daydreaming_designthinking

Daydreaming has a bad reputation. Just think of any classroom scene on TV where a teacher is chiding a child for staring out the window during class. Traditionally, those kids have been thought of as slackers, but, according to a recent report on education and entrepreneurship for the UK parliament co-authored by my friend, Professor Andy Penaluna, they’re exhibiting the behavior of innovators. They’re engaging in “relaxed attention.”

During relaxed attention, a problem or challenge is taking up space in your brain, but it isn’t on the front burner. Relaxed attention lies somewhere between meditation, where you completely clear your mind, and the laser-like focus you apply when tackling a tough math problem. Our brains can make cognitive leaps when we’re not completely obsessed with a challenge, which is why good ideas sometimes come to us when we’re in the shower or talking a walk or on a long drive.

Unfortunately, in both the UK and US education systems, since the late 1980s, the trend has been away from unstructured play and time studying the arts—both prime times for switching gears into relaxed cognition—and toward more structured, standardized National Curriculums. According to the report, this focus on finding the single right answer for the test instead of exploring many alternate solutions has resulted in “a significant decline in creative thinking scores in US schools. Using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), and a sample of 272,599 pupils (kindergarten to fourth grade), evidence suggests that the decline is steady and persistent [affecting] teachers’ and pupils’ ability to think creatively, imaginatively and flexibly.”

While we can’t turn our entire education system around overnight, there are a few things you and your school-age children can do to enhance your creative capacity through engaging relaxed attention:

 

+ Walk away from the problem, literally. As the philosopher-poet Friedrich Nietsche once said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Maybe it’s the increased blood flow from exercising or the emotional distance gained by walking away from a problem, whatever it is, walking works.

Carry a notebook with you at all times, even by your bedside. You never know when good ideas will come. Having something nearby to jot them down ensures they won’t be forgotten along the way.

Turn your “snooze button” into a “muse button.” Use those few minutes of half-consciousness every morning to let your mind wander over problems you’ve been wrestling with during waking hours. With some practice, you’ll start discovering fresh insights before your first cup of coffee.

When have you experienced the benefits of daydreaming?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

designthinking_creative_listening_576

An IDEO researcher practicing “creative listening.”

What would an Argentinian car mechanic know about childbirth? If you’re Jorge Odon, father of five, quite a bit. Or at least enough to design a low-cost, low-tech instrument that could revolutionize how doctors assist mothers during difficult births—and save thousands of babies in countries where conventional, high-tech solutions aren’t available.

Odon, a self-professed tinkerer and inventor, was inspired by an ingenious party trick on how to get a loose cork out of an empty bottle. You tilt the bottle, stuff a plastic bag down the neck and blow into the opening. The bag balloons inside the bottle and wraps itself tightly around the cork. Then you pull it out. If it could work on a cork, Odon thought, maybe the same technique would help make labor easier.

Along with his friend, Carlos Modena, Odon prototyped and iterated on his idea using his daughter’s dolls and jam jars. When they had a working model, they called Dr. Javier Schvartzman at the Center for Medical Education and Clinical Research in Buenos Aires and asked if they could show him their device.

The story could easily have ended here, with the busy medical professional refusing to speak to the mechanic and his friend about birthing instruments instead of tires and struts. But what’s remarkable is that Dr. Schvartzman didn’t turn them away, instead he opened his mind and engaged what I call his “creative listening skills.”

Odon’s prototype was basic—just a proof-of-concept. But Dr. Schvartzman was able to see potential in the idea and imagine how it might be developed into a workable solution. By practicing “creative listening,” he was able to step out of his expertise and identify value in an idea that came from a complete outsider, with the intention of building on it and making it better.

This same skill is key to good improv theater: actors listen to the words of the previous actor and, despite never having heard them before, build on them to continue the narrative. Improvisers call it the “Yes, and” rule.

I’m convinced that creative breakthroughs and innovative solutions require creative listening. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-rare skill in many organizations. In fact, just the opposite happens. When someone shares a “crazy idea,” the instinct is to cite all the reasons why it wouldn’t work—shutting it down with a “No, but” response.

Imagine how much untapped potential could be released into the world if more of us opened our minds—and ears—and responded with a “Yes, and” to wild-eyed outliers like Jorge Ordon.

