Very humbled and honored to contribute to the new book Trust Inc., edited by Barbara Brooks Kimmel. This book is a collection of essays by internationally known thought leaders on leadership and trust...and then me! I share the story of one of my incredible clients, Menasha Packaging, who epitomizes integrity, character and trust in all they do. Please order it - read it, share it, but most importantly, live it!!!
I'm honored to have Jon Mertz (known to many of us @ThinDifference) guest post. Jon is VP of marketing in the healthcare software industry. He has an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin and has worked for companies like Deloitte, IBM, and BMC Software. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a terrific community to inspire Millennial leaders (you should join) and close the gap between two generations of leaders. Thank you, Jon, for posting here!!!
Trust Principles for Creativity and Innovation
One of the great things about the generation ahead is that Millennials get trust. They have the trust in themselves and how their ideas can change the world. Embedded within this is a strong community and collaboration angle built into their digital DNA. Working across boundaries is natural. Combined, this generation is unbound from tradition while focused on innovation and creativity to construct better gadgets, apps, mindsets, and art. It is an open field.
While this is true, the principle of trust needs to be revisited. A balance between self and community is necessary. With this mix, trust enhances actions and collaboration. Millennials, along with all generations, need to embrace this blend.
Creativity and innovation requires a combination of Self-Centered and Community-Centered trust. An evenness is required to create and innovate in more meaningful and productive ways. Within each, there are two trust principles to use.
Self-Centered Trust Principles
Trust your voice. We have a voice. It can encourage or discourage us. It keeps us on track or off track. Which way our voice takes us depends on our self-trust. It isn’t over-confidence. It is self-confidence with a strong center of purpose-filled action. In other words, with a clear purpose, the clarity of our voice will grow and, along with it, our trust levels rise in what we have to say, do, and act upon. All gain strength with clarity of a purpose-driven voice.
Trust your voice in what you are creating and innovating. Trust your purpose.
Trust your strength. There will be critics in every balcony. Taking your creative work or innovative solutions outside can be harsh at times. To take the steps outside your comfort zone, a strong presence of trust in your ideas, innovation, or work of art is vital. Whatever you are working on has made it this far so continue to trust in what you have created.
Time is too short to be ignorant. Trust your concept but verify, enhance, verify again, and decide steps forward. With each step, your creation and innovation will gain in strength. Keep strength in your ideas and build insight.
Community-Centered Trust Principles
Trust others. At times, it feels easier to go it alone. We feel we can just maintain our focus and eventually we will win over others. However, it is equally important to remember how different perspectives can add value to our ideas and concepts. Involving others in the brainstorming and creating process broadens our own views. By engaging others, we can incorporate a more human-centered design, too. We can begin to empathize more and see how we can modify our innovations to better fit how people will actually use them.
Use the variety of opinion to strengthen what you are working on. Your views need to be balanced with broader perspectives. A community offers diversity, and diversity strengthens anyone. Trusting in your community will empower your ideas more than if you are all alone.
Trust in tension. Anytime we ask for feedback, we open ourselves up. We become vulnerable. In the vulnerable moments, a tension begins. It is a tension between acceptance and rejection. The reality is tension creates an enlightening force. It tightens our ideas and heightens our awareness. Embracing productive tension results in improved thoughts, better concepts, and enhanced innovation.
Healthy tension is required to refine and validate. We need to trust the feedback and trust in our vulnerable moments of placing our ideas and art out in our community.
Trust Simply Makes Art and Innovation Work
Trust makes everything work better. It is just that simple.
Trust is discussed often in terms of relationships, culture, partnerships, and agreements. It provides the foundation for human interaction to stand upon and conduct conversations, transactions, and education in a productive, engaging, and enjoyable way.
Just as trust is central in all of those things, it is also needed in creativity and innovation. Trust takes on a new role of being self-centered and community-centered. By embracing trust in his manner, it removes barriers and enables extension across boundaries, especially generational ones.
To get the best ideas and move our created works forward, trust plays an essential role. Millennials need to use trust as a principle in what they create, and we all need to engage in a trust-based way to support innovative thoughts and works.
