The Death of Curiosity and Innovation

SXSW talk given by Elliott Hedman. He is a designer at mPath.

My notes:

This presentation was by far one of my favorite, it is also why I started with writing this one first. Elliott managed to give a very insightful, funny, and thought provoking talk and I hope I can do at least somewhat of a good job translating it onto here.

Elliott starts his talk by explaining how our culture is killing curiosity. The more socialized a company is, the less likely they are to allow creativity and innovation. He then goes to explain why innovation is good. That most people don’t go beyond the first failure. That our subconscious and emotions all have sensors that are more active when we are innovating.

Although, the biggest part of his presentation was on how to kill curiosity. He said the three biggest causes of this are avoiding vulnerability, owning the answer and not the question, and being a fire department.

Avoiding vulnerability. This means asking what you have to do in order to do what you want to do. According to his approximations, people spend 85% of their time convincing a company to change things and only 15% actually doing field research. Having to deal with bureaucracy, kills the desire to initiate change of any kind, in any field.

Owning the answer and not the question. A lot of people do this without even realizing it. They become stuck in their own ideas and solutions that they forget to listen to others or actually do the research. Elliott says that people spend 85% of their time arguing their point of view and only 15% of their time discovering new things. If we stopped trying to convince others that we are right and spend more time discovering those new things, curiosity and innovation would not be dying.

Being a fire department. Don’t start putting out fires in other departments in order to get your creation or idea out. By putting out all the other fires you end up taking time away from your own innovative process. He says if the resources to implement your innovation don’t exist or can’t work, then don’t try to force it. Move on.

Elliott then focuses on the idea that we need to change the situation in order to let curiosity blossom. This goes all the way down into our school system. Schools nowadays are only teaching kids the standardized materials they need in order to pass their exams. Whereas Elliott says schools should be more open to letting the children learn what they want to learn, with a mentality of “let’s find out together” and not “that isn’t the material we are covering.” But not just in schools, this idea also goes into company structures as well. In order for the business to work creatively, the CEO needs to be innovative. Holding them accountable at the top is the only way to actually allow those processes to make any changes within the company.

In order to change, you have to face the culture differences. If you aren’t open to new cultures and new ways of doing things, you probably aren’t going to incite change. Innovation seekers have to be the cheerleaders. supporting other people in their decision to start innovating as well as while they go through that process, is important. People aren’t going to want to try new things if their is no one behind them, supporting them. The first step is always understanding the problem. This is a little obvious but some people don’t always start with this step. The biggest change you can make is in the start-up/ small company culture. If you start at these smaller companies where you can still implement these ideas, you have more impact on how well they are implemented.

Like I said this was one of my favorite talks. I hope you learned as much as I did from it and I would love to hear your thoughts or questions!

Written by

UX/UI Designer in Austin, TX.

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