What idea have you built on recently through creative listening?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Stuck in a Job You Hate?

December 2, 2013 — 2 Comments

227e0a9_576px

Illustration Credit: Alyana Cazalet

Don’t let fear of failure constrict your career.

While there’s a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, new figures from Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report suggest having a personally rewarding job isn’t one of them. Just 30 percent of employees say they’re engaged and inspired at work, while over half (52 percent) admit to checking in physically, but out mentally. Even worse, the remaining 18 percent are infecting others with their unhappiness. When you consider the average adult spends over 90,000 hours of his or her life at work, job dissatisfaction becomes a problem of epic proportions.

One hurdle to looking for a more satisfying job might be monetary. The economy’s still a bit shaky, it feels risky to jump ship. But I’m guessing the bigger hurdle is mental. It can be scary to change things up, especially if it means learning new skills. While it might take a while for the economy to right itself, job-haters can do something today to change their predicament: “touch the snake.”

You might have come across this seemingly counterintuitive phrase in Creative Confidence, the new book by my friends and colleagues Tom and David Kelley. They’re not suggesting a literal serpent, of course, but the “fear of failure” coiled up in our brains, ready to paralyze us with inaction at the smallest provocation. The Kelleys were inspired by Albert Bandura, the world-renowned psychologist and Stanford University professor. Bandura developed an approach to overcoming fears called “guided mastery.” Using real snakes, Bandura would walk people through a step-by-step desensitization process. First, he’d say there was a snake in the next room. Next, he’d make them stand at the door. Eventually, they were able to walk inside the room and touch the snake without anxiety. After that, their phobias were gone. As it turns out, guided mastery doesn’t just help people with lifelong phobias, it can help those looking to make life changes, too.

Many years ago, for instance, I decided I wanted to be a designer, but didn’t know what it entailed. At university, I gradually learned the process of design by doing it. At first, I wasn’t very good (in fact, most of my ideas were pretty terrible), but step by step I got better and, by the time I graduated from college, some of my ideas were good enough they made it to market. Any doubts I had about being a designer had disappeared, thanks to a series of small successes. Bandura would call this belief in my creative abilities “self-efficacy.”

This holiday weekend, if you count yourself among the disaffected 70 percent of employed Americans, I challenge you do some soul-searching between bites of turkey. Ask yourself: What’s your “snake”? What’s holding you back from having a job that fulfills you personally as well as professionally? What small steps could you take right now to get you on the road to your dream job? As Bandura discovered, any action, however big or small, is the best antidote to fear.

How will you start down the road of your new working life?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

photobase_4rRGqMmnf_580px

“I’m not a creative person.” I hear that all the time from clients when they first start working with IDEO. It’s an offhand comment, meant as an excuse for not being able to come up with innovative ideas on their own, but behind it lies a fear of failure—of being judged by others. While it’s tempting to blame oppressive corporate culture for this crisis of creative confidence, its roots can often be traced to the classroom.

If you’ve ever watched young children play, you know what uninhibited creativity looks like. Toddlers will belt out off-key tunes at the top of their lungs, dance with abandon down the aisles of a supermarket, or color on walls and floors, never questioning their ability. But somewhere along the way—maybe because of a remark by a parent, teacher, or peer, or maybe because of their own insecurities—many kids lose confidence in their creative instincts, especially during their high school and college years.

Inspired by Tom and David Kelley’s new book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, our friends at the open-innovation hub OpenIDEO have launched a global design challenge to help reverse this troubling childhood trend. In the past, the OpenIDEO community has rallied to address such issues as healthy aging, human rights, and urban revitalization, creating breakthrough services, campaigns, and social enterprises in the process. Their current challenge is about generating inspiring ideas to help teenagers and young adults around the world nurture their creativity. The question they’re asking anyone interested in participating is:

How might we inspire young people to cultivate their creative confidence?

The world is full of complex, thorny challenges that require innovative solutions. It’s critical that young people start flexing their creative muscles today so they can take the lead in addressing those challenges in the future.

If you haven’t yet contributed ideas to the challenge, I encourage you to do so before November 20, when the initial Ideas Phase ends. Afraid your ideas won’t measure up? Take the Kelley brothers’ advice: “The best way to gain confidence in your creative ability is through action, taken one step at a time.”

How do you encourage the young people in your life to fulfill their creative potential?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)