Creativity & Confidence
When I think back on my childhood, I remember being an adventurous child, and more than anything in the world I enjoyed creating something out of nothing; I would build a castle in the garden from tiny rocks, that I had found, or build an imaginative fireplace out of a few sticks and leaves, and spend hours playing with it. Of course, at the time I didn’t consider the fact, that I had designed something using only my imagination.
When you step into adulthood, and the everyday responsibilities that comes with it, you tend to forget how ‘easy’ it was to create by just using the simplest items to illustrate what you had imagined.
I did my BA in Copenhagen Business School, and what I’ve learned is to solve a crisis. Essentially, we learned how to rebuild a damaged situation, and we always looked for one, and only one solution – the right solution – and we began immediately building from there. A couple of years back, Peter Skillman, introduced a team challenge called “The Marshmallow Challenge”. The purpose of this challenge is for people in groups to work creatively together in building the tallest tower of spaghetti and still be able to place a marshmallow on top without the whole thing falling apart. Tom Wujec (2010), used this in different group exercises, and found that business school student had the hardest time completing the task, and he says: “And the reason is that business students are trained to find the single right plan, right? And then they execute on it” (Wujec, 2010).
Although I don’t think I completely disregarded my own ability to be creative, but being in Copenhagen Business School definitely altered the way that I thought about myself and me as a creative, and I had forgotten how easy it used to feel.
“What kindergarteners do differently is that they start with the marshmallow, and they build prototypes, successive prototypes, always keeping the marshmallow on top, so they have multiple times to fix when they build prototypes along the way” (Wujec, 2010).
My very first post was about how creativity is contagious. It was on how I briefly touched upon creativity and innovation as a part of my BA, when I enrolled in some summer modules. There I dipped my toe in the water, and learned, that creativity is not just for the ‘artistic’ or those working with paintings, music, graphics or dance, but that creativity is something that lies within us all – We just have to utilise it and be aware of it.
What I didn’t learn from the short summer module, was something that I learned within the first week of my time at Kingston University and through Design-Thinking for Startups, namely HOW to utilize it and HOW the right environment can be crucial for individual creativity.
And the skill of being able to utilize our creativity can lead to new ideas, which in turn can lead to innovation – a skill that many organizations, for that specific reason, now look for in future employees. As we get older, we forget how to be creative, and think creatively, and for those who, like me, enrolled in a classic business school BA, we get used to thinking about ourselves as non-creatives. Author of “The Art of Innovation” Tom Kelley and his brother, founder of global design company, IDEO, David Kelley, have learned through their work in different professional environments, that creativity lies within – it just has to be unlocked.
“For the people we’ve worked with, opening up the flow of creativity is like discovering that you’ve been driving a car with the emergency brake on – and suddenly experiencing what it feels like when you release the break and can drive freely” (Kelley & Kelley, 2014).
Their description perfectly explains how I felt in the first week of Kingston University, and with my first real experience of Design-Thinking. Looking back on the first week, I now realise that we were all presented to each other as creatives. I do believe that it helped us to be more open-minded, and to not think of ourselves as non-creatives – it helped me to perceive myself as equally creative, when we were to come up with a new idea within the concept of ‘HOME’. “Design-Doing is a non-starter without open-minded collaboration” (Martin & Christensen, 2013).
Christy, Helene, Stephi, Mick, Kieran, Ogechi and myself created a bracelet with build-in technology, that could be controlled via an app on a mobile phone. The idea was that whenever you and your loved ones were separated, you could ‘touch’ them through the app, and their bracelet would then heat up, giving the recipient a sense of physical contact. I remember we won the pitch that day (we won a book by Dave Trott called “Predatory Thinking”, which I can highly recommend), and I remember feeling a little more confident about my own creativity than I had done in a while.
I still – now more than ever – believe that creativity really is contagious, and that the environment in which you work matters for the creative output. It’s a lesson that I will definitely bring into my future work in the music industry, as well as in future projects, and try to set the right frame for creativity.
Let’s Get Down to Business – Our Business.
The idea that lead to ComfyEar.
When we in the first week were told to come up with In-Touch, we were given a framework of ‘home’ that limited our scope, and let us decide “how to climb a mountain”, but not which mountain to climb (Amabile, 1998). That wasn’t the case when we were to design our businesses. We spent a long time trying to come up with an idea that we as a team felt would be inspiring, valid, problem-solving, relevant etc., but we didn’t know where to begin.
At first we did a brainstorm, or ‘storming’ (Bracket, 2015), where all ideas were welcome, but without the definition of “which mountain to climb” (Amabile, 1998), it became messy.
We then decided to try and narrow it down to one specific group of people and went into London to get inspired. Children, pregnant women, students – we went through them all, and came up with a few ideas, but not really anything that seemed right.
“So they want to tell the story of the “eureka!” moment. They want to say, “There I was, I was standing there and I had it all suddenly clear in my head.” But in fact, if you go back and look at the historical record, it turns out that a lot of important ideas have very long incubation periods” (Johnson, 2010).
The idea for ComfyEar came when Andrius told us that he had been going to some sleep workshops arranged by NHS. So we decided to design a product for those who suffered from sleep issues, and who used sounds to fall asleep. Now we knew the VALUE, but we didn’t know the WHAT, the actual product, and we didn’t know the HOW (Dorst, 2011).
