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Sparking a change through Design Thinking

Sparking a change through Design Thinking

My first week at We Are Unstuck, a Design Thinking agency, was nothing if not immersive. With an ethos of ‘daring you to do things differently’, We Are Unstuck was a great match for Spark the Change. It seemed to me that the talks and workshops I attended at this year’s conference seemed to reflect two of WAU’s main mindsets which could have a great impact on any organisation.

Firstly, to spark a change, you must BE A PART OF SOMETHING – and an effective team which pushes boundaries and delivers results must be built on trust.

Eric Lynn’s CultureQs workshop threw groups of strangers in at the deep end, asking them to share more in 30 minutes than they’ve shared with their own colleagues over 3 years. Discussions on difficult scenarios and topics such as “how do you prefer to make decisions in a team?” cut through the small talk to build a solid foundation of a working relationship in a relatively tiny space of time. Being a part of this collaborative, trusting and honest environment facilitates the next facet of WAU’s mindsets that was supported wholeheartedly at Spark –

We must have the courage to MAKE MISTAKES. On an individual level, this means pushing out of the comfort zone to develop and implement new ideas which may often feel uncomfortable or risky. This requires support from the surrounding organisational hierarchy and from colleagues, line managers and department heads, who must make room for unintended consequences and facilitate the learning which can occur from such experiments. A mistake is only a failure if a business fails to take on board the lessons learned during the process.

Marcus Frödin’s discussion of how, at Spotify, “speed beats quality and mistakes breed success” was a perfect example of this. In a fast-paced and saturated market flops are rife, and so spending 18 months from idea to delivery on one product without any feedback is simply inefficient. For example, in Apple’s App store, only 0.07% of the store (870 apps) account for 40% of revenue*. Frödin discussed how the organisational structure of Spotify breeds quick prototyping, swift adjustment and allows them to “iterate with purpose”. By scheduling 6-week ‘taps’ to check in on delivery, Spotify puts those who ‘do’ closer to the effects of ‘doing’, allowing transparency and speed whilst retaining accountability. When in doubt, products are shipped; learning can only occur when the product is in front of the customer, and rapid iterations are more effective than spending years on flogging one concept (Frödin used the example of the gone-but-not-forgotten Spotify Apps).

The attitude at Spotify can be viewed as an excellent example of where being a part of something and mistake-making actively breed success. Employees are trusted to experiment (with purpose!) and the learning from these experiments feeds back to leaders, who then use these insights to guide the future intent of the organisation. The information gleaned from the downfall of Spotify Apps was used to create a new API which is now used widely within the company; an API which was then utilised to push a new product forward (the interface now used on Playstations by 11 million users**) in under half a year.

Spotify were just one of the many inspirational organisations and individuals at Spark 2016 willing to share their wisdom and become part of a bigger community committed to sparking change and innovation, and my biggest take-home from the entire conference was that this community was the most inspiring thing of all.

Spark the Change brings together leaders from across the business to explore how they can work together to create lasting and total change. With events in London, Toronto and Melbourne, Spark aims to inspire people and offer practical help in overcoming obstacles and developing your skills to make a change.



An unexpected impact

An unexpected impact

I founded We Are Unstuck 2.5 years ago.

 It was my way of acknowledging that I wanted to grab hold of my career and do something which both scared and excited me in equal measure. That would put me in the driving seat of the level of impact I was able to have on the world, which would enable me to liberate my own creative potential and which would allow me to bring a sense of balance to my desire to be a great Mum and to have a successful career.

 I’ve always felt really clear on why I founded We Are Unstuck and this purpose grounds, informs and inspires every decision I make about the business.

 But it also has another impact – one that I hadn’t predicted in any way.

 I’ve had more and more conversations with smart, inspiring, professional women with oodles of knowledge, experience and expertise whom having had a career break to become Mums find themselves re-evaluating what they want from their careers. Some of these women haven’t considered entrepreneurship as a possible path or have considered it but dismissed it as something they couldn’t do – either through lack of knowledge, confidence or a ‘viable’ idea. Others have started a business but in some way feel that they are not “proper entrepreneurs” because their role also as a Mum diminishes this somehow.

