Mysteries and Puzzles

Presenting last week at the Customer Advisory Board meeting for Tech Mahindra, I learnt that McKinsey is now the 3rd largest design firm in the world.

This news highlights how important design is to the enterprise today.  It highlights the recognition that concepts like testing, experimentation and prototyping are essential to designing better products and services.  It further points to the consulting model of the future – one where great ideas are not enough; instead, well designed ideas need to brought to life and experienced.

On top of this, Accenture and Deloitte continue to acquire creative and design focused organisations.  Fearing that they were losing their edge in creativity, established agencies like R/GA announced that they wanted to ‘Disrupt Management Consultancies’ 

These shifts, and changes in perspective reminds me of a book that was written by Dan Pink, and released in 2005, titled “A Whole New Mind”. In this work, Pink introduces the model of the Conceptual Economy.  A Conceptual Economy is a construct where creativity, innovation and design skills are what drives economic competitiveness.  (Note: Alan Greenspan first spoke of the Conceptual Economy in his address to the Federal Reserve Board in 2004.

In 2005, Pink predicted that we would transition from the Knowledge Economy (the use of knowledge to generate tangible and intangible value) to the Conceptual Economy.  Given the ‘knowledge’ that we have gained over recent years – with the advent of Big Data – it is time that we begun to see the returns from these ‘buckets of data’.  Some organisations are transitioning very effectively; making sense of the mysteries that reside in the endless bytes of data…but we could be doing more.

Mysteries and Puzzles

Will firms like McKinsey and R/GA have the monopoly on these design and creative skills, and will only the best and brightest survive. I hope not?.

It would be a tremendous waste of human potential, and opportunity, if creativity and innovation remained the domain of the few.  Surely, we have learned our lessons from the past – where we created Innovation teams, and creative people were seen those who could ‘draw’. Our challenge is to foster more creative talent, through encouraging people to explore and express their creativity.

At Alive, we talk a lot about mysteries and puzzles.  A concept first suggested by Malcolm Gladwell, the notion of solving mysteries and puzzles is very relevant to fostering a culture of creativity and innovation.

To explain further; puzzles have one answer. Once you discover that answer you’ve solved the puzzle, whereas mysteries depend on your skill. All the information is right in front of you, and it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on, and make sense of the information.

Solving Mysteries requires a different mind and skill set to succeed.

In our experience, it is the mysteries that we need to love to prepare organisations for the future.  Replacing old models, and old process with new mediums, and new technologies (like digital), is not the answer.

At the heart of building a culture where solving mysteries is the norm, lies creative confidence.  The confidence to test ideas, suggest solutions and experiment with the outcomes.  The skills that need to be uncovered and developed are those where inquiry, experimentation, prototyping and iterative validation are part of the everyday.  It is these skills and mindset that has to be developed in order to thrive in the ‘conceptual economy’ that Dan Pink and Alan Greenspan spoke of over 10 years ago.

I mentioned in a recent article, Albert Bandura, and the work he has done at Stanford.  Bandura was the inspiration for Idea’s David and Tom Kelley in their book, “Creative Confidence”.  The Ideo Founders credit Bandura for the concept of building Creative Confidence through Guided Mastery.   As David and Tom Kelley wrote in there Harvard Business Review Article on Creative Confidence…

Along the way, we’ve learned that our job isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to help them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.

Guided Mastery is an approach that Bandura devised and practiced in his work toward building self-efficacy.  Guided mastery involves moving towards mastery, taking small, but successful steps towards a final position.  The ‘guiding’ involves mentoring, coaching and supporting individuals in achieving the small wins, so as to build confidence, and increase the likelihood of progression and more advanced problem solving and ideation.  The confidence built through ‘guiding’ and achieving gathers momentum; like a snowball – and builds one’s self efficacy to the point of high-confidence, where they are likely to make their own decisions and ‘master’ the task at hand.

Creating Confidence through Guided Mastery and Working Out Loud

So how can we apply the concept of guided mastery to help build creative confidence in the workplace, and encourage the mystery solving mindset?

One place to start is through the practice of ‘Working out Loud’.  Bryce Williams first starting using the phrase in 2011 when he was writing about the collaborative and social economy.  Effectively, working out loud is an approach to work where sharing, being transparent, being generous and feedback are the central tenets.  Experience shows, that by sharing your work, making it visible, and seeking feedback your confidence builds through responding to guidance and altering your original outputs to arrive at a better result.  In many ways, this same approach is the grounding for the ‘lean methodology’where experimentation, testing and adaption are the elements of a better product.  Fundamentally, Working out Loud is the very same principle – but it can be applied to all that we do; not just the product development process.

In all, there are five steps to Working out Loud, and building confidence in our work:

  1. Make your work visible: This is indeed the fundamental starting point for working out loud.
  2. Be generous: Share, and share a lot.  Sharing your work, and your objectives, and giving others feedback are all central to the Working out Loud model.  This generosity encourages others to contribute and work to a better result.
  3. Broaden your network: As you work out loud over time, you’ll be interacting with a broader range of people. The further you develop relationships with people in your workplace, the more likely it will be that you’ll collaborate with them and that they’ll be willing help you in other ways.
  4. Be purposeful: Since there’s an infinite amount of  contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective. Having a goal in mind focuses your learning, your outcomes and your connections.
  5. Make work great: Finally, the main reason for openly sharing your work is to find ways to improve it.  This should be the driver of all work out loud practices – it should not be able ego or grand-standing.  To commit to working out loud, and to commit to building your creative confidence is to commit to doing better work, and creating better outcomes.

Our Responsibility

A leaders, we have always believed that our legacy should not be the technology, and apps and websites that we leave behind…but it should be the methods and practices and ‘ways of working’ that define our contribution. Therefore, I see our responsibility as helping others to develop the skills and mindset that they need to operate in a rapidly changing world.

If we are moving rapidly into a Conceptual Economy, then skills like creative confidence, guided mastery, and working out loud are all essential in furthering our creative, innovative and design skills.

Anyone can be taught to be creative, innovative; and anyone can design a better outcome – we just need to teach them and show them how.

This is our responsibility.

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