Last week I spent two days at Harvard University participating in my third Professional Development class at Harvard. This time the subject was “Creative Thinking: Innovative Solutions to Complex Challenges.” The workshop was led by two experienced facilitators, Anne Manning and Susan Robertson.
We started with introductions, and it soon became clear we had a very diverse group of participants - I was the lone person from the tech sector, but there was a nice blend of sectors represented, as well as some international participants. This made from some very interesting discussion outside the classroom and during the various breaks.
I was also pleased that some people sought me out, especially once they found out I was an “Ideator.” Prior to the class, we had taken an assessment, and then were presented with the results. In one of the exercises, it turned out we were teamed up with other participants who fell into the same quadrant as us. I thought it was a good way to weave that assessment into the class content (and of course, initially without us being aware of it).
I had some great takeaways from the two day class. I think the thing I appreciated the most was that the facilitators went to great lengths to give us a toolkit to take with us to apply the next time we are working on a project or interacting within a team. I think I also left the class with the distinct feeling that much like the diagram our team came up with above, you really have to build creativity into your system in a continuous manner.
▪ Anne and Susan were great, and they were excellent at pivoting when it was needed. I continually appreciated the fact that they both would “add on” to discussions with interesting insight. If you are going to have a dynamic duo presenting, you need to make sure they play off each other well. In this case, it worked well. ▪ Having engaged participants, especially in a workshop such as this is really important. Our group was definitely engaged, and I think that helped it make a better overall workshop for everyone. ▪ As a remote employee I really relish events such as this. There are a lot of great hallway conversations. I also enjoyed sharing what I do at Mozilla and having people learn about our products. I even got one of the many iPhone users in the workshop to download Firefox! Also one participant said he feels as if the Android devices he had were more “crashy” than the iPhone. I wonder if others feel that way. ▪ I liked the fact that 2 of the 3 pre-workshop assignments were videos. One of our first assignments was to talk to as many people as we could about the pre-workshop material. I found that every single person I spoke with mentioned liking one of the 2 videos, but no one I talked to mentioned the article that was part of the course prep. I think the two videos overall resonated more with the group I conversed with. ▪ One of the final team assignments happened partially during lunch. I think that didn’t work well for our team. For one, we lost one team member and had to make decisions without him. Instead of doing the entire “clustering” of ideas in a group, we actually did it twice. I would prefer in the future if we just leave lunch for eating and socializing and make adjustments in the schedule to account for any team work that has to be done. ▪ Speaking of teams, there was one exercise where we had a team member at one point and then they abruptly left our team and joined another team after the coffee break. I still wonder why… ▪ I continue to struggle with exercises where we have to build something. This time it was the marshmallow challenge, which centered around building a free standing structure out of spaghetti with a marshmallow on top. I was part of a three person team, but in the end I think I ended up observing more than actually helping with the implementation. This could be a function of how my brain operates - I may not immediately gravitate toward being hands on with the material, but like to function in the capacity of someone who is overseeing what is being done. I have been in workshops before where the same thing has happened. ▪ I learned a lot about how hard it is to be in System 2 thinking. ▪ We spent a bit of time talking about divergent and convergent thinking. I think overall this is useful to keep in mind whenever you are working on a project. ▪ There can be lessons learned from the absurd, even a fur sink. This example was part of our introduction to the “GPS” tool, which can be used for feedback, to improve ideas, and as a climate setting tool. Much of the value of that tool is framing the question by using “How might we…?” or “How to….” ▪ I mentioned to the instructor that it was challenging at times to have tight time constraints for some of the exercises we were doing (on demand creativity). I noted that sometimes I like to mull things over. The nature of this 2 day workshop didn’t allow for extended time. Sometimes I wondered if the outcome on my end would have been different if I had more time. On a personal level, the amount of prolonged cognitive activity we did over the two day span was pretty draining for me. ▪ The Assumption Smashing exercise was interesting, and I like the fact that I could ideate without any constraints. ▪ We talked quite a bit about building a climate for creative thinking, and how important it is to do well in the “Clarify” mode, before moving through to the other three modes: Ideate, Develop, and Implement. I think the importance of this was demonstrated when we actually started to dig deep into one of the team projects we were working on. ▪ Some of the team exercises, especially the final one, generated some very creative presentations. I have attached a picture of what our team came up with in terms of the challenge which was "How can we build innovating thinking into existing systems and processes"? ▪ We had a guest speaker the second day who specialized in Innovation. I think this worked well the second day since he was able to give us real world examples of some of the things we had already discussed. Would have liked more Q&A with him, but again there were time constraints. ▪ We covered quite a bit of material in 2 days. I think the facilitators definitely made the most of the time we had. Anne mentioned that a credit version of this class is offered in the summer. If I had the time, I would love to explore this topic over a longer time span.
▪ Harvard does a great job at running these programs. Everything is very well organized - I arrived and my name placard and all materials were already ready at my assigned seat. Food was pretty good overall, but was a bit better at the program I attended last year.