IDEO founder and Stanford d.school creator David Kelley and his brother Tom Kelley, IDEO partner and the author of the bestselling The Art of Innovation, have written a powerful and compelling book on unleashing the creativity that lies within each and every one of us.
Too often, companies and individuals assume that creativity and innovation are the domain of the “creative types.” But two of the leading experts in innovation, design, and creativity on the planet show us that each and every one of us is creative. In an incredibly entertaining and inspiring narrative that draws on countless stories from their work at IDEO, the Stanford d.school, and with many of the world’s top companies, David and Tom Kelley identify the principles and strategies that will allow us to tap into our creative potential in our work lives, and in our personal lives, and allow us to innovate in terms of how we approach and solve problems. It is a book that will help each of us be more productive and successful in our lives and in our careers.
Basically as I go through any book that I read, I underline interesting ideas/quotes/paragraphs and then later come back through the book to get the lessons gleaned from these underpinnings and try to figure out what they mean to me and apply them to my own life.
Here were the most interesting lessons in the book for me:
There’s no word in the Tibetan language for “creativity” or “being creative.” The closest translation is “natural.”
In other words if you want to be more creative, you just have to be more natural. We forget that back in kindergarten, we were all creative.
We all played and experimented and tried out things without fear or shame. We didn’t know enough not to. The fear of social rejection is something we learned as we got older.
When people transcend the fears that block their creativity, all sorts of new possibilities emerge. Instead of being paralyzed by the prospect of failure, they see every experience as an opportunity they can learn from.
The need for control keeps some people stuck at the planning stage of a project.
With creative confidence, they become comfortable with uncertainty and are able to leap into action.
In every innovation program we’ve been involved with, there are always three factors to balance:
- Business (viable)
- People (desirable)
- Technical (feasible)
We aim to understand why people do what they currently do, with the goal of understanding what they might do in the future.
We’ve washed other people’s clothes by hand in their sinks, stayed as guests in housing projects, stood beside surgeons in operating rooms, and calmed agitated passengers in airport security lines——all to build empathy. You need empathy to create.
There’s no one-size-fits-all method for bringing news ideas to life, but these four help:
- Inspiration: don’t wait for the proverbial apple to fall on your head. Go out in the world and proactively seek experiences that will spark creative thinking.
- Synthesis: We reframe the problem and choose where to focus our energy. An example, in retail environments we’ve discovered that if you change the question from “how might we reduce customer waiting time?” To “how might we reduce perceived waiting time?” It opens up much more possibility.
- Ideation and Experimentation: generate countless ideas, consider many divergent options. The best ones are advanced in iterative rounds of rapid prototypes—early rough representations that are concrete enough for people to react to.
- Implementation: SHIP It
We help clients envision what their new or existing operations might look like in the future—-and build road maps for getting there.
We have a little of both of the fixed mindset and growth mindset. The fixed mindset whispers “We’ve never been good at this, so why embarrass ourselves now?” The growth mindset whispers in the other ear “Effort is the path to mastery, so let’s give it a try.” Which voice will you listen to?
Design thinkers make everything a conscious and original choice: from how they arrange their bookshelf to how they present their work. When they look around the world, they see opportunities to do things better and have a desire to change them. Once you starting creating things, whether it’s laying out a new garden or starting a new company, or writing a new piece of software, you start to realize that everything has intention behind it. Everything in modern society is the result of a collection of decisions made by someone. Why shouldn’t that someone be you?
“The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will…..pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it, that’s maybe the most important thing….Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same”
Creative people simply do more experiments.
Their ultimate “strokes of genius” don’t come about because they succeed more often than other people—-they just do more, period.
They take more shots at the goal.
Edison maintained that the “real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours.”
In fact, early failure can be crucial to success in innovation. Because the faster you find weaknesses during an innovation cycle, the faster you can improve what needs fixing.
Many of our d. School classes demand that student teams keep pushing the limits of possibility until they face-plant. They must keep going until they fail. And eventually everyone fails, but you maybe get 2,3 steps further than you ever thought possible.