The following day I remembered how I used to fall asleep while listening to meditation apps, but how I always found that wearing earphones was really uncomfortable. We all met and pitched our ideas, and in the end chose to go with ComfyEar. Actually, we started out by wanting to incorporate a speaker technology into the product – Boy, am I glad we didn’t.
At this stage, we had already spent too much time focusing on the idea, and had been stuck in ideation mode for too long. The module had moved on to The Value Proposition Canvas, where “the features, benefits and experience of the product are carefully matched with the wants, needs and fears of their target audience” (Thompson, No Date), and since we didn’t have any features or benefits, we had some catching up to do.
We had, through our research, found that the most important thing was comfort, so we tested different materials and different designs, until we eventually decided on Prototype 1 (See photo below).
We brought the first prototype to the Kingston Hill Trade Fair, where we met some of our early adopters, and we were not wrong to say that the product could be used by people with sleep issues – many people with sleep issues were interested, but we found that we had been too narrow in terms of the problem that ComfyEar could solve. We got some feedback from potential customers, who just enjoyed watching films in bed at night, but didn’t want to disturb their partners, and we found ourselves knowing the WHAT, but clearly not the VALUE of our product.
We used the feedback from them to go back and iterate our product, to match it with the usage and value. We really learned that had we included our early adopters already after our first prototype session, and gotten “out of the building”, we might have understood our potential target market better from the beginning, and created more value for them and for us (Blank, 2013).
Changing Target Group Creates a Ripple Effect
When we presented the prototype at the trade fair, we had already created a story around the product; It was designed to help you fall asleep. Now what? The thing is that when working with principles of design thinking, your process revolves around people and the problem you want to solve.
As you can see above, the stages are not linear, and we found ourselves going from testing and back to defining a new problem. When you work from the premise of a user-centred approach, and you change who your user is, it creates a ripple effect through everything else. We had to change our branding and communication strategy completely, because we now solved a new problem. Understanding the consequences of not knowing your target group is going to benefit me in so many ways in the future, when working with artist campaigns and product management.
ComfyEar was a very ambitious project – even without the speaker technology, that we originally wanted, and it has been tough to make the ends meet. Considering the time that we had to finish the project, we could have benefitted from less ideation and product development, which took up a lot of time, that we could have spent perfecting our marketing and branding strategy. But, overall, I am very proud of our team and the product, and we all survived and learned.
The 5 most important things to take away for future use:
- Use your brain a little – then use your hands a lot.
- When your team is right, it doesn’t hurt as much when you’re wrong.
- Creativity is within us all – it just needs to be unlocked.
- Creating to solve a problem, creates more value for everyone.
- Always know your target group and use them.
So what now?
I enrolled in this MA in Music & The Creative Economy, because I wanted to create a balance between my creative side and business side. This year has been challenging, and I have learned new things, and brushed up on ‘forgotten’ things. I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have been working in such a dynamic, hard-working, creative, fun, (slightly over-ambitious) and wonderful team throughout the year.
Design Thinking as an applied tool has made me re-discover my own creativity, and I would like to think, that it has also helped me to better recognise creativity in others. As I wrote in a recent post, I enjoy changing professional environments from time to time, or being a part of several different environments at a time. So I can’t be too specific about the future, but I definitely feel, that Design Thinking for Startups have expanded my knowledge so that I can combine my creative and corporate skills to be of more value to potential collaborators and employers in the future – and to myself, of course.
I’m excited and ready to enter the next stage.
Wujec, T. (2010). “Build a tower, build a team”. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_build_a_tower/transcript?language=en#t-149899 [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].
Kelley, T. and Kelley, D. (2014). Creative confidence. Unleashing the creative potential within us all. 1st ed. London: William Collins, pp.1-10.
Blank, S. (2013). Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/05/why-the-lean-start-up-changes-everything [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].
Johnson, S. (2010). Where good ideas come from. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_johnson_where_good_ideas_come_from?language=en [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].
Thompson, P. (n.d.). Value Proposition Canvas Template – Peter J Thomson. [online] Peter J Thomson. Available at: https://www.peterjthomson.com/2013/11/value-proposition-canvas/ [Accessed 27 Apr. 2017].
Martin, R. and Christensen, K. (2013). Rotman on design. 1st ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Amabile, T. (1998). How to Kill Creativity. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/1998/09/how-to-kill-creativity [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].
Bracket, A. (2015). Great Teams. 1st ed. [ebook] London: Bracket Ltd, pp.14-46. Available at: https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4deb94c023117a94d16140a1a/files/Great_teams_a_guide_to_better_creative_collaboration_01.pdf [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].
Burstein, J. (2012). 4 lessons in creativity. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/julie_burstein_4_lessons_in_creativity [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].
The Interaction Design Foundation (2017). 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process. [image] Available at: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/5-stages-in-the-design-thinking-process [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].
Dorst, K. (2011). The Core of ‘Design Thinking’ and its Application. Design Studies, [online] 32(6), pp.521-532. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.kingston.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S0142694X11000603 [Accessed 27 Apr. 2017].