Toward the end of their new book "Creative Confidence," the authors describe how to solve problems using mind maps — diagrams used to visualize information in order to promote clearer and more creative thinking. "We use them all the time. From coming up with ideas for a family vacation to identifying home projects to tackle over the weekend."
You might think mind mapping where to take your kids on vacation is a bit weird. But it would be a shame to let that put you off this book. Tom and David Kelley are leading thinkers on innovation and, as such, they warrant your attention.
In the book "Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All," published by Crown Business, they lay out the system they honed at Ideo. It is a global innovation and design consulting firm that has developed a reputation for coming up with novel products and services — from helping Steve Jobs design Apple's first mouse to helping the Singapore government come up with a better way to process work visas.
The company's approach is based on design thinking, which applies the principles of design to solving business challenges.
David Kelley, a co-founder of Ideo, also started a design school for generalists at Stanford University. His brother Tom is a partner at Ideo and author of "The Art of Innovation." In writing this book, they hope to inspire readers to think differently and offer tips on how to do so.
The Kelleys believe each of us is more creative than we realize but we put constraints on ourselves that prevent us from harnessing that inventiveness. But it was not always like this.
When we were children, we all thought "it was OK for us to try experiments that sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed," they say. Yet, as adults, we assume mistakes are frowned upon and we expend more effort avoiding failure than coming up with novel solutions to problems. Worse, the structures and culture of many organizations reinforce this attitude.
The Kelleys are out to convince us that this can be fixed. "Creative confidence is like a muscle — it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience," they write. To illustrate how, they detail cases of design thinking in practice. Some are familiar but they are powerful nonetheless.
Doug Dietz, for example, is a product designer at GE Healthcare who developed a new magnetic resonance imaging machine. The technology was cutting-edge, but when he went to see it in use at a hospital, he saw a child arrive for a scan paralyzed by fear. He had not realized how petrifying an experience it was for a child, and that many of them had to be sedated to get through the procedure.
He started again by spending time with kids to understand what an MRI felt like for them. The result: the "Adventure Series" scanner, which turned the experience into something akin to an amusement-park ride. The sedation rate plummeted.
Developing empathy for users is one element of the Kelleys' model. Others include building diverse teams of people with different skills, looking for inspiration outside of your sector or comfort zone and keeping a notepad — electronic or otherwise — to jot down ideas as they come up. (David even has a whiteboard in his shower.)
The Kelleys' quirky tone will not be to everyone's taste. It is also a struggle to maintain the culture of a start-up as a business gets bigger and more dispersed. And not every chief executive is a creative genius like Jobs.
One of their suggestions is to also spend as much time as possible with colleagues, not just in the office but in your own time. But if you spend too much time with the same people, surely that makes it less likely that you will bring an outsider's perspective.
Those concerns — and the mind-mapped vacation — aside, this is a book worth reading if you want help to think and act more creatively.
Reviewer Ravi Mattu is an editor at the Financial Times of London, in which this review first appeared.