Who's the most creative?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 26, 2006

Google’s Marissa Ann Mayer was the instant hit of Davos in the very first day of the World Economic Forum. The vp of Search Products and User Experience beat out Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO in an audience vote for the person with the most creative idea about creativity in an early morning session on Innovation and Design Strategy. All of the participants of a panel on innovation, creativity and design were voted “off the island.” They included Sir George Cox, chairman of the Design Council in the UK, Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, Kigge Hvid, director of INDEX in Denmark and others—all of whom had some pretty wonderful ideas of their own.

But it was Marissa twin notion that the most creative solutions to problems come out of two interracting concepts—constraints that frame a problem combined with “a healthy disregard for the impossible and unconventional.” This yin and yang dialect directs innovation, while opening the range of possibilities to all kinds of outcomes. Mayer said that if you only accept restraints, you feel powerless to create. You need to disrespect the impossible to free you to see new opportunities and solutions. So this is what they do at Google to make it perhaps the most successful serial innovator around.

Time Brown said the secret to being creative was having a Beginners Mind and combining that with fast prototyping to learn your way to a solution. Bring in new and fresh people to brainstorming sessions, try out new people and ideas for early prototyping concepts to see things differently. Work on problems you’ve never worked on with people you’ve never teamed up with. Brown added that the first thing people should do is challenge the way a problem is presented. “Changing the framed of the problem is often the most important part of being creative,” he said.

All the panel members were articulate but Marissa was clearly the most dynamic and persuasive. Clearly, this woman is a performer who would be successful on any stage.

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Reader Comments

csven

January 27, 2006 10:52 PM

Bruce said: "But it was Marissa twin notion that the most creative solutions to problems come out of two interracting concepts--constraints that frame a problem combined with "a healthy disregard for the impossible and unconventional."

I agree with her position on this as it's directly related to the argument I've used for years when advising engineers hoping to move into ID. Bluntly stated, it's the position that they should consider going back for an undergraduate degree in ID instead of opting for a masters.

Engineering certainly qualifies as one of the most "constrained" disciplines. And designers are often credited with having "a healthy disregard" for its constraints (an accurate observation if ID students everywhere sleep as soundly through their "Materials & Processes" class as quite a few of my fellow students did). Balancing the two to get the most benefit, imo, almost always requires losing the "blinders" of an engineering education; moving beyond the equations and calculated answers. An extraordinarily difficult thing for me to do at least.

I'm sure there are success stories where engineers have gotten a masters in ID and done wildly creative and innovative things, but sadly the one's I've met have not impressed me with their ability to think unconventionally.

William Owen

February 13, 2006 12:44 PM

Good, things are moving on. The idea that ‘design thinking’ unlocks business innovation was in danger of become axiomatic without more subtle development. We need a more expressive definition of design thinking and a clearer understanding of how it fits with business thinking - and engineering thinking – as well as when and how each is best applied.

Considering constraints is a good place to start.

Businesses tend to be highly focused on constraints of production, delivery and regulation because they live with them as habitual companions that gradually concrete into a ‘reality’ of the business environment. The synoptic or systems view that good design training fosters can break down this hard but brittle reality (and make the impossible possible). System thinking says that if you change one variable it can have a knock-on effect right through the system, potentially releasing a constraint. When confronted by a problem you don’t just examine the immediate effect but search the system to find a powerful lever of change.

This, I think, is what Tim Brown means by reframing the problem. There’s no contradiction between his views and Mayer’s. It’s just that neither, at least as reported here, explains properly the relationship between understanding constraints and opportunities and creating a solution. Mayer though, potentially, sets up a false paradox called “be real: be whacky”. This is only a small step forward from understanding creativity as synonymous with being unconstrained (those whacky designers!) and business as grounded in the real world (the hard-nosed businessman). There is more to be said on this.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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