All of you know the story. Archimedes observed that the water level rose when he got into the bath. He understood that the increase in the water level was equal to the volume of his body that he had submerged. ‘Eureka!’ he shouted. Archimedes’ principle was born.
While it is advisable to display a healthy level of skepticism to such Eureka stories – do new ideas ever arrive, perfectly formed, in a single moment? – it’s worthwhile to consider how the discovery happened. Archimedes wasn’t sat in his study. He was doing something. It was during a (rather mundane) moment of physical activity that the idea appeared.
Doing things. Having experiences. This is the basis for creativity. All types of artists, from painters and novelists to composers and actors, understand this at an intuitive level. They draw on their life experiences as a continual source of new ideas. However, the deep link between experience and creativity is often overlooked by organizations trying to improve their innovation capabilities.
One practical improvement that any organization can introduce is Experiential Ideation – a technique that introduces an experiential learning component prior to the company’s ideation sessions. Experiential Ideation involves two steps: first, an intense, immersive group learning experience related to the subject or innovation area; second, a collective session generating ideas together.
At Mandalah, we like to use this approach.
In 2011, we worked with GM on a global study into the future of urban mobility. We invited a diverse international group, including industry experts, urbanists, architects and designers, for a seven day workshop in São Paulo. During the active learning days in the city, the participants gained first-hand experience of mobility in a developing megacity – the heat, the noise, the stress, and so on. By the time we began our ideation sessions, each individual had a powerful experience to draw upon, making our discussions richer and outputs more productive.
Introducing the experiential learning step before ideation brings many practical benefits. It helps to disrupt entrained forms of thinking. It builds empathy with the subject area. It increases the levels of participation and collaboration between individuals.
But possibly the most valuable thing is that these experiences stimulate the essential, emotional side of personal creativity. An experience brings the individual into a closer, deeper relationship with their subject area. They live it and feel it. Ultimately, creativity is an emotional, as well as rational, act.
So that’s the concept of Experiential Ideation:
Do something. Engage with your subject area at an emotional, subjective level. Experience it. And the ideas will flow.