Friday, December 2, 2011

Creative Fitness: doin' it in a cab

My Yoda, David Kelley, famously asserts that creativity is a skill not an innate binary quality. We are not born with or without a gene for it. Kelley likes to draw an analogy to playing the piano. Like any skill, some of us are inherently pre-disposed to be better, even great, at playing the piano or thinking creatively--Mozart and Kelley himself are prime examples. But, everyone, with training and practice can improve their creativity.

Practicing creativity has been a recurring challenge over the past few years and has been on my mind a lot lately. At the or even in the context of certain projects at work, I was in the equivalent of creativity bootcamp (in fact, the aptly even has a class called "bootcamp".) Every day, I was being challenged to increase my generative powers and come up with cool sh*t.

Now, with a new job that's come with a ton of executional responsibilities and I feel like I'm at-risk of gaining the Freshman 15--both physically and mentally. It's hard enough to squeeze in time for physical fitness, but add in creative fitness, a personal life, a 3 hr commute, you get the picture.

So, here's the design challenge for the week:
How to: find time/inspiration/energy to stay creatively fit while juggling the other stuff that must be juggled

I've been pondering and prototyping for some time and here are some highlights and lowlights. I can't wait to hear yours.

Tactics I have tried in the past have ranged widely. As always, please defer judgement!
  • There's an App for that!
Mmm not really. I downloaded an app called "Stimulator" in hope of using my commute time to expand my creative horizons. Epic fail, unsurprisingly. Basically, it's a list of icebreaker-type activities with chintzy names like: Word association, Bounce off someone, Oops!, get the picture. Tap on a prompt--e.g., color--"Choose a color and let that color influence your thinking...think about your idea in terms of a color: do certain colors affect the way you see it?" Not sure what I expected out of an app, but suffice to say I recommend saving your $2.99--lazy approaches to fitness never make you fit.

  • Goal-Setting
A great friend of my mine started a New Years tradtiion we dubbed the Ladies' New Years Resolution Board (LNYRB). Like good MBAs, we developed a list of 3-5 resolutions, each of which laddered up to a larger life goal and also included a measurable indicator of success. For example: Life Goal: Be a Healthy Person>>Resolution: Get in shape >>Measurement: Do cardio at least 3x/week and yoga at least 1x/week. One of my goals was around creativity, similar to the topic of this post. My measurable parameter was to create at least four works of visual art over the course of a year. This was a more successful experience.

The highlight was finding the free open drawing studio at the SF Art Institute every Friday. You bring your own supplies and they provide three hours of access to a studio space and a live nude model. Awesome. Now for me, visual art is very much at the root of my creativity. It's unfocused and raw, unlike the type of creative thinking I bring to bear in work situations, which are focused on a user need. But to me, it's the purest form of my creativity. Putting charcoal to paper to capture the essence of an image in a way that is interesting to me and different from the 1000s of other times I've sketched the human form over the past 25 years was a great creative workout.

So the crux of this tactic: think about what is your most natural creative endeavor--cooking, writing, drawing, composing an awesome outfit (don't judge), yoga, anything that takes you to a place of creation, reinvention, and refinement. Set a goal, even a modest one, and commit to spending some amount of time doing it--committing publicly in group setting is even better.

We have yet to trademark the LNYRB, so have at it!

  • Everyday Ethnographies
This is where the "doin' it in a cab" thing comes in. I did it today in fact (more on that in a minute.)

If you remember to be an ethnographer at all times, the world opens up around you. In addition to "doin' it in a cab", you can also "do it" in a mall.

One of my favorite assignments from one of my favorite professors at the GSB was to go the Stanford Shopping Center and spend a half hour observing all the activities people were engaged in other than shopping. We drew diagrams, mapped the migratory paths, and delineated activity zones. Turns out that mall is a mecca of baby-sitting, dog-walking, eating, flirtation, power-walking, family bonding, mediation, work, etc. Shopping is almost a sidebar.

This is a great activity to do anywhere. Tune your observational powers to the max, strip away the "key purpose" of any setting, and figure out what is really going on there. Amazing design opportunities may result! Plus, it's fun.

Back to my cab experience. I am a payments geek, which make cabs a great mini-ethnography opportunity for me. I got into a cab recently and noticed a tout for Google Wallet on the advertising screen built into the payment terminal. I asked the driver about the Wallet and whether anyone had used it yet (they had not). I asked him about the impact of credit card acceptance on his wages and we debated whether anchoring people at a minimum 20% tip level, as many of the terminal default user flow do, was offsetting fees and making the experience net positive. He said that that was not really panning out...I later discovered Angus was was bypassing the terminal altogether and using Square, which lets the user chose the tip in a free-form manner, thus explaining why he was not benefiting from extra tips, as he would had he used the terminal instead.

I'll stop there since no doubt you are less interested in payments than I am. That said, it was a great cab ride. I learned a lot about how Angus perceives payments and ways in which payments systems might be better stitched together to optimized his earnings.

Great ideas come from anywhere--and this guys was full of them. Note: bad ideas also come from anywhere, so as a designer, judgement is a another key skill. By the end of the ride he gave me his card and told me to let him know if I wanted him to shrink wrap his cab in Google Wallet ads. Probably not just yet. But that 20 minute ride was definitely a creative workout!

My apologies for the long-winded blog post. I'll work on brevity in future posts.

My question to the forum: what are your ideas, either proven or pie-in-the-sky, re: how to stay creatively fit?

I think this is a question of great importance and can't wait to hear your ideas, stories--and remember: please defer judgement:)

I'd also love feedback on my creative fitness tips and flops or this blog post /topic/content in general. Please do not defer judgement in this arena!

Happy Friday! Enjoy the weekend and try to squeeze in a creative workout if you can.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I'm Thinking D

In the four plus years since I first dipped a toe into the world of Design Thinking, I've felt at once more connected to other humans (especially those who share my penchant) and also more lonely, when surrounded by D skeptics, or worse, D apathetics.

Along the way, I have met some incredible individuals--teachers, colleagues, mentors, and mentees. I've often wished there were a forum for us all to connect more frequently and casually outside of academic or professional settings.

So consider this blog a first iteration of my thoughts on How To: connect Design Thinkers to ideate, conversate, relate and generate.

To say I'm open suggestions would be an understatement. I would very much appreciate your thoughts on directions in which this could evolve. Will it become a monthly in-person forum? an online community? a lowly little-read blog? All end-states are exciting to me, and hopefully to you too.

I'm especially curious right now re: platform suggestions. If anyone has ideas as to where I should host this blog and/or other tech tips, I'd be super appreciative! Consider this our first community brainstorm challenge...

What to expect here: evolution, first and foremost. To start, we can share stories of d.thinking--whether at work or in our personal lives. We can brainstorm (virtually or in-person). We can ask questions. We can ideate and help each other stay "in shape" creatively, like circuit training for our right brains. What else? I hope this will be a place with many voices, so chime in please!

Thanks for reading and looking forward to hopefully building a D-centric world where we can get creative together and have some fun!