Using Design to Access New Ways of Thinking

We’ve begun a New Year and you or someone you know has likely made a resolution to lose the extra pounds gained during the year. The plan, in all probability, is some version of the following: First, re-establish your relationship with the gym you belong to and haven’t visited recently; next, lock yourself in by telling everyone you know that you’re absolutely committed to losing the weight no matter how hard it gets or how long it takes. This is particularly useful in helping you stick to the program, after all, how could you possibly face friends and family if you don’t keep your word? The final turn of events in this journey is failure; and 80% do fail. They give it their best shot, try as hard as they can, and yet they just can’t do it. Will power, strength of mind, backbone, fortitude, and perseverance— none of it is enough. In the end, they find themselves reverting back to their default setting. The weight comes back, maybe even a little more, and after a short period of indignation, it’s back to business as usual, at least until this time next year.

Standing in the shoes of a designer

What if you could access a new way of thinking that gave you an advantage in accomplishing your goals? It’s possible if you’re willing to shift your perspective. Imagine being able to stand in the shoes of a designer and see what she sees. 

You would have a whole new point of view along with principles and practices to help you solve personal and business-related issues— like weight gain or customer service issues or employee performance.It’s understood that designers see the world from a visual perspective— they see things that others don’t. Just like engineers have the ability to solve a problem with numbers, designers can take the same problem and solve it with design—two different solutions with two different outcomes. Consider what might be possible when you replace the practices you use— the ones that only produce mediocre results, with practices that produce extraordinary results.

How to be a designer

It’s not as difficult as you might think. It does, however, require a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone. When designers take on new projects, they don’t go right to the computer and start designing, there’s a process. Just like other businesses, designers have to assess what they are being asked to work on, they review the history of the project, they do research and analysis, and they write strategic briefs that serve as a guide to what the end result will be. You should recognize this; it’s traditional business practice and well within your comfort zone. Here’s what distinguishes “designer.”

It is the act of creation— the thinking process, the generation of new ideas, invention. It comes after the goals have been identified and after the plan has been written and after everyone is in agreement. It’s not magical or mysterious, and it’s not exclusive to “right brain” people, although they would like you to think it is. Creativity is available to anyone, anytime. To access it, you simply have to be willing to let go of what you know— the formulas, rules and regulations that you have always counted on to solve problems. Without these old practices to fall back on, you’ll find yourself in an unrecognizable place, a place that requires you to invent new ways of thinking. It’s the place that Einstein created his theory of relativity, where J.K. Rowling created Harry Potter and where Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented Google. This place should make you feel awkward and unfamiliar, and definitely out of your comfort zone. Like anything worthwhile, being creative takes practice. The more you engage in the act, the better you become.

Creativity happens when you’re not there

Surprisingly, it’s often thought that creative people work in a vacuum— they don’t. Creative people surround themselves with others who share their passion for bringing new ideas into existence, like art, or achieving business goals, or resolving unwanted conditions. If you’ve ever watched improvisational actors, you know that you can give them a suggestion and, on the spot, they can create a skit. The skit will have a beginning, middle and an end, it will have a story that flows, it will contain humor and tempo, and it will all be made up in the moment. The performers have no time to think about what they’re going to say or do, they can only be in a kind of dance with the other performers— tuned into each other in such a way that one action spontaneously follows another, without the benefit of a script. If you asked them to explain how they do it, they probably couldn’t answer except to say, you have to do it to understand it. In other words the experience of creating something new happens in the action of creating it. What they might tell you is that while the performance is happening, a unique connection is made between them and their fellow actors. In the sports world, athletes call this type of performance “being in the zone.”

Take it for a spin

If you’re interested in test-driving your creative abilities, here’s what I suggest. Choose to work on something that you really don’t have an answer for, something where your standard problem-solving abilities will be insufficient. It should be something that, if resolved, you’ll know that you caused this to happen by using your design ability and not your standard problem-solving solutions. The item being worked on should be immediate, in other words, it requires attention now. It should have importance to you as an individual, or as a business, or as a community. You should do your due diligence before you start, know everything you need to know before engaging in the process. Work with people who have a vested interest in the outcome, people who can handle playing on an unfamiliar field and who are willing to improvise. Work in an environment that supports creativity. When we assign our staff creative projects, they like to work in the conference room with large pads of paper to write and draw on and tape to the wall. While engaged in the process, look for ideas and thoughts that don’t fit the usual pattern, that don’t sound familiar, ideas that have never been discussed before—this is usually where the gold is. Always keep things moving forward, allow yourself and everyone to say whatever comes to mind, even really stupid stuff. Nothing stops the process faster than invalidating an idea. If you hear an idea or a concept that strikes a chord, dig into it and see where it takes you. You’ll discover that after doing this for a while, you will generate more great ideas than you can accommodate.

Keep in mind the creative process is a journey and once you get started there’s no telling where you might end up. Who knows, you could be the next J.K. Rowling or Larry Paige and Sergi Brin, on the other hand you might invent a new way to lose that extra ten pounds.