What does it mean to connect innovation and creativity through design thinking?

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 9.22.31 AM.pngI’m so thrilled and honoured to be a part of the SSHRC Storytellers Top 25 Competition this year – I really believe that developing a better understanding of the ways that designers solve complex and critical problems will help us connect creativity and innovation in Canada’s future, and I’m so excited to share the research work I’ve been doing with all of Congress 2017 as part of this event.

My research explores what designers can tell us about problem solving and innovation, and what we can learn from them about applying their creative process to some of the challenges that lie ahead for Canada.

As a country, we’re known for our exciting cultural industries, and our spirit of innovation, but we face challenges in connecting the two. Creativity and innovation are becoming critical terms in how we understand Canada’s future – how we understand our competitiveness, how we look at existing problems and how we spot opportunities for change in our world. Sustained success, regardless of sector – increasingly depends on our ability to innovate: to exploit new ideas and new opportunities. But to do that, we have to somehow connect with creativity and with our creative community.
I believe that it is design that connects these two, and that Canada’s entrepreneurial and innovative future depends on how we integrate design thinking into the boardrooms and offices of our high tech industries, our resource community, our policy development, our scientific base and our educational facilities.
We can think of creativity as the generation of new ideas – either new ways of looking at existing problems, or of seeing new opportunities, new ways of thinking. But how do we harness it, how can we connect it with change in our industries or our policy or our markets?
And we can think of innovation as the successful exploitation of new ideas. Innovation is what carries those new ideas through to new products, new services, new solutions for challenges. But how do we move forward into an adjacent possible – how do we make sure we aren’t reinventing the success of the present?
What connects these two is design: research from many different fields really design thinking and the unique ways that designers work as the link between creativity and innovation. Design is the shaping of ideas –it is the force and power of creativity deployed to a specific end. By integrating design thinking as a way of problem solving, we can mobilize the force of creativity toward true innovation.
But here is the thing: we don’t have a very good picture of just what design thinking is – or even how designers do what they do. We have an idea…it’s all white boards and brain storms and magic and “creativity”! Designers have something unique to offer: the way that they work opens doors and introduces new ways of changing the world. And we need to know more about their unique practices: According to the World Economic Forum, by 2020, one-third of all jobs will require complex problem solving skills of this type. But the challenge that we are facing is that we don’t have a full picture of just what the practices of designers are. The terms ‘design thinking’ and ‘creativity’ get thrown around a lot: we know that designers of all kinds have a unique way of solving some of the most difficult and tangled problems out there, but there is a gap in our understanding of just what designers do on an every-day basis.
This is the question I am trying to answer in my research work: What steps do designers take in problem solving activities that allow them to bridge creativity and innovation in such a powerful way? How are they making decisions, how are they solving problems – how are they acting as agents of change? What can we learn from designers about how they work, what they do, and what they know about problem solving that they could teach the rest of us?
To understand how designers solve problems we need to keep asking questions about what it means to design, to be a designer, to do design thinking. We need to ask designers how they learn to do what they do, how they see their creative process, and how they learn to work in new ways.
I think that the people who are best equipped to tell us how to make this crucial connection are the designers themselves. I’ve been interviewing designers from around the world to hear more about how they see the world and what their creative process is in designing products, services and communications. And to get a better understanding of the Canadian context, I’ve been observing designers at work in an international design studio with offices here in Calgary. And here is the part that I think is really important: the designers that I am interviewing are sharing stories about how they no longer make things – now they make experiences, services, they are not designing ‘things’ for today, they are forecasting the future. They are working with a whole new way of thinking. This is what we need to understand if we are going to forge that connection between entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity in Canada’s future – because once we have a clear understanding of how designers work, how they bring creativity and ‘design thinking’ to problem solving, and how they use new and creative practices to forecast that future, I know that we’ll be able to harness the power of creativity and the unique practices of designers to build a more innovative Canada.
#SSHRCStorytellers Top 25, here I come! Can’t wait to hear more about the exciting and important research being done by other finalists from across Canada! #PHDChat #cdnpse #creativecanada #cdninnovation

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