Archives For creativity

design_thinking_PA_treehouse

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)

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)

linkedin_drawing

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)

This week TED published a playlist called 10 Talks About the Beauty—and Difficulty—of Being Creative. Included in the playlist: David Kelley’s 2012 TED talk, “How To Build Your Creative Confidence,” and my own 2008 talk, “Tales of Creativity and Play.

There’s a powerful relationship between creative thinking and play. To learn about many examples you can try at home (and one that maybe you shouldn’t), watch “Tales of Creativity and Play.

Then watch David’s talk—and don’t miss the rest of the TED creativity playlist.

What inspires you to be creative today?

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)