What role does trust play in your ideas, innovations, and artwork?
My take on the whole 'Lean In" discussion that is causing a bit of a buzz - but you know me, not one to hold back. Thank you Switch & Shift for being willing to publish it!
If you can't find what you're looking for, just create it! Don't let the world pigeon-hole you into linear paths...make your own. That's what Hanna McPhee did. She is an extraordinary kid and typical of the ones I get to hang out with. Hanna (Brown '14) created an independent concentration, Biologically Inspired Design and is working on her thesis. She is co-president of Brown's student initiative to incorporate the arts into STEM, STEAM and a project manager on Brown's solar decathlon "Techstyle Haus" team, of which about half are women! An oh, she also is a pole vaulter on the track and field team. This is Hanna's story of how she's working to create a common language to integrate design thinking with science and engineering.
Integrating Design Theory & the Scientific Process
I am sitting across the table from my thesis advisor. We stare at one another in silence, our faces reflecting equal levels of frustration. After a 15-minute debate on the differences between a parameter and a constraint, it has become apparent my advisor is an engineer, and I am not. My advisor and I meet weekly to discuss my research. Each week we inevitably hit a wall; expressing the same words, but interpreting them in entirely different ways. With a background in biology and design, my definition of details often do not align with an engineer’s. However, we both know the objectives of my thesis, and both want to work towards that goal (and diploma)
So why are we having such a difficult time communicating?
It starts with the realization that our different disciplines do not speak the same language. Up until the past few years, my education centered around finding a path and, for the most part, sticking to it. If you are good at math, you stay on the honors track through middle and high school to become a “math person”. Even later, with a liberal arts education, I felt swayed to identify myself solely as a “biology person”. There was never room for another subject like art, no space for speaking two languages fluently. My educational system created silos between the different disciplines. Once I chose one path, essentially my language, other subjects became foreign.
Connections are missing between these disciplines, and in particular between the arts and sciences. On almost every project I have worked on thus far, my analytical and creative teammates have struggled to connect. From deadlines to critical thinking, collaborating has been as difficult as a native English speaker interpreting Italian. Sure, perhaps some root words are similar. But you end up just speaking loudly at one another, waving your hands around as a flailing final attempt at communication.
Fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to create my own concentration and fully integrate biology and design into one cohesive means of critical thinking. But it would be extremely naïve to think that type of interdisciplinary education can be implemented everywhere - and nor should it be. We still need the classically trained “quant jocks” as well as the “edgy creatives”. Without them, a melting pot of full-fledged hybrids such as myself would lose any sort of concrete base for reference.
So where do we go from here?
I believe each individual, no matter how much of a purist they may be in their respective field, should be responsible for entertaining interdisciplinary ideas. Exposing ourselves to different disciplines results in a better understanding of our peer’s work. With this deeper understanding, we create a greater means of respect. Whether that takes the form of double majoring, or simply taking a few electives, some threshold of interdisciplinary thought is important.
In an era where buzzwords like “collaboration” and “innovation” land you a job, its time to actually start flexing both sides of our brains. At the end of this journey, behind our various languages, it is surprising how similar my analytical and creative peers are. My STEM friends always shudder at the free flowing process of iterating and prototyping. My designers laugh at the time spent nit picking over numerical data, seemingly so far removed from the problem at hand. However, at the end of the day, both are following almost identical steps towards finding solutions. The proof can be found just looking at the scientific process alongside design theory.
Although one approach may rely more on quantifiable data and the other on a more “human” means of communication, step by step the two share striking similarities. Combining these two theories helps me personally make sense of my own analytical and creative brain. When they come together as one scientific and artistic critical thinking tool, the result is a deeper understanding of defining problems and finding solutions.
In short, the banter between myself and my advisor is not about the difference between parameters and constraints. It is about the exposure to a new language.
My thesis will teach me many things. But I sincerely believe my weekly exposure to my advisor’s brain – and all the neurotic details that come with it – will influence me the most when I walk out into the working world.