Improv and Innovation

In May, I attended the Front End of Innovation conference. Here is a great improv technique you can try at your next meeting…

During a packed breakout session, Michelle James led attendees in an applied innovation workshop. In case you were unable to join the workshop, or were too busy to take notes, here is a run down on how to apply Improv techniques to innovation:

  1. Warm-up to break your pattern. Do a handshake without letting go until you’re both shaking hands with someone else as well. This exercise helps to wake you up and helps you get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  2. Practice “Yes, and…”Find a partner and pretend you’re on an amazing trip to Mexico. The first person opens with a sentence to start the story. The second person must say, “Yes, and” then add to the story. By listening to your partner and building, the ideas become generative and focused. “Yes, and” expands the playing field for ideas (Note: Orin goes on great vacations!).
  3. Try “Random Word Generator” where one person chooses a topic and the other person starts telling a story based on that topic. The person who chose the topic, then throws in random words that the storyteller needs to incorporate. This exercise takes “high stakes listening,” justifying, building trust, and lots of practice in adapting.
  4. Co-create a “Living Being” by taking turns drawing one line at a time. Once you’re done creating your Living Being, name him/her by taking turns writing down one letter at a time until a name emerges. (BTW, we named our Living Being “Sidney Taken” – see photo). Because you’re taking turns leading and following, it helps with leadership skills and being open to collaboration.

Improv and generative thinking takes co-creation.

This article was originally posted as Live from FEI 2013: Applied Improv for Leaders: Principles and Practices for Innovative Leadership

Exploring New York City with Curious Kids

New York City A trip to New York City is a wonderful way to beat the summer doldrums. After asking my 8-year old and 6-year old where they’d like to spend a few days, we landed on New York (sorry kids, maybe next year we’ll visit Dublin or Rome. LOL!). They had both been to New York a few years back and fell in love with the city. This time though, we were going with 3 others. In our group we had 4 children and 3 adults. The question soon became, “What do you want to do?”

After a ton of research and planning, we ended up with a great mix of fun and educational experiences to fill the kids’ curious minds and to ignite their creativity. Here are some of the highlights.

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The Benefits of an Arts Education

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, Gessica Silverman,  participated in the  Somerville Open Studios. I’ve known Gess for what seems like ages, although in reality it has only been 6 years. I still fondly recall the day she put her wish out there for the world to hear and told me she wanted to “make art.” The bravery it took to say her wish aloud and the work it took to bring it to life was inspiring. It has been many years since we colluded on ways to make art a reality. Now, Gess is doing what she loves best and sharing her talents with the world.

When we learned of Gess’ art show, my husband and I thought it would make a great family event. We packed the kids in the car and headed for Somerville. At the studio, Gess walked us through her pieces and explained how they were made, what they were made from, the concept behind the pieces, the parts of the art making process that gave her energy, and the parts of the process that proved to be challenging. Gess did a great job breaking the conversation down into kid friendly bits. However, while polite, the kids looked like they had some bottled up energy.

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What To Do with a Kid Who Loves Math?

math outside

So, asking what to do with a kid who loves math may sound like a silly question. But for a parent (namely me) who naturally gravitates to language arts rather than numbers, having a child who loves math is quite foreign. It’s like having a kid who loves vegetables. Though I’m prone to memorization when it comes to math, my oldest son was born with an ability to understand mathematical concepts and theories. He’ll turn anything into a math assignment. This even includes writing a book report. Talk about creativity. LOL!

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Banana Toothpicks and Other Creative Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

toothpicks

Image by C R via Flickr

One of my kids is an adventurous eater, while the other is choosy. My older son will gladly take a taste of anything our family serves. Well, almost anything. He did tell my mom, in a non believing voice, “Grandma, we don’t eat food out of a can!” when she tried to serve him a bowl of Beefaroni. My younger son, on the other hand, won’t eat anything colorful. That is, with the exception of lollipops, candy and other not-so-healthy choices.

In order to get my younger son to try fruits and vegetables, we experimented with lots of things – renaming foods, bribing him, testing different cooking methods…and so on.  While renaming tofu to “cheese” seemed to work for miso soup, we hadn’t found any foolproof ways of getting him to eat fruits and vegetables until we stumbled on the power of sticks. Turns out, kids love eating food on sticks. My son loves to say, “Mom, anything tastes good on a stick!”

Rather than eating bananas from the peel, we slice them and eat them using toothpicks. Voila, the birth of banana toothpicks. We also make kebabs, or “meat on a stick” and order terriyaki when we get take out. It seems the unexpected nature of eating food with sticks turns the focus from nutrition to fun.

Just what the kids need!

 

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Imaginative Thinking Isn’t Just for Kids

"We are told never to cross a bridge unti...