 And this is where my purpose kicks in. My knowledge that it is possible for a woman to be both an entrepreneur and a Mum is established. My awareness that there are more and more women out there who are proving this to be true is growing. My conviction that these women have an important role to play in fueling the British economy and of having a positive social impact is strong.

 And then there’s a but. Because alongside all of this good stuff, my sense and experience suggest that there are limited resources to nurture this belief and conviction in other women. And that’s a big deal. It goes beyond the impact of the lost potential of those individual women and impacts the economy, society, the self-belief of girls and young women who are imagining what their future careers may hold.

 The reality is that women and men considering entrepreneurship and those who make the leap face many of the same challenges and opportunities. But I believe there is a difference in the way we approach these challenges and opportunities. And this difference creates opportunity. It creates the opportunity to learn from and with each other. It also creates the opportunity to spend time in conversation with women finding out where they’re at and what they may need.

 And that’s what I’m doing tonight. Alongside Janine Swail (Assistant Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School) we’re spending the evening with 40 women who have the potential to define what having a successful business means for them and their families; who have the potential to generate compelling business ideas and to convert these ideas into successful businesses.

 I’m not sure what we’ll find out and what will happen next but I’m hoping that the women who join us feel a bit more nurtured as a result of the time we spend together.

The Greatest Enabler of Creativity?

The Greatest Enabler of Creativity?

This post is of the talk I gave at TEDxUoN (University of Nottingham) on Sunday 6th April 2014.


There's something I know to be true of each one of you.  

It's true of me.  It's true of us.  It's also true of our closest friends, our parents, our colleagues.  It's true of the person who lives across the road from us.

That truth is that we all have an incredible, awesome capacity to be creative.

What's also true is that incredible, astonishing, delicious creative capacity can sit dormant.  Untapped.  Unused.  And like anything we leave unused it can become stale.  It can become pushed to the back of the fridge.  Ultimately we can let it go to waste.


Thomas Edison said - "if we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves".


Why then, do we still hear people saying "I'm not creative".  I think this is code.  I think it's a code we use to keep us in a place of perceived 'safeness'.  It might be code for:

"Me?  Creative?  I'm quite happy just the way I am.  Doing things the way I've always done them.  On the whole that's generally worked for me so why would I change"?  

It might also be code for

"Creative?  I could never write a book like J.K.Rowling or juggle as many creative projects as Will.I.Am or create an organisation in the way Steve Jobs did.  No.  I'm not creative".  

Or my personal favourite ...

"I definitely cannot draw.  Or paint.  And if I can't do either of those things then clearly I'm not creative".

This wonderful, playful, empowering life-changing thing we all have capacity for becomes something we don't know how to access.  It's something we put up on a pedestal.  We start to believe that creativity is only something the gifted few can do.

But it doesn't need to be this way.  


Let's start with a definition.  There are many definitions out there - for both Creativity and Innovation.  But let's not get stuck here.  Because if we get stuck here - figuring out what it means - then our creativity has no hope.  For today let's use this:


'creativity is an ability to think on novel and useful ways and to convert that thinking into doing'


Surely then, we're all being creative every day.  When we're about to give a presentation and our laptop dies.  Or we're trying to get from A to B and the bus breaks down or we get a flat.  Or when we really meant to hit that deadline but missed it and we're coming up with an excuse to explain why.  We're all being creative all of the time.  We just don't notice.

But imagine for a moment if we did take notice.  How might we turbo-charge our creativity?  How might we scale the positive impact our creativity can have?  How might we use our creativity to solve complex problems?  How might we create organisations, communities, schools and a government that creates a dynamic, forward thinking society?


In preparing for this talk, Iain (from the TEDxUoN team) asked me a question - "what do you think the greatest enabler of creativity is"?  There are many answers to that question - all of which will be true depending on your context on any given day at any given time.  It might be the brilliant articulation of a problem.  Or that you're insatiably curious.  Or that you're comfortable connecting random insights.  Or that you've surrounded yourself with people who enthuse and energise you.  Or that you're feeling particularly tenacious and won't be beaten by the problem that's in front of you.  

For me, there's one thing though that has the potential to turbo-charge each of these.  One thing that has the potential to blow your creative capacity out of the water.  One thing that if it's missing can cause your creativity to loose some of its energy.


