Seizing the Moment: The Value of Creative Dispositions

By: Adam Royalty

Are you ready to take advantage of a moment to innovate even if you aren’t planning for it?

Every single day people miss opportunities for small innovations because they’ve got their sights set on the groundbreaker. Don’t get me wrong; I love groundbreaking innovation as much as anyone. But, if you’re trying to foster a culture that nurtures innovation, celebrate all kinds—big and small.

Organizations invest in processes that drive innovation like Design Thinking, Agile, Lean Launchpad, and so forth—and they’re great for putting you in a position to innovate. The more potential customers you engage with, the more likely you’ll find key insights. Working quickly and iteratively can help you develop something truly novel. But, be careful to not fall in the trap of only having an eye for innovation when you’re running a process. When you turn off the process machine, don’t lose that eye for innovation.

Remember that behind successful innovation processes are people. People who consistently demonstrate a set of dispositions: curiosity, resilience and creativity, just to name a few. These dispositions fuel the behaviors and activities needed to innovate. And, if you really have them instilled, they don’t turn off.

Dispositions in Action

So, what exactly does that look like? While at the d.school, I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa. Lisa, a recent graduate from the Business School who took a number of d.school courses, began working for a large retailer with a team focused on developing new products.

Lisa started her story of applying d.school lessons not with her work, but with her personal life. She now engages with her environment differently. She looks at things differently. Waiting in a long line and deciphering signage that makes no sense brings up urges to make a change. Lisa said, “Now I see things and think, ‘why can’t this be better?’”

This disposition of curiosity goes with Lisa everywhere. She is much more open to observing the world in a way that makes her question the status quo—regardless of the environment. Additionally, Lisa called out her newfound disposition of iteration, which enabled her to finally build out the rooftop garden she always dreamed about.

These might not constitute major life milestones, but they’re helping Lisa grow. And she’s excited about this.

Her instilled dispositions show up at work—even outside the official innovation processes they run. For instance, every week, her team comes together with other teams in a large group meeting. The check-in is a time for each team to report back to the larger group something they’ve learned about a new product opportunity. The goal is for these updates between teams to spark new ideas. These types of meetings are common within the company and not considered to be part of an innovation process.

Lisa noticed that although the teams all reported out to the group, no new ideas were ever generated. She was curious as to why this was. Lisa came to the conclusion that no one was really paying attention to the report out during the meeting, so she decided to make it better.

The next week, she tried something a little different, a little more creative. Instead of developing another didactic report, Lisa designed an interactive game where her co-workers would make predictions about her team’s findings. It went ok. She made some modifications and did the same thing the next week. It went better.

Two weeks later, another team created a game as a presentation. Three weeks later a third team joined in. Within a few weeks all the presentations had a major interactive component to the share out. Some were quite elaborate and thought out. The meetings now have a completely different tone—one conducive to innovation. They are far more engaging and consistently lead to a flurry of new ideas.

This change happened without a directive, without a planning meeting, and even without an explicit process. It started with one person who wanted to do things differently and had the right disposition to take advantage of the moment.

How can you take on some of these dispositions?

Here are three short exercises you can try to help build up this capacity. IMPORTANT: don’t just try these at the office. Remember dispositions aren’t only in play from 9 to 5.

Iterate on your surroundings.

On your way to work or play, simply challenge yourself to observe 3 things that could be improved. Don’t worry about coming up with solutions. Nothing is too trivial. This is just about being present in the world and honing your eye to notice what’s not working. Noticing how cell phones dangle precariously from makeshift charging stations in café outlets is a personal favorite.

Go down a Rabbit Hole—in real life.

We’ve all lost track of time following a series of increasingly obscure links on Wikipedia. It’s fun and leads you to learn about stuff you never realized was interesting. Do this same thing but, instead of the internet as your inspiration source, use people. If you’re in a cab, ask the driver how they got into that line of work. If you’re buying food at a farmers market, learn more about how it’s grown. The way you “click on a new link” is by saying, “interesting, tell me more about that.” This is all about feeding your curiosity. Interesting facts and inspiring stories surround us. Constant curiosity allows us to tap into them.

Take a complaint and reframe it as a challenge.

What is something you find yourself complaining about, something constantly getting in your way? Use the phrase, “how might I…” to reframe the issue as a problem solving opportunity. For example, if you find yourself venting about how difficult communicating with a co-worker is, try a reframe. How might I create a more open form of communication with my co-worker? Or, how might I identify when I start to get frustrated and change course? All you’re doing is framing a complaint as a question. Questions seek answers. The goal is to help you begin to generate answers instead of focusing on barriers.

 

Strong dispositions aren’t built in a day. It takes practice to make them second nature. Fortunately, we are all innately curious and creative at some level. These tips are meant to help you stoke what is already inside you. As your dispositions grow you will be more aware of opportunities to innovate and more confident to act in those moments.

 

About Adam Royalty

At Columbia University’s Entrepreneurship Design Studio, Adam specializes in helping teams use human centered design to launch and grow their ventures. Design methods and mindsets are especially useful for uncovering key insights from customers and rapidly iterating the core idea. Both of these together drive product/market fit.

Understanding how design can lead to personal and organizational transformation drive Adam’s research. As the Lead Design Research Investigator at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (a.k.a the d.school), Adam has taught multiple design thinking courses and has worked to deepen the creative capacity of organizations in a dozen countries. His research focuses on how to authentically measure the impact of human centered design. Prior to his current role, he led education initiatives in the d.school’s K-12 Lab.

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