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Over the past week the word “imagination” has been popping into my mind. I just celebrated a birthday and was remembering the many articles I’ve read about creativity and aging. Studies have found creativity dwindles with age as people hit their 60’s. Though I’m a few decades shy of my 60’s, I began wondering what  effects age has on my personal creativity. Given children are more prone to imagination than adults, I looked to my 5-year old for comparison.

What I enjoy about my 5-year old is his randomness. On my birthday, we celebrated by having a family lunch at a local restaurant. My 5-year old asked if his stuffed pet, Gussie Lion, could come along. He stated, “It’s a very special day and Gussie Lion would like to come to lunch.”

Of course, I enthusiastically replied, “Yes.”

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Designing for Kids has Adult Sales Appeal

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I’ve never been much of a parade person. Not that I have anything against parades, but they’ve just never held my interest. However, this year has been different. And, it had a lot to do with how the parade was designed. Our town, probably like many others, was experiencing a dwindling parade population. In thinking about how to solve the problem, parade organizers designed a creative parade experience with kid appeal.

First, they invited the town’s little leagues to march in the parade. Second, the little leaguers tossed candy into the crowds. While some little leaguers aimed candy towards their siblings, others were happy to throw the furthest, throw to the loudest fans, or throw to unsuspecting parade goers. What a great way to engage attendees and to workout to those future-baseball arms. Lastly, little league families were invited for a free ice cream social after the parade!

Designing the parade with kids in mind had great adult “sales” appeal as well. Some of my learning from this experience included:

  • When your kids are invited to march in the parade, your entire family is more likely to attend the parade
  • Giving the marchers an activity, like throwing candy, is fun and helps pass the time
  • Siblings enjoyed watching the parade go by, spotting family members, and catching candy
  • Happy kids = happy parents!

For me, this year’s parade experience has changed my perspective. Our town did a great job of changing my mind by changing how I feel. By incorporating my son into the parade and making the parade fun for his brother, it put a smile on my face. So, each year as the weather gets warmer, and the parades become more plentiful, I look forward to Memorial Day parades, July 4th parades, and so on…

And, if you think designing for kids just pertains to parades, think again. Look no further than the cereal aisle, toy store, or video games for the explosive potential in designing for kids. The next time you pass by a product geared towards kids, think about how marketers might be subliminally (or not so subliminally) talking to parents with packaging, advertising and emotional appeal.

 

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My Sons’ Reactions to Creatively Ever After

Chapter 1, Creatively Ever After

Every night for nearly 7 years my husband and I have read bedtime stories to the kids. Now that the kids are older, they are excited to choose their own books. With shelves of books, I was surprised when my boys asked to read my book, Creatively Ever After. Though it is being published in just a few short weeks, I have never read my book aloud to an audience.

At first, I wasn’t sure if a soon-to-be second grader and a soon-to-be kindergartener would understand the “grown-up” concepts of creativity, innovation, and the creative problem solving process. I was a bit nervous as I started reading. My kids tell it like it is..the good, the bad and the ugly!

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Curiosity and Creativity go Hand in Hand

Pencil

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When my youngest son turned 5 in April, he received a gigantic 17″ pencil as a gift from one of his friends. The pencil was so big that my son had to grip it like a badminton racket. He walked around the house for days happily carrying his pencil around. After making sure my son knew enough not to draw on anything except paper, I rest assured I wouldn’t need to scrub pencil markings off the walls.

However, my son’s curiosity got the better of him and it had nothing to do with drawing on walls. Instead, he decided to test his pencil on the window screens. While curiosity is a key ingredient in creativity, this once, I wished my son could have been a tad less curious. My son was became fascinated with the pencil and wondered what would happen if he poked holes in the window screens with it.

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Letting Kids Win at Games Builds Creative Thinking Muscles

View of a game of Strange Synergy, a card and ...

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My 5-year old loves playing board games. He also loves creating his own rules and ways of playing which drives my 7-year old crazy because he views this as “cheating.” Recently, rather than playing board games or card games with both kids at the same time, I’ve been playing with each child individually. This gives my 5-year old time to stretch his creative thinking muscles and my 7-year old a chance to enjoy an age appropriate playing environment.

In separating play time between the two boys, I’ve gained some insights. My oldest son tends to be more literal, by-the-book, and logical. To him, it doesn’t make sense to create your own rules. He sees right and wrong…and there are never any gray lines. My older son loves building things, math, science, IT class and sports. On the other hand, my younger son tends to be more imaginative. He enjoys divergent thinking. With him, there’s always lots of gray. My younger son seems to be drawn to coming up with ideas, inventing things, creative story telling and art.

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