You’re teaching a class, leading a meeting, or collaborating with colleagues on a project. At an unexpected point, someone shares a creative insight, an idea that transports everyone’s thinking: a student connects several concepts in a novel way; a colleague simplifies what had been an intricate process; or a team member sketches a feature that enhances a product. In each instance, someone takes the work to a different level.
We know how incredible these moments can be – the ones where someone realizes something new. The question is, can we design for them? Can we create interactions that fuel them? I think we can.
Artists and designers do it all the time (check out this terrific video about design teacher, Inge Druckrey: Teaching to See). They use space in different ways to ensure viewers have a particular experience with their work. For example, they may rely on negative space, what the Japanese call, ma. Or they may thoughtfully take advantage of white space in an image. The goal is the same: to spark a creative insight. They recognize that we’re primed to fill in the gaps. We’re wired to create.
So, what if we build negative or white space into our interactions, intentionally build them in? Here are six strategies:
Plan. It might seem counter-intuitive, but be as detailed as you can. Know every activity or agenda item or outcome you want to achieve, and know all the ways you plan to get there. The more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to relax in the moment and allow for what comes up – the empty spaces.
Use time. Slow the process down. Speed it up. Create urgency. When you’re working through something complex, it can be helpful to slow things down by repeating what someone has said. This ensures understanding. It can also be helpful to set a timer or schedule a late night meeting with a firm end time. Couple this with a tight deadline and the creative insights will fly.
Use sound. Make room for group noise and for individual quiet. You can do this by asking people to work together and, as needed, alone. Encourage reflection, too, which can build in quiet time.
Use touch. Write down ideas. Cut them up. Post them on walls. Touch them and move them around. It’s a different experience that can ignite creative insights.
Laugh. Build laughter into your time together. Allow for it. Again, it’s relaxing. There are natural pauses – empty spaces – during and after we laugh.
Embrace the mess. Convey comfort with people moving around, posting ideas, writing on white walls or white boards. Allow for the times when the group gets stuck, when everyone is quiet because they’re thinking.
Let me know how it goes!