People are natural Fault Finders. I’ve observed how people tend to approach new ideas by first finding the many ways it could fail. I’ve seen this lead to frustration, anger and dampen the creative process. I’ve learned it’s next to impossible to come up with good ideas while others provide judgement on them at the same time. In essence, we’re cutting our creative leashes too short.
I’m on a mission to unleash our creativity and to help us start Looking for Success. This is a great challenge which will require a ton of courage and most of all, a ton of persistence. It’s going to feel strange, it’s radically different than how we’re used to thinking and it’s going to take a lot of time and feedback to get working. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work in a culture that mastered the Art of Innovation. I’ve taken my learnings from this wildly different environment and designed a tutorial to help us unleash our creativity. I am calling this approach Success Finding. I know firsthand what a dramatic difference it can make.
Choose Your Own Adventure to Innovation
I’ve created a Choose Your Own Adventure game to illustrate the Failure Finding approach vs. the Success Finding approach.
I’m serious, go play it now!
Innovation Game Analysis:
In you choose a Fault Finding response the innovation game abruptly ends. You don’t get an idea to proceed with, your colleague doesn’t learn how to improve the idea and you are both frustrated. Nobody wins.
If you choose every Success Finding response, you both win! You’ve increased the creativity in the conversation, the colleague safely learns of a flaw in their idea, you learn something new and get a valid idea to proceed with.
It’s pretty easy to choose the Success Finding answer when you spend a moment to think about it!
Success Finding Tutorial
This tutorial is meant for people in both creative and analytical roles. Increasing our understanding of the differences between these two roles will help each of us feel safe to lean on each and solve the really tough problems. The end goal is to have everyone comfortable with playing both the creative role and the analytical role. After all, innovation requires lots of creativity but needs a ton of logic to get right.
1. Start with a Clear Goal:
Give very clear and precise directions at the start of the project. People generally want to give you what they want, but they can’t if they don’t know what that is! Tell them what you are trying to solve and why you want to solve it. Give them time to ask questions and make sure they understand it fully. Show them the BIG PICTURE, don’t start with the small details even if that’s where you would start. For example:
- We need to create a viral game because the cost of user acquisition has skyrocketed!
- I don’t think we should make this feature anymore for this, this and that reason which are outside of our control. But I see an opportunity here, here and there – what can we do with these opportunities?
- Come back with your best ideas presented in this format by this date. Is that enough time?
- Tell them what is completely off the table and why, but don’t get upset if they bring you ideas you told them not to.
2. Let them Climb the Mountain!
Creatives are happiest when given a mountain to climb and when they have the opportunity to figure out how to climb it themselves! Start with smaller mountains to learn their strengths and weaknesses and soon you’ll trust them with even bigger mountains.
- Don’t tell them how to come up with ideas – everyone brainstorms differently!
- Or if you really must, also give them time to do it in their own way as well.
- Listen to their concerns.
3. Understand the idea!
Once they’re ready to share their ideas, give them your undivided attention. Give the person the time to express their idea fully. You’ll learn new things and they’ll learn new things:
- Ask questions to learn more and get a clear understanding of their idea.
- Figure out how they came to this idea.
- Identify opportunities internally.
- Identify concerns internally.
4. Then, guide them to Aha!
Once you feel you have a good grasp of the idea, understand where they are coming from, and have identified a concern – start guiding them to an “Aha” moment. If you overtly point out your concerns, they may become combative, defensive or resentful. Instead, guide them to find the concern on their own. Getting them to see it for themselves is a positive learning experience!
- Ask questions to put them in the mindset of the user – or play a prototype/build if one is available. Guide them to the point of your concern and hope they say “Aha!”
- How does the user play it?
- What’s the fun part of this experience?
If they don’t see the Aha, then you can try being more direct by asking probing questions:
- I’m a bit worried about this concern – does this worry you too?
- Have you thought about it this way? Do you think it may cause this problem?
5. Now, ask the hard questions – but do it nicely!
Once the person has identified a possible flaw in their idea (or when you’ve exhausted all methods trying to get them to), this is when it’s time to use judgement. Careful, since most people naturally fear the judgement of others this is the most dangerous part of the creative process. Always work with the person and never against them. Besides, it’s more fun to figure it out together!
I suggest start asking the what if’s and the how might we’s to build up trust in the conversation and to speak openly about its merits and its flaws. Start with the good, then question the bad:
- It seems there may be an opportunity here, how might we solve this problem about it?
- What if we tried this solution instead?
- How might we turn this problem into an opportunity?