Innovation Thinkers often use “informed intuition” to identify a great insight, a key need, or a core feature. In other words, relentless practice creates a database of experience that you can draw upon to make more enlightened choices.
When it comes to bringing new stuff into the world, Diego argues that the number of product cycles you’ve gone through (what he calls “mileage”) trumps the number of years of experience.
A 20-year veteran of the auto industry who works several years on each new vehicle before it goes to market might have experienced far fewer cycles than a software developer working just two years on mobile apps that ship every couple of months.
Once you have gone through enough rapid innovation cycles, you will gain familiarity with process and confidence in your ability to assess new ideas. And that confidence results in reduced anxiety in the face of ambiguity when you are bringing new ideas into the world.
We all need the latitude to try out new ideas. Look for ways to grant yourself creative license, or give yourself the equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Label your next idea an experiment, and let everyone know that you are just testing it out.
Lower others’ expectations, so that failure can lead to learning without career damage.
“Success has many fathers, failure is always an orphan.”
To learn from failure, you have to “own it.” You have to figure out what went wrong and what to do better next time or else you’ll make the same mistake again.
We didn’t know as children that we were creative. We just knew it was okay for us to try experiments that sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. That we could keep creating, keep tinkering, and trust that something interesting would result if we stuck with it.
“When our self-worth isn’t on the line we are far more willing to be courageous and risk sharing our raw talents and gifts.”
One way to embrace creativity is to let go of comparison. If you are concerned about how you measure up to others or what others will think about your creation, you won’t perform the risk-taking and trailblazing inherent in creative endeavors.
*spend as little time to zero on social media.*
“Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
THINK LIKE A TRAVELER
Ever travel to a foreign city? We’ve all hear that “travel broads the mind.” But beneath this cliche lies a deep truth. Things stand out because they are different, so we notice every detail, from street signs to mailboxes to how you pay at a restaurant.
We learn a lot when we travel not because we are any smarter on the road, but we because we pay such close attention. On a trip, we become our own version of Sherlock Holmes, intensely observing the environment around us. We are continually trying to figure out a wold that is foreign and new.
Too often, we go through day-to-day life on cruise control, oblivious to huge swaths of our surroundings. To notice friction points—-and therefore opportunities to do things better—it helps to see the world with fresh eyes.
When you meet creative people with lots of ideas constantly bubbling to the surface, you often come away feeling that they are operating on a different frequency. And they are, they have all of their receptors on.
Try to engage a “beginners mind.” For kids, everything is novel, so they ask lots of questions and look at the world wide-eyed, soaking it all in. Everywhere they turn, they tend to think “Isn’t that interesting?” Rather than “I already know about that.”
Apply a beginners mind to something you do or see every day: commuting to work, eating dinner, or preparing for a meeting. Look for new insights about familiar things. Think of it as a treasure hunt.
What’s true of deal flow for venture capital firms is true of idea flow: the more fresh new ideas that cross your field of vision each day, the greater your insights will be. As Nobel laureate Linus Pauling said “If you want a good idea, start with a lot of ideas.” At IDEO, we try to keep a fast-running stream of conversations going about provocative new technologies, inspiring case studies, and emerging trends.
Create an eclectic portfolio of short and long-term ideas, with varying potential for risk and reward, Keep track of then in a folder.
We believe deeply in the problem-solving power of daydreaming. Sometimes it helps to stop focusing so intently on an issue and aim for what David’s mentor Bob McKim used to call “relaxed attention.”
In that mental state, the problem or challenge occupies space in your brain, but not on the front burner. Relaxed attention lies between meditation, where you completely clear your mind, and the laser-like focus you apply when tackling a math problem.
Our brains can make cognitive leaps when we are not completely obsessed with a challenge, which is why good ideas sometimes come to us while we are in the shower, taking a walk, or on a long drive.
David places a whiteboard marker in his shower so he can write a passing idea on the glass before it slips away.
So if you find yourself stuck on a problem, take 20 minutes or so off the grid; let your mind disengage temporarily. You may find a solution arriving like a flash of insight.
