Momentum versus direction – why some organisations don’t innovate

Momentum versus direction – why some organisations don’t innovate

When we’re moving forward with a project, it provides us with reassurance. It feels like we’re heading somewhere, and from this we tend to infer that we’re heading in the right direction. But this confuses momentum with direction. In his book, Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull, president of Disney Animation and Pixar, argues that it’s essential for their movie directors to have a direction, even if it’s not necessarily the right one. A director must maintain the confidence of his crew, and in this sense, going somewhere is better than going nowhere. It’s a matter of leadership. But what if that confidence is misplaced? What if your project is moving rapidly in the wrong direction? All the team moral in the world is not going to save a project if you’re building the wrong thing. The risks are compounded in a business context, where a team left idle is a waste of money. As their manager, the business demands that you give them something to occupy them. Fast. So should you begin a project before you know exactly where you’re going, or should you wait for inspiration and risk wasting time and money? At Pixar, Catmull explains that they solve this dilemma by encouraging their directors to “fail early”. The argument is that you can always adjust your direction once you have set off, as you learn. And of course this is true, to a point. To be creative, you need the freedom to experiment and evolve your ideas as a project progresses. But innovation is about more than creativity. These kinds of course corrections are great for incremental refinement...
Using “Save As…” to navigate the creative maze

Using “Save As…” to navigate the creative maze

Developing creative ideas is not a steady linear progression of refining ideas to make something gradually better and better. Quite the opposite, in fact. The creative process is something more akin to a navigating a maze. If you mentally prepare yourself for a few wrong turns at the start, you’re more likely to reach the end. The creative process is an emotional journey, because you’re looking for what “feels” right. There are no absolute rights and wrongs – you’re ultimately drawing on your own personal aesthetic judgement to determine the right approach. And this is why being creative can be so emotionally draining. In his recent book, Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar Animation Studios, explains how important it is to remember that you are not your ideas. Creatives should not take criticism of their work personally. But this is easier said than done, because in a sense, your ideas are you, or at least, an extension of you. Parents often take criticism of their children very personally because they know they share the same DNA. It is much the same with our creative ideas. We pour our personality, our humour, our sense of identity into our ideas. Their quirks are our quirks. Their shortcoming are our shortcomings. But of course, Ed Catmull is right. As personal as our ideas may be, If we identify too closely with them, we may become blind to their shortcomings, and they can lead us down a blind alley as a result. And that brings us back to our maze. As you navigate a maze, you have a sense of where the...
Leaky and ambiguous icons

Leaky and ambiguous icons

I’ve created many icons over the years. So I know from personal experience just how difficult they can be to design. The objective of icon design is usually to produce the simplest possible image that unambiguously communicates a concept. Sometimes that concept is a thing: like a folder or a trash can; sometimes it’s an action: like swiping a card or summoning a nurse. There are two reasons why icons should be as simple as possible: they are less cluttered and work in small sizes; they are less likely it is to “leak” unintended messages. The first reason is self explanatory. The second is worth exploring in more detail. As an example, take a look at this icon I found in a hospital. The purpose of the button is to summon a nurse. The icon doesn’t attempt to convey the action of summoning. Instead, it shows a picture of a nurse. But is that all the icon is communicating? I see several other messages in this icon: Nurses are women Nurses are slim and totter around on pin-like legs Nurses wear figure hugging clothes with short skirts Nurses carry items like drinks Nurses wear old-fashioned clothes, or it is appropriate to be nostalgic about when they did. …and there are doubtless many more. The presuppositions and cultural context of the designer are leaking out of the icon. In this case, the ideas leaked are so far from today’s social norms that I believe the hospital should consider changing the buttons. A cost that would have been entirely unnecessary if the icon had been a bell, for example. But while...