That one thing is 'Purpose'.


So often when we're asked to think creatively we're put in a situation and presented with a problem which we may or may not be particularly interested in.  We'll be in a room of people - some of whom we'll know; some we won't and there will be an over-bearing expectation that we'll 'make something happen'.  But what we're really missing is the answer to a simple question - 'Why should I care'?

When we're trying to get from A to B and something goes wrong and we come up with a solution we do that because our friends are waiting for us in the pub or because we're trying to get to an interview for a job we really want.  Without thinking about a creative process we instinctively tap into our creative capacity - 'our ability to think in novel and useful ways'.  Why?  Because the outcome has meaning.  It's important to us.


A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet the Founders of Good for Nothing - Tom Farrand, Tom Rowley and Dan Burgess - or as I like to think of them, the Good for Nothing Godfathers.  They had all had successful careers but had grown disillusioned with the way they were spending their working time.  Their work had lost purpose.  Together they spent time pondering and discussing ....

'what might happen if you could collide the collective, creative talent of a group of diverse, smart, talented people with Social Entrepreneurs, Charities, Community Groups ... people who share a purpose to work on stuff that matters.  To make the world a bit of a better place'?

There'd be no hierarchies.  No sponsor who would rock up at the start, share some inspiring words only to disappear until the end when they would reappear to pass judgement on the outcomes.  There'd be no meeting after meeting to discuss roles and responsibilities.  There'd be no project plan that would probably take longer in the designing than it would do in the delivering.  Instead, these creative efforts would be inspired by, energised by, held together by a shared sense of wanting to do something positive.  Something with meaning.  Something with purpose. 

And so, Good for Nothing started out in London with a small community of people who - during 12, 24 or 48 hour hacks gave their time and expertise for free.  Their efforts would be guided by three principles:

1. Doing not Talking - people would have a go; get involved; participate and try stuff

2. Collaborate and Experiment - there'd be no power, no control.  Just an energy that would fuel ideas, experiments and the creation of prototypes.  Fast

3. Support the True Innovators - creative support would be provided to pioneers who were driving social, environmental and human innovation

Sounds pretty amazing right?  Well that small, local community in London got noticed.  And it grew.  And now it's growing through new communities in the UK and around the World.  Communities in Sydney and Perth, Wellington, Vancouver, Rotterdam,StockholmBrightonBristolCamdenColchesterCardiffChesterBirminghamLeeds, there's GFN Girls in Manchester and GFN Year Here in London.  There's Cambridge,EdinburghGlasgow   And there's one right here in Nottingham.


And here's the thing.  Why does Good for Nothing work?  It works because people are personally inspired by the purpose of it all.  And that purpose transforms a disparate, unknown to each other group of people into a collective, creative power house, who really help to change the world.


To me, Good for Nothing is the perfect example of how purpose inspires our creativity.  It demonstrates that when purpose is present creative people - that's you and me - can come together to do, to make, to create on a scale that no-one might of imagined.

Now I'm not saying that finding our purpose is easy.  It will take time.  It will take reflection and discussion and experimentation.  But when we find it - and as we seek to find it - our creativity will be unleashed.  

If we can find something we are so dissatisfied by, that we know could be so much better, that excites us, that causes our heart rate to increase, that pulls us up out of our seats, that challenges us, that causes us to do things that we look back on and say "was that me"?  Well that is the Creativity Jackpot!

That doesn't mean there won't be days when it's really hard.  When we have self-doubt, when we can't find a solution to the problem we're working on.  But that's when our purpose kicks in.  That's when the creative magic starts to happen.  Because at that point, we won't care about a definition of creativity.  We won't care if we're doing it right.  We won't care if we're breaking the rules.  We'll probably find that we're walking around with five coloured pens in our back pocket waiting to draw a picture of our idea for anyone who'll watch and listen.  

You might even find that because you believe so much in people's awesome, astonishing, creative potential to do and give more that you're stood on a TEDx stage in front of 450 people imploring them to make a choice.  A choice to not allow their creative potential to go stale.  But instead to find the things you feel so inspired by that you have no choice but to tap into the incredible creative capacity of yourself and those people around you.

I guarantee that if you can do this, you will be astounded by what you will achieve.