Creativity, presentations, and "design thinking"
October 31, 2006
I just got through giving a talk to college students where I encouraged them — begged them — to remember that they are in fact creative beings (they're human aren't they?). When I asked for a show of hands, most said they were not particularly "creative." After all, they said, they are not designers or artists, they are business students. Then I asked them if they thought creating and delivering a business presentation or a conference presentation was "a creative endeavor" or something requiring a creative process. Only a few felt that it was. How about "design thinking"? Even fewer students understood how that related to the typical business presentation. "Design as differentiator"? Sure, students get that. But what, they say, does that have to do with presentations? But here's the deal: creating business presentations is a supremely creative process. At least it should be. It's as much "right brain" as it is "left brain," and design matters. Who said that business — or at least the study of it — and creativity are mutually exclusive. Is business only about management and administration? Can not students become better business leaders by learning how to become better design thinkers? Can not "design thinking" be a valuable aptitude for all professionals regardless of their discipline or their particular task at hand? I believe it can.
The Stanford d.school
Many in the business world do get the "creativity thing." Silicon Valley, for example, is a place that understands that creativity, design thinking, and business go together. Stanford University, located in the heart of the Valley, is probably the best place in the U.S. to study business and design (and creativity). Stanford is famous for their B-school, of course, and now they're getting a lot of attention for their D-school. One of the cool instructors at the D-school is Diego Rodriguez from IDEO and the author of the Metacool, one of the very few in my blog reader. Checkout his informative website.
Just down the street from the Stanford campus is Duarte Design — you've heard me talk them up many times before. They know presentation design and information graphics better than anyone, and their client list looks like a "who's who" of Silicon Valley (and beyond). When I visited the Duarte offices last December I was impressed with the atmosphere of the place. Not just the physical appearance, but rather "the smell" of the place. By "smell" I mean the intangible kind of somethingness or feeling the place exudes. Some office environments just "smell" good (inspiring, motivating, freeing, stimulating, etc.) and some "smell" like the cottage cheese that you forgot you put in the back of the fridge last summer. The late Professor Sumantra Ghoshal wrote a great article about success and the smell of a workplace. (When I attended the P&G Directors college as a guest over the summer we saw a wonderful video of Sumantra Ghoshal describing the impact of a firm's "smell." It's an incredible video clip; I'd love to track it down.)
The Duarte offices had a "great smell" about them. A smell that told me the environment I was walking into was very open, receptive and the kind of place where people take what they do very seriously, yet do not take themselves too seriously. It "smelled" like the kind of place you'd want to work and the kind of company that understood that play was as much a part of work as...well, work.
Duarte obviously understands that presentation design is a creative process and that the people who contribute to the process also need to incorporate play in to their work and their work environment. The Duarte Design pumpkin carving contest is a good example of this. By putting their talents to work on pumpkins, the staff at Duarte get to express their creativity outside the world of storyboards and information graphics, etc. Checkout the website to see the kind of imagination and creativity that can be applied to a large seasonal vegetable by a group of professionals dedicated to creating better presentations.
Oh yes, and Happy Halloween, everyone! Boo!