Our Part In The 'Creative Conspiracy'
What does a mound of Play-Dough, a pile of fluorescent sticky notes, and lots of scribbling on whiteboards mean? Well, I could come up with plenty of amusing answers. But in the context of SAP's Sapphire Now, the company's flagship conference, these seemingly simple and even childlike objects amount to a lot of savvy ideas. Welcome to the world of Design Thinking, corporate-style.
SAP decided to dedicate some of its real estate on the floor of the Orlando convention center last week to a unique area for Design Thinking. During my initial stroll around the vast hall to check out the booths of our competitors and run into long-time clients, my eyes fell upon the Design Thinking area. So I headed over for a closer look. The first thing that happened was that a very friendly SAP employee greeted me and asked me if I knew what Design Thinking was. I told her I did, both in the conventional, architectural/industrial context as well as its use in corporate management techniques. What ensued was a really fun experience trying out the different facets of Design Thinking in the booth.
Some people put their ideas into 3-D by sculpting Play-Dough, a children's toy. They are not bothered by the stigma of Play-Dough being aimed at children; they're more intent on utilizing a simple way to express their ideas quickly and in three dimensions. Still other people used sticky notes to brainstorm and place the notes up on an 'innovation wall' of sorts that collected all of their spur-of-the-moment ideas. The innovation wall was designed to allow people to feel comfortable trying out new ideas without a high-level executive peering over their shoulders. One of the notes was my favorite. It read simply: 'Teleport me home!'
I thought to myself - well, here's a funny idea. Teleportation is something we see in science fiction movies such as Star Trek. Yet here was someone expressing an idea that was perhaps borne out of frustration - years of dreary business travel, missed connections, and a crying baby in the seat behind him when he just wanted to take a quick nap on the flight. Hmmmm, I thought, teleportation. Tell me more!
Now I realize actual teleportation of human beings might be centuries away from the present day. But on that wall someone had placed a seed of an idea that's going to germinate. Why? Because the person who wrote that sticky note is practising 'creative confidence' - the knowledge that her idea won't be laughed at or torn down but rather taken seriously, even if her team (in an actual company setting) was tasked with solving a completely different problem. In fact, a leading book on collaboration, which is an important part of Design Thinking, is even titled Creative Conspiracy.
David M. Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the Design School at Stanford, has spoken to Infoscions in the past about Design Thinking and he puts it this way: "Design Thinking applies to everything and particularly to services companies because this is where you try to delight people and try to understand what they really value. It's hard, and most companies do not want to deal with the messiness of really trying to understand what's going on or going in and really build empathy for your user and figure out what matters to them - this is just a way of new ideas to keep coming out naturally."
Indeed, innovation is not a neat endeavor. It can be wonderfully messy. That messiness incorporates new ways - including cultural, gender, and career experiences - and heaps it all together in order to come at problems in completely new ways. It's why Infosys encourages Design Thinking and our friends at SAP seem to have embraced something similar. As for me, I'm on my way back to corporate headquarters, but not by teleportation. Although, someday...