As one group of students prepare to leave college and another batch of high-school seniors prepare to take their place, the importance of technical knowledge takes center stage. Whether you’re talking about undergraduate or post-grad admission offices or potential employers, GPAs and test scores that demonstrate students’ abilities to get the one “right” answer are seen as the primary determinant of future potential.
David Kelley — the IDEO chairman, not the legendary creator of great TV dramas — recently energized the Stanford d.school during the opening of the design school’s new building by arguing that while technical knowledge has its place, it is far more important to teach our future leaders how to work on solving challenging problems where nobody knows the answer. As Bob Sutton, a Stanford d.school professor who attended the speech explains it, the Stanford d.school teaches creative confidence — “the ability to keep pushing forward, observing the world and the people in it, identifying unmet needs, brainstorming solutions, and trying to develop prototypes that work and failing forward through the disconcerting process.” He went on to say that the d.school process — which I discussed in a January post on its publication of the Bootcamp Bootleg — encourages people to “have the energy and will to keep pushing forward, to be undaunted when ideas don’t work, to keep trying new ideas, and even when the deadline for the project comes and they do not have a decent solution, to believe that if they just had another few days, they would have come up with a great solution.”
Kelley has added a great personal-branding phrase to our lexicon. Even without the benefit of a Stanford d.school education, I think there are a lot of people with have struggled to describe a similar skill set on a resume or interview without the benefit of the “creative confidence” phrase. It’s a skill that many displaced corporate executives are using as they look at consulting or 1099 contract work, whether they use the phrase in the sales process or not.
But Kelley’s Not Alone In This
Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel imagined what he’d say if asked to speak to this year’s class of graduating seniors in a posting on the Huffington Post. He also speaks of looking beyond the GPA and the job that awaits and judging oneself on a different set of criteria that mirrors this concept of creative confidence:
“What matters, and this is the heart of what I want to say today, is not how I might assess what you have done, or how your professors graded you, or what your friends and family might say, or even how a professional school or employer is going to view you, but rather how you would now evaluate yourself.
I wonder if you have thought to do this as yet, to measure yourself by standards that you would have to justify and explain, not to us, but only to the man or woman in the mirror. Not only are you the only one in a position to make a full and candid assessment, but you are the one to whom the assessment ultimately matters.”
He goes on to list some questions that might help in that self-assessment; most focus on the intangible. It’s a right-brain approach, which as Daniel Pink and others have argued in recent years is taking on increasing importance over the fact-based left-brain emphasis that has driven business for many decades.
All this resonated with me because I believe creative confidence is a more elegant way — with a bit more structure — of saying Bulldog Simplicity. I believe schools and corporations both need to spend more time focusing on developing creative confidence. And for those who have it, they need to spend more time documenting it as a skill and how it enables them to make a difference in their companies’ or clients’ success.
But take a look to the left at the Table of Contents for the book — it offers chapter summaries instead of page numbers. What a very cool way to summarize the book and help (1) new readers navigate the book and (2) returning readers find the specific chapters they’re looking for.
An example…In most books, you’d see that the fifth chapter is Becoming the Linchpin. In this book, Seth gets your attention by adding, The linchpin is an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen. Every worthwhile institution institution has indispensable people who make differences like this. Over at Chapter 9, in addition to There Is No Map, you get Indispensable linchpins are not waiting for instructions, but instead, figuring out what to do next. If you have a job where someone tells you what to do next, you’ve just given up the chance to create value.”
The inside cover goes further with the definition of a linchpin: They “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. they delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.”
Can you imagine anything better than to be described as a linchpin by those who know or work with you? Paging through it, this looks like a terrific book, starting with the Table of Contents. It’s the next book I’ll be reading (after finishing Switch by the Heath Brothers, which will be officially released early next week).
That’s why a recent NY Times article about reinventing the MBA curriculum got my attention. As one person put it, “At business school, there was a lot of focus on ‘You’ve got a great idea; here’s how to build a business out of it.’ The d.school said, ‘Here’s how you get to that great idea.'”
The “d.school” is a reference to the growth in “design thinking,” which emphasizes a focus on human needs to decide what problems need to be addressed. There’s an engineering focus to all this (the Stanford d.school is part of the Engineering School), but that’s missing the point of today’s posting.
So here’s the point of the blog. The Stanford d.school has posted a terrific document on its site that is a fairly short primer on the various concepts that drive the development of great ideas. The D.School Bootcamp Bootleg starts with seven mindsets — including “Bias Toward Action” and “Create Clarity From Complexity” (my favorite) and “Show, Don’t Tell.” It goes on to introduce modes like “empathize,” “define,” and “test.” And then it outlines a variety of strategies (or methods) that are integral to design thinking.
Lest this sound overly academic — and some of them will lead your eyes to glaze over a bit — there are some great ideas you can use to better understand your customers or come up with that “one big thing” before you go too far down the road.
Business books seem to be getting shorter lately…and packed with more usable information. This one is less than 40 pages and well worth your time.
Read through it. Think about how you’ve used the concepts without actually knowing you were employing design thinking. Pick some things to try. Keep them if they work and try something else if they don’t.
Use this document — but think of it as a toolkit — and when the time comes perhaps you can overcome the lack of an MBA with a skill set that enables you to develop great, marketable ideas.
How about you? How have you used some of these methodologies — interviewing for empathy, powers of 10, and so on — to fine tune your ideas? What worked and what didn’t?