Changemakers On: Imagination
Imagination can power breakthroughs. It can bring joy. It can transform a project from good to great. How can leaders encourage more imagination in their teams, their projects, and their own day-to-day work? We asked three changemakers for their ideas.
One place to start is by utilizing the power of storytelling to open up new approaches for designing and constructing a space. Another is to let go of the outdated idea that only certain types of people are imaginative. Finally, adapting to an uncertain future requires the ability to tap into new, creative ways of thinking.
Ultimately, bridging the gap between what’s real and what’s possible demands embracing our imaginations without reservation.
How to Approach Design Like an Environmental Storyteller
Have you ever dreamed of visiting a Star Wars cantina while on a mission for the Resistance? Or try to beat Han Solo’s Kessel Run in the Millennium Falcon?
Thanks to Walt Disney Imagineering, it’s possible at two immersive experiences called “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” (at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida) and “Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser” (at Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida).
Greg Ashton was the overall concept architect for these projects and part of the interdisciplinary team that created these vivid environments that fans can explore for hours, or days at a time. While a workplace may not offer the same kind of creative playground as those found in a galaxy far, far away, how the teams at Imagineering bring these experiences to life contain lessons for those living closer to Earth.
One approach Ashton uses is creating a design framework that leverages the full creative capabilities of their teams.
“In one case, we were not designing a building. We were designing a spaceship,” says Ashton. “But it’s not about a single authorship of the vision. We empowered everyone on the design team to bring their own thoughts, passions and ideas to the experience, which reflects more diversity of thinking and vision. To me, it's a powerful way to work because everybody's engaged and invested."
It’s not about a single authorship of the vision. We empowered everyone on the design team to bring their own thoughts, passions, and ideas to the experience, which reflects more diversity of thinking and vision.
Another approach is rooted in inspiring his team to think more contextually about the environments they’re creating.
“It wasn't just about a creatively designed building. We asked ourselves what we would want people to experience in a Star Wars cruiser. We thought about how people moved through the space — what they saw, the lighting, the audio. It’s really about engaging all your senses,” he says.
For those designing and constructing more traditional spaces, Ashton believes there are opportunities to borrow from cultural trends and design experiences to go beyond what you’d typically find in a workspace.
“For those working in healthcare or residential spaces, or any workplace, there's an opportunity to give the users of those buildings truly unique experiences. That’s something we all crave. Creating a unique point of view can involve things like art installations or other creative elements,” he says.
In many ways, it boils down to storytelling — environmental storytelling.
“What story are you trying to tell and how [can you] support that? It always starts with the story and then you reinforce it through design: architecture, interiors, graphics, lighting…the whole environment,” he says.
Design for experience. People experience the built environment with all of their senses, so think about how you want them to feel and tell a story with the environment.
How Leaders Can Help Their Teams be More Creative
The idea that some professionals are creative while others are not is a myth.
“Every member of every team has a creative brain,” says Dr. Oana Velcu-Laitinen, a Helsinki-based NeuroLeadership Coach and the author of the recently released book How to Develop Your Creative Identity at Work. “It’s important for leaders to forget about this creative and non-creative dichotomy,” she says.
If we want to create new knowledge and make new discoveries, we must bridge this gap between what is real and what is possible. Creativity is the key to do that.
“Creativity is a concept that covers many thinking skills and abilities that we all have. But depending on our training, each of us has developed some skills more than others,” says Velcu-Laitinen. “Some people have developed their imagination, while others have refined their intuition or execution abilities.”
Velcu-Laitinen says that leaders can foster cultures of creative thinking by creating open-ended tasks and asking questions that enable people to think for themselves.
“Instead of just stating what needs to be done, it’s better to ask your team what their goals are or what they need from you. One thing I’ve noticed in my research is that people get excited and become more creative when you give them a task that isn’t too specific,” she says.
To demonstrate creative thinking among team members, Velcu-Laitinen suggests giving each member of a team a piece of paper with a single line on it and asking them to complete a drawing. Don’t give any other specifications.
“It's amazing what people can come up with from just a single line. There is so much creative thinking in these people. And there’s so much joy in the room when they get to be creative,” she says.
Leaders also need to be aware that even smart, accomplished people often don’t allow themselves to think imaginatively. Instead, they focus on what is “real”. This, in turn, limits a team’s and an organization’s ability to produce innovative ideas. Leaders should encourage their team to take time to explore their imaginative thinking, and that can be done by asking what-if questions.
“If we want to create new knowledge and make new discoveries, we must bridge this gap between what is real and what is possible. Creativity is the key to do that,” she says.
Successfully creative people manage to keep themselves open to being creative despite what happens around them. In the world of business, creativity helps us choose the problems worth our attention and provides solutions to those problems.
Building for an Unknowable Future Requires Adaptability
Designers of built spaces typically focus on the end-state — the idealized version — of a workplace that occupants will want in the future.
But what if designing built environments embraced the idea that the future is unknowable? What if the shifts in how we work and collaborate continue to evolve so rapidly and unpredictably that a built space needs to be able to evolve alongside new expectations of that space?
“The things that impact our future state are not in our control. The pandemic showed us that,” says Geoff Gosling, Co-Founder of DIRTT. “Fundamentally, our goal should be to design an environment that embraces that ignorance so that people can make choices with what they know today – with the understanding that as things change, they’ll need to make adaptations.”
The things that impact our future state are not in our control. The pandemic showed us that.
Embracing the idea that built spaces will always be in flux requires designers to reimagine how space can be built. “The built world should accommodate the people in it, rather than us accommodating a space that no longer serves us,” says Gosling. “So, it’s about continually making small adjustments to our spaces with the most current information.”
It’s an evolutionary way of thinking about design, he says.
Remember, the dinosaur didn’t know it would become a duck.
When Gosling co-founded DIRTT in 2003, the company had adaptation at its core, which is why DIRTT is designed to meet any number of specific space requirements. At the same time, it’s modular, and adaptable right from installation.
So how can designers fully imagine what might be possible? Gosling says getting out of traditional space and patterns of thinking are helpful. He does some of his best thinking far from the workplace.
“I have farmland. So, many of my ideas come when I’m sitting on an uncomfortable tractor. I do think that discomfort can be useful. And then, for me, it’s about thinking abstractly about things, looking for adjacencies between the natural world and the built environment. Trying to find a new path to solving a problem rather than following a constrained process that produces similar results to everyone else. That’s a useful way to pursue innovation,” he says.
Instead of trying to predict the future, make space adaptable from day one. As the last few years have shown us, being able to adapt quickly is far more important than trying to predict what lies ahead.
Explore More of DIRTT's Changemaker Series
This article is part of a series where we talk to industry leaders about the issues, changes, and opportunities facing design, construction, real estate, and business leaders. Explore more topics and hear from more changemakers.
Copied to clipboard