“The Muse Button”
When you just wake up in the morning, your brain is in this in between state of being awake and not at the same time, do your 10 ideas at this time. (Link)
Also walking is great for idea generation
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
Empathy means challenging your preconceived ideas and setting aside your sense of what you think is true in order to learn what actually is true.
The next time you see something quirky, keep an open mind. You might discover a business opportunity hidden in plain sight. (Mismatched shoes)
“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.”
Don’t be fooled by what you “know for sure” about your business, or project, or the world. Seek out opportunities to observe and update your worldview.
One of the best ways to accelerate learning is to ask questions. A question that starts with “why?” Or “what if?” Can brush aside superficial details and get to the heart of the matter.
She has lots of experiences asking questions of potential end users. One way she brings questions to life is by making them playful. Instead of asking “why do you like this book so much?” She’ll turn it into a game: “pretend you wanted to convince a friend that they should read this book, what would you tell them?”
One misconception about empathy is that it means going to your customers, asking them what they want, and then giving them exactly what they asked for.
Empathy is more about understanding latent needs. Even if people can’t articulate them to you. By watching real people you can learn things you’d never find out if you asked them straightforward questions.
Ask the people you are interviewing to visualize their experience through a drawing. This can be a great way to debunk assumptions and reveal how people think about and prioritize their activities.
Try asking unexpected experts:
If you make fridges, ask a repair shop which part needs to be fixed most frequently. Ask a blind person how they use a smart phone.
Ask a biomimicry expert to tell you what people can learn by watching ants.
Ask a science fiction writer to think about the future of packaging.
Sometimes, the first step toward a great answer is to reframe the question. Problem statements often assume that you already know what to look for, that you know the correct solution and that the only challenge lies in figuring out how to achieve it.
Before you start searching for solutions, however, step back to make sure you have unearthed the correct problem.
Chance favors people who do lots of experiments and then pay very close attention to when something unexpected happens.
Many new ventures have started with a chance encounter, from striking up a conversation at an industry conference, to gaining insight from a fellow passenger on a long flight.
Nurture the kind of “prepared mind” that seizes the moment when an epiphany occurs. And then try conducting more experiments.
But the real insights come from getting out into the world and gaining empathy with the people whose lives you want to improve.
I learned that creativity is always in hindsight. It’s not about coming up with the one genius idea that solves the problem, but trying and failing at a hundred other solutions before arriving at the best one.
To embrace that level of experimentation, don’t get stuck in the planning stage. Innovative is all about quickly turning ideas into action.
That necessity for getting things moving has it’s basis—-at least metaphorically—-in the fundamentals of science.
Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states “a body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion.
To overcome inertia, good ideas are not enough. Careful planning is not enough.
The organizations, communities, and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that launch rapid innovation cycles, that learn by doing as soon as they can. They are sprinting forward, while others are still waiting at the starting line.
The next time you start to say “wouldn’t it be great if….?” Just take a moment, remember John Keefe (bus guy) and tell yourself, “Maybe I can finish it by the end of the day.” JUST START NOW.
Do or do not. There is no try.
We both summon the phrase “bird by bird” when confronted by an intimidating task, sometimes actually saying it our loud. Those three words remind us that, no matter how large the chasm, we can narrow the knowing-doing gap one step at a time.
In other words, to reach a creative breakthrough you just need to start. Regardless of small failures along the way. It’s unlikely that your first try at anything will be a success. But that’s okay. It’s hard to be the “best” right away, so commit to rapid and continuous improvements. The messiness of such trial and error may seem uncomfortable at first, but action allows us to learn at a faster rate.
A clever ceramics teacher divided his pottery class into two groups during the first session. One half of the students, he announced, would be graded on quality as represented by a single ceramic piece due at the end of the year, a culmination of all they had learned.
The other half of the class he would grade based on quantity. For example, fifty pounds of finished work would earn them an A. Throughout the course, the “quality” students funneled their energy into meticulously crafting the perfect ceramic piece, while the “quantity” students threw pots nonstop in every session. And although it was counterintuitive to his students, you can guess how this experiment came out: at the end of the course, the best pieces all came from students whose goal was quantity, the ones who spent the most time actually practicing their craft.
