Home » Transcript: A Crash Course in Creativity by Tina Seelig at TEDxStanford Conference

Transcript: A Crash Course in Creativity by Tina Seelig at TEDxStanford Conference

So this is our internal combustion engine for creativity. Our knowledge is a toolbox for creativity. Our imagination is the catalyst for the transformation of that knowledge into new ideas. And our attitude is the spark that gets this going. But unfortunately, that’s not enough. And it’s one of the reasons why there are so many amazingly creative people who are basically not living up to their creative potential because they’re not in the environment to foster and stimulate and encourage this type of innovation. So we have to look at the outside of the innovation engine.

Let’s start first by looking at habitats. Now, habitats include several things. It’s certainly the people you work with. It’s the rules. It’s the rewards. It’s the constraints. It’s the incentives. But even more than that, it’s the physical space. Consider the fact that when we were little, when we were kids in the kindergartens. There are stimulating environments you walk in. You know it’s a place you’re supposed to be creative. It’s colorful, there are lots of manipulatives. The room is very flexible. But unfortunately, you graduate from this type of environment and you get to go study somewhere like this. The chairs are lined up in rows and columns. They are bolted to the floor. And if you talk to anybody, you get into trouble. I spent my entire growing up writing, “Silence is golden. Silence is golden.” OK.

And the fact is we then get very upset because the students, you know, they are just not so creative anymore and everyone laments that. And then they are successful in this environment, and they go up to this environment where they were. And I know why you are laughing because it’s all too familiar. These type of offices were designed to be like prisons. And unfortunately what happens is we again get very frustrated that the people who are working in these type of environments are not very creative. The thing is the space we’re in tells the story. Every space is the stage on which we play off our life. And it tells us what role we play, how we should act.

I’m fortunate enough to teach at d.school, these are actual pictures of my class. Now it might look like the kids are back in kindergarten. They were actually working on a very sophisticated problem here as are the students in this picture. But the room is much more like a kindergarten space with lots of manipulatives, lots of things to prototype. The room is set up like a theater we can set it up differently every five minutes, depending upon what we want to do. Nothing is bolted down.

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Really innovative firms know this well. This is the picture from Google in Zurich. This is the picture from Pixar. These are not frivolous because these are messages that the company is giving to the employees saying, “Innovation, creativity and playfulness are valued here.” But this is not enough. We also have to think about the resources we have in our environment. And resources come in so many different flavors. Unfortunately we think of resources as things like money. And money is a fabulous resource, we certainly benefited from here at Stanford and Silicon Valley. But it’s one of many resources that we have available to us.

We need to look at the natural resources. We have to look at the processes we put in place. We have to look at the cultures we built. Unfortunately, I get a chance to see this happening in different places in the world. I was up in the northern Chile recently. And it was absolutely spectacularly gorgeous. Up in the north of Chile, the beach was endless, it’s 3,000 mile beach. And Andes are there. And I said to the people in this town of Antofagasta, “Gee, what’s really getting in the way of your success?”

And this man said to me, “Well, it’s a really horrible environment.”

I said, “Really? Did you look outside?” Because they didn’t see. They were trying to replicate the resources someone had somewhere else as opposed to seeing resources they already had.

So here, picture of this city. Think of the culture there. Culture is important. Culture is the last piece of the innovation engine. Culture is like the background music of any community, of any organization, of every team and of every family. And I’m going to play two video clips to demonstrate this. Think of the music in these video clips as the culture in each of these scenes. And I’m going to play the same clip twice. This is a clip from 1919 Coca Cola bottling factory. OK? And I want you to think about how you feel, whether you’d want to be there and what you think is in those bottles.

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[Video clip: Mery Music]

OK, then we’ll go to the next one.

[Video clip: Gloomy Music]

OK, you get the point, right? So the fact is, this is the outside of your innovation engine. Let’s put it all together. Now you might say, “OK Tina, that’s really interesting. But how come you have this fancy Mobius strip here? You could just have it inside and outside.” But it’s the Mobius strip because inside and outside are completely woven together. And nothing can be looked at in isolation. Let me show you how.

Imagination and habitat are parallel here. Because the habitats we build are the external manifestation of our imagination. If you can imagine it, you can build it. And in addition, the habitats we build directly affect our imagination, the way we think, the way we feel, the way we act. This is also true with knowledge and resources. The more we know, the more resources we can unlock. And the more type of resources we have that determine what we know, right? The more we know about fishing, the more fish we are going to catch. The more fish we have in our environment, the more likely we know about fishing. This is also true with attitude and culture.

Culture is a collective attitude of the community, and the culture clearly affects how each of us thinks. The wonderful thing though is this Mobius strip of the innovation engine is so powerful that you can start anywhere. If you are the manager of your organization, you can set up — you can think about the culture and set up the culture. You can build habitats to stimulate imagination. If you are an individual, you can start by building your base of knowledge. You can start with a passion and attitude that you’re going to solve a problem. You can start anywhere to get this innovation going.

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