Three things that stuck with me after a creative thinking workshop

Not too long ago, I ended up attending an Unschool of Disruptive Design workshop at The Commune in Waterloo, Sydney.

The first days session was mostly a crash course in theories and techniques around systems thinking and systems design. With the second day focussing more on rapidly applying these tools. There was a metric shit tonne covered, some portion of which I’ve already forgotten the details of (but can always dig into deeper later on)

That said, here are some things related to my creative practice that I ruminated on in the days following the workshop:

Diversity is creative value

Mmm delicious buzzwords. But seriously. Not since university have I been in an environment of wildly mixed agendas. During my typical working week the people I interact with (although from diverse backgrounds) are on pretty much the exact same mission as me.

By having a broad range of experiences and perspectives in the room and then mixing that with an equally broad range of topics, every conversation was fresh and interesting to me. This also fed into that wonderful thing that happens when the discussion of some foreign topic makes something go click in your head and ends up giving structure to an unrelated topic that you hold closer.

At one point in the workshop we played a word association game that explored gender, which was a really fun way to catch your brain in-the-act as it jumped to conclusions about fairly innocuous words or occupations. You’d get to see just how differently someone else interpreted the word in the same short time span that you had. Not only did this expose how lazily the brain leans on stereotypes and previously formed opinions of things, but a lot of us later commented on how we had the urge to self-censor at times.

Do philosophy

As in, adhere to a philosophy of doing things. This one is popping up in all aspects of my life at the moment. The notion that the most effective way to grasp a messy problem — and begin to address it — is to simply do something in that general direction and make certain that you listen thoughtfully for any positive signal. Once you have signal, you start trying to find ways to amplify and follow it to where it takes you. And if you don’t find any signal? Move on, it’s not like you invested too much time on it.

Pouring months into a targeted solution might turn out great (heavy emphasis on ‘might’). Trying out a far less polished solution sooner will not only take less time, but can carve out a path that you are completely blind to.

Coincidence is useful

Somewhere outside the realm of data scientists, a/b testing and the sturdy embrace of analytics, Coincidence sits around the corner just waiting to give great ideas to people who haven’t really earnt them. And that’s great, because who doesn’t love getting things for free.

We made use of a few mapping techniques throughout the workshop. Each map had it’s own strengths, but the common thread was that all of them allowed some form of free association between the nodes that we put into them.

Each node is connected to another by drawing lines between them. Eventually points of congestion begin to appear, these were the points we were to consider in more depth. Now the rational part of my brain was telling me, “🤔 But Daniel, you could have drawn any of these lines in a multitude of different curves, creating vastly different points of convergence — there is no inherent meaning in them!”. And, well, yes, that is still true. Turns out that doesn’t matter.

The exercise does a great job of breaking your thinking out of it’s usual routes. The result is that you end up thinking about the relationships between aspects of the problem that you never would have before. This kind of happenstance of input is why I love pairing with other designers on problems. I see this as a technique I’ll make use of when I’m working on a problem alone and don’t have another designer to bounce ideas off.

Industrial Designer working in tech. Currently at @Atlassian designing product.

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