A short story
Creativity training and #OrgDesign were never on the original agenda. I was just on a quest for better answers, found a peculiar detour, then took it.
It began with the nonprofit sector. When it came to the question of "How might they tackle the big problems of the 21st century," armies of consultants weighed in:
- We need to build "capacity" and build "sustainable" organizations.
- Change culture! But towards what?
- Not being "entrepreneurial?" Not "being creative" enough?
- Not being strategic enough? A balance between strategic and tactical?
- Strategic plans weren't simplified enough.
- Design "doing" vs design thinking. Think, but more doing!
- Not enough thinking outside of the box!
All valid, but with heavy noise and little signal (and substance) at the 50,000 ft view — year after year — the mainstream conversation was getting played out.
The 50k ft view is fine, I just don't get stuck there.
Author and innovation journalist Warren Berger says in his book "A More Beautiful Question" that disruptive change starts with dismay at a less-than-ideal situation. We ask better (and unpopular) questions.
Dismay with the nonprofit conversation was the perfect kindle that fireballed into those better questions:
What were people getting wrong with creativity and group dynamics?
Why was it so tough to bring people of diverse backgrounds to work together?
Was it just a matter of "not doing it?" The culture not valuing it? Not getting buy-in from the top?
Was collaboration really just about meeting up and plugging in ideation tools and methods?
Why were "complex" challenges often biased as product or service-related ones? What if challenges had nothing to do with products or services at first? What if the starting points were fuzzier and ambiguous?
I had to reframe the old question into something else. I had to go from "How might changemakers tackle the big problems of the 21st century?" to "Why do changemakers value:
- Design thinking
- Testing assumptions
- Reframing the problems
- Identifying opportunities
- and whatever new training
— yet fail to do it on a continual basis? Fail to sustain it as a core trait of the organization's DNA?
The hidden meme was that champions of the "popular conversation" were only familiar with applying a small constrained toolset to challenges that were greater in scale and complexity.
And worse? The challenges were assumed to be pre-defined. ("We already know what the problem is, let's figure out a crafty solution.")
This is a time where most problems are non-linear, non-sequential, with the variables shifting constantly. Not one person will know all the answers. What used to take months of memos, emails, and meetings now requires diverse perspectives and an action plan in one day.
The irony is that great minds may collide, but great ideas get shot down, the flow of energy dwindles, and those great ideas remain buried at a safe depth.
Ideation sessions are condemned as a "waste of time" because no one really learns how to sync their thinking with everyone else in the room. New training programs with promises to make people more "innovative" and "adaptive" never stick because bad habits and old thinking patterns still exist.
I say that it's 100% possible to convene cognitively diverse people into a room and design the best course of action on any issue. No matter the complexity.
But, this type of organizational design demands an expansive repertoire and craft. Without introducing fundamental skills, habits, and a separate process, success rates remain low.
Interdisciplinary creativity is mostly on my mind these days. Think skunkworks. Think real skill building at ground zero. Think both experimental and experiential. But also think: a distaste for hype, with a disposition to dissect it and re-assemble the truth.
Finally, you'll find more of us hacking it forward. It's not only me.
You just won't find them in the usual places (where the meme prevails).
Find me elsewhere
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