Since Dx3 started five years ago, it’s attracted some of the best thinkers in the digital industry. Throughout this time, the startup scene in Canada has grown immensely, and innovation and authenticity have become common buzzwords at tech conferences where every speaker promises to reveal the “secret sauce” to become the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs.
At the heart of these discussions, and an often-overlooked focus, is embracing creativity. The Dx3 attendees that managed to brave the winter storm on day one of the conference packed into a room while Neil Stevenson, executive portfolio director at design and consulting firm IDEO, explained why the creative process can’t be relegated to flow charts and whiteboards.
“In a super techy world, the smartphone is the enemy of the quiet voice.”
Stevenson compared creativity to breathing, an automatic human process, and said that the single word describes an entire cycle that people may not think about. “Most fundamentally, creativity has an input and output, you take something in and make something out of it,” Stevenson said.
Describing the creative process succinctly, Stevenson used some words that many entrepreneurs are familiar with: inspiration, incubation, expression, and reflection. Like many founders whose companies are built on solving a problem for customers, Stevenson said the best way to find inspiration is to shift your point of view. “You can do this physically by travelling, or you can do it mentally by seeing through other people’s eyes.”
— ron tite (@rontite) March 2, 2016
The word ‘incubator’ is thrown around more often these days as more startup incubators pop up to support up-and-coming companies, and consequently, no one really thinks about what ‘incubating’ actually means from a creative perspective. By incubating ideas, founders have the opportunity to observe people’s behaviour when presented with certain products or situations, and coming up with ideas based on those observations rather than getting distracted by the technology. “These things are a quiet voice and you have to learn to pay attention, which is hard. In a super techy world, the smartphone is the enemy of the quiet voice,” said Stevenson.
In a culture that idolizes lone wolf leaders who describe their breakthroughs as epiphanies, constant lessons reminding entrepreneurs of the importance of failure are crucial. Stevenson said that creative teams need to work together to embrace bad ideas; he gives the example of writing down ideas on Post-It notes and pasting it to the wall for anyone to play with, rather than relying on a whiteboard in meetings where one person decides which ideas are the best.
“The way you bring those ideas to life is key, and unless you put ideas out in an egoless way, you’re going to have a conversation where you say ‘Yeah that’s great, but my idea is this,’” said Stevenson. “You can write or draw an idea on the wall and people can move it around, and you give the idea a life that isn’t attached to you.”
— Susan Noguchi (@SusanTurtlerun) March 2, 2016
Wrapping up the talk, Stevenson, who lived in Canada for some time as a child, reflected on the Canadian entrepreneurial spirit of Canadians versus the U.S. “It’s less about Canada and more about the U.S. being weird. People in the States are crazy about innovation, it’s tied to a rebel cowboy vision of success,” said Stevenson. And as countries find their own ways to measure their own levels of success — Bolivia has given nature equal status as humans under the law — he said it will be interested to see how Canada will measure itself.
“This kind of collective creativity is a great thing for Canada. The best creative leaders aren’t super ego guys with poor eyewear, we look for people who are empathic, optimistic, and fair, which sounds very Canadian to me.”