Narrow The Goal
Curing world hunger is too big. Set smaller, achievable goals you can act on. Work in a soup kitchen in your local community. Sponsor a child in Cambodia. Narrow the scope until you can see how to get started.
Experiment To Learn
What’s the best way to make progress toward your goal? In our experience, it’s to build a prototype, an early working model that has become a key tool of design thinkers. If you show up at a meeting with an interesting prototype while others only bring a laptop or a yellow pad, don’t be surprised if the whole meeting is centered on your ideas.
The reason for prototyping is experimentation—-the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices. It also gives you something you can show and talk about with other people. We often build physical prototypes. But a prototype is just an embodiment of your idea. It could be an array of Post-its to simulate a software interface. It could be a skit in which you act out your experience, or a quick version of an advertisement describing a product or service or feature that doesn’t exist yet.
Besides speeding up the process of experimentation, prototypes are easy to throw away when they fail. Creativity requires cycling lots of ideas. The more you invest in your prototype and the closer to “final” it is, the harder it is to let go of a concept that’s not working.
Prototyping quickly and cheaply also allows you to keep multiple concepts alive longer. So instead of making a big bet on one approach based on gut feeling, you can develop and test multiple ideas.
Multiple alternatives also encourage good, honest feedback about your ideas. If you go in with only one prototype, it limits your options. With multiple prototypes, you can have a frank discussion about the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.
People let potentially great ideas slip away every day. Sometimes we assume that acting on them would take too long or require too much effort.
Experiments are one way to lower the bar in trying out an idea. And the faster the experiment, the more likely you are to try.
Never go to a meeting without a prototype.
“I am quite comfortable with making the odd mistake, if it comes in the pursuit of new opportunities and new ideas.”
If you don’t like the news….go out and make some of your own.
When faced with a trade-off between money and the heart, we believe it makes sense to consider both. Money will always be easier to measure, which is why it takes a little extra effort to value the heart.
People get so bogged down in the everyday trivial details of their lives that they sometimes forget that they don’t have to be trapped. It’s sort of like those Chinese finger traps you had when you were a kid. The more you tried to pull your fingers out, the more you were stuck. But when you pushed them in, you could get out. Sometimes, you just have to redefine things, no matter what your age.
Just by taking action you’re better off than ninety-nine percent of people.
It’s not uncommon for the skills you develop on an individual project to have broader applications. With a little luck—-and a lot of perseverance—an interesting side project may even become your primary job over time.
The company got mired in what Kaaren calls “the talking phase” in which lots of people vocally express their support, but no actual action is taken or progress made.
We seldom say “That’s a bad idea.” Or “that wont work” or “We’ve tried that before.”
When we disagree with someone else’s idea, we push ourselves to ask “what would make it better?” What can I add to make it a great idea?
Or What NEW idea does that spur? By doing so, we keep the creative momentum going instead of cutting off the flow of ideas.
It is the back and forth of ideas that can lead you to new and unexpected places.
By working in diverse multidisciplinary teams, we can get to a place that would have been impossible for one of us to reach alone. Bringing together a variety of experiences, and contrasting perspective results in a creative tension that often leads to more innovative and interesting ideas.
When you deeply believe in creativity, you should weave it into the fabric of your company. Embed it into all your communications. Have it reflected in your hiring process and performance evaluation. Make it a part of your brand.
Defenders of the status quo often say “we’ve always done it this way” or “nobody does it like that.” With a series of “why?” Questions and 8-year old could disarm such defenses. But adults sometimes forget the simple power of words.
One way to spur more innovation is to nurture the innovators.
Use “I Like/I Wish”
I like that we have started on time every morning. I wish we had 30 minutes every afternoon to stretch our legs.
“I like/I wish signals that what you are stating is your opinion—it’s not an absolute. Instead of pointing fingers, you are offering your view or perspective.
Think of today as a prototype. What would you change?