Another effective way to make this process more powerful is a “wisdom of the crowds” approach. Get a group of people together, make sure they all understand the challenge and the solutions and then have them vote. The best results come from a voting process where they don’t feel they can be judged poorly – believe it or not people are also self-conscious about voting for “bad” ideas.
- Try not to express judgement about the ideas – people will pick up on this and it could sway their judgement
- Create a process where people make up their own mind, and not follow what others do.
One of the best wisdom of the crowd methods I’ve used is like “Hot or Not.” Everyone writes HOT on one side of a post-it and NOT on the other side. When ready to vote, everyone decides whether the idea is HOT or NOT and hides it in their hand. 1… 2… 3… FLIP! Each person flips their hand over at the same time to show the HOT or NOT side of the post-it. This way everyone can provide their true judgement without being swayed by others. And it’s fun :)
6. Have they Fallen off the Path?
Realize the person might be solving an opportunity that you are not aware of or do not understand. Creatives have a tendency to start with the bigger picture and more analytical people tend to start with the smaller details. However, sometimes the more analytical people have already figured out the bigger picture but aren’t trying to solve it for a multitude of different reasons. Make sure you are both on the same page.
- Think about the big picture idea – do they see something you do not?
- Ask them what they think the big picture is – are they trying to solve a problem that you aren’t open to solving?
Refer to Start with a Clear Goal to help prevent this from happening in the first place.
7. What to do when it’s still not working!
If you are sure you understand the big picture, that they understand the big picture, that you’ve given them enough time to sell their idea, and they understand your concerns but they still won’t budge – it’s time to be direct, but please do it gently.
- Tell them it’s a good idea, but there may be bigger opportunities in different approaches. Then, challenge them to come up with more ideas and soon they’ll drop this idea off their list.
- Tell them to come back after they’ve had more time to think through the issues you’ve identified.
- Give them solid and direct feedback and be patient.
- Encourage them not to give up – innovating is HARD!
- Do not tell them their idea is stupid or crazy – they will resent you and feel bad.
- Do not tell them their idea is not fun. It may not be fun for you but I can assure you it would be fun for someone else and most importantly – probably for them. You could say instead – “I’m not sure if our core audience would find this fun.” Then use the above do’s to offer a challenge or to help them knock it off their list.
Everyone is Creative
As people get more experience with working in a Success Finding environment, they learn how to play Creative AND Analytical roles in conversations. Soon they learn how to use this technique in their own thought processes – they learn when it is appropriate to unleash the Creative Voice and when to pause the creativity to bring in the Analytical Voice. Then, they learn how to imagine real people’s reactions to provide more targeted ideas and to get better ideas faster – “what would he say?”
Everyone is Creative 2
Engineers are hired firstly to write code, Artists are hired firstly to illustrate and Designers are hired firstly to solve creative problems. Not everyone can code and not everyone is artistic, but everyone is creative! However, since solving creative problems is a designer’s core expertise, it can be frustrating when they don’t have the chance to solve the big juicy creative challenges. To them, it’s as silly as asking an artist to code the next big feature of a game or like asking an engineer to illustrate the next big content update.
Designers are thrilled when non-designers solve creative problems and love to teach people to learn how to do it well. Sometimes all it takes to reduce this frustration is to give them the chance to provide feedback and help them on their own design journey.
Feedback Breeds Creativity
Once mastering the Creative and Analytical voices, people must be aware of the dangers of designing in a vacuum. Sometimes the Analytical Voice lets the person get away with bad ideas OR prevents them from diving deeper into the ideas which may actually be better! Therefore, it is imperative for people to seek the feedback of others – and to do it often. Getting feedback early and often opens new avenues to innovation and helps the person drop the bad ideas sooner. Feedback saves a whole ton of time and results in much better ideas!
Just Do It
Sometimes a creative person can get fixated on an idea – this is actually very healthy. However, they’ll never be able to let it go until they have the chance to bring it to life. And until they bring this idea to life, it will be top of mind every time they think of ideas. This is exhausting and dampens their creativity. Once they have the chance to bring the idea to life, there are two outcomes:
- It’s actually an awesome idea that other people couldn’t see.
- The idea doesn’t work – now they can learn from it and stop thinking about it.
I urge us to find more creative outlets in our work environments. Not only would it help in situations like these, but exploring what’s intrinsically motivating helps people find new solutions for their everyday challenges from completely unrelated places. Plus people have really good ideas!
Read about Google’s 20 Percent Time:
Hear about it – skip to 8:50:
Learn More and Be Inspired
David Kelley: How to Build your Creative Confidence
Tim Brown on Creativity and Play
Be Courageous: Bryan Stevenson