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Declaring an end to “Davosian waffle”, Richard Quest, the voluble CNN presenter, opened the second session by challenging eighth design experts to come up with quick-fire solutions to help build a more creative global economy.
The theme: “We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough?” The format: a cross between the TV shows, The Weakest Link and The Price is Right, as one of the organisers put it.
Each of the experts had one minute to sell an idea that would propel the creative imperative. The audience, armed with small yellow and red flags, would then vote on the best ideas.
The first proposition: we need to create a borderless world. We need to break down the barriers between CEOs and workers, between rich and poor.
The second: public sector buying can drive new innovation. Government is the solution, not the problem.
The third: approach a problem with a beginners’ mind and build a prototype answer within one day.
The fourth: mobilise religious groups “the biggest distribution and volunteer system in the world” to tackle poverty.
The fifth: create a creativity and design ministry to put innovation at the heart of decision-making.
The sixth: re-evaluate the human condition and change society’s priorities.
The seventh: build deliberate constraints into the creative process and encourage a healthy disrespect for the impossible.
The eighth: create a more inclusive economy drawing in new ideas from unexpected sources.
As the resident cartoonist illustrated these ideas on a wall, the participants raised their flags to vote and eliminate five experts. The surviving three were then asked to expand on their ideas.
Approaching problems with a beginners’ mind led to you asking the simple question that the experts never asked. Building a prototype in a day forced you to devise an immediate solution, one that could then be constantly revised until it worked. Perfectionism paralyses, was the mantra: design risk out of the creative process.
Breaking down barriers would enable people to look at problems in new ways. War and politics had not helped solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Why not try something radically different: ask Israeli and Palestinian families to dine with each other every night for a year. How many people try eating a boiled egg in a different way?
Expressing disrespect for the impossible helped people make progress: creating constraints helped frame problems, forcing people to think around them. For example, in 1962 John F. Kennedy said the US would put a man on the moon even though it was technologically impossible at the time. “There is a difference between decision taking and problem solving.”
Fresh ideas – some sombre, some startling - were offered by the audience. Work with prison convicts, said one, describing them as “creative types on the edge of society”.
Seek fresh ideas from the youngest members of your team, said another, because teenagers have already mastered working in collaborative communities thanks to their familiarity with the internet, chat-rooms, and mobile telephony. “The best specialists produce incremental change, but the biggest leaps come from serendipity. Creation comes from unexpected success, and unexpected failure.”
The winner, the person with the most “realistic, but optimistic idea”, was the expert who championed the creation of constraints and a healthy disrespect for the impossible. No surprise, perhaps, that she worked for Google.
And what can you do tomorrow morning to spark the creative process? Try eating your boiled egg in a different way.