June 10, 2019

Creativity & Chaos

Rarely organizations cultivate Creativity, and promotes Design Thinking. Many, including experts in 'Design', lack demonstrable attitude to engage and educate others in the design process. This prevents open culture necessary for Design Thinking.

One of the occupational hazard of being a designer is to constantly thrown in a situation that is undefined, vague and complex. Unless one finds the idea or conceptual model that address the problem and points in a direction, processes looks much like chaos. Many have articulated this process — the one below is my view of the world.


A lot of debate, exploration, experiments and research goes in at the back stage of the game. The process very much looks like spaghetti. The outcome is only realized when the lightbulb goes on. This is the front stage where concept or idea is realized and it can tangibly presented to the group. The problem with this articulation is that this picture presents the whole design process as ‘Magic’.

Anyone unfamiliar to creative processes will conclude the first half of this act as ‘they-don’t-know-what-they-are-doing’. Also, many individuals that are often involved in this act seldom know how this process work and how to be disciplined to be part of the show. This includes designers — often those that are not dextrous enough to be a thinker and facilitator of a creative process. They resort to doing all this in isolation.

I am a big proponent of design as a collective endeavor. I believe that everyone who has a stake in the product idea, should be involved from the get go in the process of design — both back stage as well as in the front stage. This includes engineers, users, sales & marketing or the big honchos in the organizational pyramid. In this approach Designers with a steady hands and some interpersonal skills lead design that can be source of immense satisfaction (to all — internal teams, as well as end consumer), and deliver meaning and purpose towards the larger existence of the organization.

It’s common norm in our industry that design happens collectively. Either the process of leading up to design or communicating it to the audience involves many people and stages. It’s equally important to explain how we arrive at design, as it is to explain the nuances for final outcome. That’s why we need to break the above paradigm of ‘exploration’ to ‘idea’ into meaningful parts as shown bellow —


Our way of explaining creative process is this — there is no chaos, there’s not Mary-Go-Round, or spaghetti diagram. In our Design Thinking playbook, the whole process is split into three distinct steps — Thinking, Deciding & Designing.

Here, ‘Thinking’ is synonym to — gathering all possibilities, exploring options, getting inspired and thinking as divergent or lateral about the ideas as possible. “Deciding’ is to narrow down, put a lens on the possibilities, use strategy to evaluate ‘fit’ and ‘differentiation’ and driving convergence towards a unique solution. ‘Design’ happens to detail out the choices made in earlier stages.

When we look at a creative endeavor from this point of view, we have better way of engaging others, and communicating the idea. At each stage, we have collective sessions, communications and concrete outcomes.

For a collective Design experiment to be successful, participants should be grounded with a right attitude. 

In earlier passages if I gave the impression that everyone is creative and everyone must be considered ready to be involved in the process of design, that was not my intension. That is in fact the biggest challenge for any design consultant. Most of the leaders, and managers demonstrate some or all of the following symptoms —

  • They run with the very first idea that ‘makes-sense’
  • Few tend to monopolize choices & decision with overt belief on “I know what they want”
  • They prematurely reject the idea because it does not pass their logical thinking or critical reasoning by saying “it does not make sense”. Remember, creative ideas, by definition, should only makes sense in the hindsight.

And, some of the same individuals feel dejected participating in the session, when they don’t get the results that they exactly wanted. So individuals must be educated and trained in the process of design, they individual traits they should develop and how to participate in a create session to come out as more satisfied.

Individuals in an organization that demands creative outcome ought to set their own internal climate and mood in order to be productive and satisfied. There are key traits required to be involved in a collective design session. One should ask these questions to themselves —

  • Are you open to new ideas? Can you hold on judging ideas immediately when you encounter them?
  • Curiosity? Do you wonder about things in your environment?
  • Are you able to express your own opinion? You are not easily swayed by others ideas out of respect?
  • Do you possess perseverance at the face of adversity or change?
  • Do you possess sense of calm in the midst of chaos?
  • Do you tolerate ambiguity? Can you enjoy being in a situation that is not defined?
  • Are you playful, fun loving, imaginative and about experimentations? Do you like toying with possibilities?

And if answer is overwhelmingly “No” that should make you a poor candidate in a creative session. As much as it will be a loss to the team, it will be source of work dissatisfaction to you. This definitely would make you learn about Design Thinking and start preparing for new attitude.


Managing Group Creativityby Arthur B. Vangundy

Lateral Thinking, by Edward de Bono

Creativity, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi