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Ideas are the Only Currency in the New Economy

Innovate like a Kindergartner

February 3rd, 2011 · 2 Comments · Creativity

Big Ideas: To foster creativity, everyone should draw, everyone should contribute and how people move within a physical space plays a crucial role in our creative work.

Peter Merholz has a great article on Harvard Business Review titled, Innovate like a Kindergartner. (Via PFSK) Here is a good section of that article;

As companies such as mine try to help clients embrace new ways of working, ways that will unlock their creativity, encourage risk-taking, and overcome their analytical biases, I realized that pretty much everything we advocate are practices and sentiments that we’re first exposed to in kindergarten. (At least, kindergarten as I remember it from my childhood. Word is that kindergarten has gotten distressingly rigid, but that’s another matter entirely.)

When we work with clients, one of our more radical propositions is that everyone should draw. Everyone should make pictures. Even if it’s just stick figures. We’ll justify it as “making ideas tangible and concrete.” But much of the value is simply in engaging with a part of the brain that is usually dormant in a business context. It also provides the freedom to create and explore, with no judgment. To make marks on a paper or whiteboard. We make sure there are plenty of drawing supplies at hand. And really, it’s just like when you broke out the crayons or fingerpaints in kindergarten.

In these types of collaborative work sessions, one thing we make clear is that everyone should contribute, and no one person’s contributions are more valuable, or have more weight than others. This applies both across departments, but also up and down the organizational ladder. Again, like kindergarten, where there is no hierarchy, children are encouraged to share and take turns, and everyone is on equal footing.

Physical space, and how people move within it, plays a crucial role in our creative work. Teams gather around tables. There are whiteboards for drawing and tackable surfaces to display your work. People don’t sit in chairs for long, whether they get up to put their work on a wall, or to look around and see what others have done. This reminds me of the kinetic chaos of kindergarten. Whereas first grade, where you sit in little rows of little desks, is essentially the initial step on your way to a cubicle farm, and the dehumanization that goes with that.

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Comment by Karl
2011-02-06 22:08:55

The physical spaces aspect really struck a chord with me.

I find it interesting that people work and think different when they are focused on a presentation on a wall vs. a shared work table in front of them. This is definitely true. I have done work on collaboration tools for Telepresence rooms and can say that people just behave different when the work area is a table top, as opposed to a wall, even when the capabilities are the same.

There is incredible potential for using virtual worlds, virtual spaces, and augmented reality for brainstorming and ideation.

The learning curve on all the existing tools is too high still for most people. Although I have seen groups of people who could collaboratively build and shape complex 3D creations almost as fast ast they could imagine them in Second Life. I have seen enough to be convinced this will become a huge part of how people work in the future.

Comment by John
2011-02-07 15:40:52

Thanks Karl,

I often refer back to Peter Senge’s, Fifth Discipline, which talked about how structures or systems influence how we behave.

For example, too large of a space encourages people to break into private groups and not interact much.
Long narrow boardroom tables, limit the conversation to people directly surrounding you.
A single flip chart or screen, limits contribution to the perceived leaders.
Standing meetings emphasize the value of time and force everything to flow faster.
Offices create separations that reduce communication and collaboration.

It is too bad that so many of our corporations still have terrible work environments that stifle creativity and bore us.

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