Creativity + Confidence = Problem Solved

The Post-It notes covered my big chair in the living room last night. If you would have knocked on my door and walked in, you would have wondered what kind of craziness you had interrupted.

I do this when I come across video content that makes my brain whir with delight.  David Kelley from Ideo was responsible for the frenzy last night.

In a 60 Minutes interview, Kelly, the founder of the global design company, talked about the marriage of art and engineering, how he developed it at Ideo and amplified it as the Donald W. Whittier Professor at Stanford’s

David Kelley loves to brainstorm, and this is why I admire David Kelley.

One of my favorite things to do is to get in a room with a bunch of enthusiastic people and solve a problem. For many years, this was an exercise in frustration.

In my former life as a manager of radio stations, one of the first philosophies I floated to my managers when I started the jobs was integrating  and recruiting willing members of the staff to overcome challenges. I wanted to invite the receptionist, the janitor, the CEO, the marketing director, a random station listener and an engineer to these regular meetings. In theory, everyone would be equal, everyone had a voice, and everyone could speak honestly. The participants would bring unique points of view and perspectives to the table. We needed a money person, a creative person, a design person and others to look at a challenge through many different lenses.

Floating that concept as one of my first actionable ideas was usually met with a bewildered gaze.  The first question I would be asked was “Why”?

Why not, I would think to myself. Then I would wonder why they hired me!

The culture of many of the offices I worked in was extremely hierarchical. The receptionist answered the phone, got paid diddly to do it, and was never asked to be a part of the team. But what if the receptionist had some really good notions of how to create a product or service that, to use Kelley’s words, were “empathetic to people”?

Nobody wanted to ask them.

Maybe the receptionist in question was a dim bulb, possessing zero curiosity. But maybe not.

Nobody wanted to find out.

The radio industry is in free fall. The failure of the suits to listen to the dreams of their teams has shut down creativity and innovation, replacing it with contraction, layoffs and spreadsheets. The money changers have supplanted the creative class.

They are getting what they deserve.

I get to brainstorm to my heart’s content now, with my students, as their teacher. I get to brainstorm with my clients, as their partner.

I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign in a week or so to secure funding for the hardcover version of my forthcoming book. I have pledged to give high-level backers with a reward – to help them find the confidence of their creativity, to help them seek solutions to the projects they want to realize. I want to pay it forward, by (altruistically) bribing them to get together with people from disparate walks of life to brainstorm.

If I am fortunate enough to have the chance, I’ll be the last man standing at this get-together, because I won’t ever want to stop.

If you are a manager, you can change the world (or at least make your office a hell of a lot happier) by doing four things:

1) Put willing people together

2) Allow them to have the confidence to tell you that you are wrong

3) Crash the artists into the engineers

4) Reward their courage and confidence by making them a real part of the process.

When your manager says, “That’s not how we do it.”, smile inside. You just unlocked the key to your reinvention.

Signature photoJohn Scott is a media instructor, online education coordinator and the career services manager at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. John’s debut book, “Broken Glass and Barbed Wire” will be published on or around Groundhog Day. Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.


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