Google Firestarters: Creativity in a Constrained World

Google Firestarters_Constraints
A simple change of words can make a big difference when it comes to experimenting and getting things done, even in highly regulated industries (where I spent many years of my career.) Add “how” to the question: can we do this?

We live in a world driven by a super-abundance of choices and connections yet bounded by a scarcity of time and resources.

How we respond to these constraints is one of the most important strategic challenges of our time and will be a large determinant of our future progress as people, businesses, and citizens of our planet. 

Last night's Google Firestarters event moderated by Ben Malbon (@Malbonnington) was built on the premise to Adam Morgan's (@eatbigfish) and Mark Barden's (@MarkcBarden) upcoming book A Beautiful Constraint. We set out to uncover:

What is constraint-driven problem solving?

How do we plan creatively, make creatively, and grow creatively within the bounds we have?

Barden and Morgan shared many of the stories included in their book. For example, how Mick Jagger invented the rooster move due to the space constraints he faced on (initially) smaller stages and his desire to keep eyes on him, which became his signature move. Hence “do your best Jagger” expression. This was a favorite of mine — imagine what it would be like to improvise based on the situation you are facing.

Another example, Theodore Geisel who had to use 200 words given to him by his publisher with the goal to write a children's book that would engage first graders and sell — Cat in the Hat was born.

Do you know why they paint chicks purple in Kenya? They discovered that hawks do not see the color purple, thus the biodegradable paint helps protect chicks long enough for them to survive the predators. The law of unintended consequences kicked in, however. More chicks meant more food and more mouths to feed. Chicks started moving further away to eat and within reach of the mongoose, who can see purple. This led to learning how to harvest termites, a resource available deeper into the soil.

Many lessons emerged from these stories — learning to work with what you have, and also looking at those people or industries that have solved the same or a similar problem you have.

Some cautions included watching out for made-up constraints, and getting beyond purpose to connect the business problem with a proper solution/how.

The event included success stories by:

  • Tom Marchant (@TommyMarchant), Co-founder, The Black Tomato Group, a high-end travel agency that has successfully entered the U.S. from the U.K. with tailor-made experiences through relationship building (e.g., partnering with Charles Schwab), creativity, and involving passionate globe trotters. Sound bites:

“How to build a culture of hunger: win the World Cup everyday; celebrate the victories, no matter how small; look outside your industry; make something of nothing.”

“We don't see a planet made up of destinations; we see a world that's filled with experiences and moments.”

  • Dr. Louise Waters, Superintendent & CEO, Leadership Public Schools (@Leadps), who talked about how the Oakland School District managed to help students help themselves to their eduction with the help of an ExitTicket, and app that provides personalized intervention and differentiation for every student, every class. Sound bites:

“Constraints help you think: Instead of doing more (remediation), what can we do with less? (using students clicking)”

“We needed a faster solution, in the moment feedback to build their confidence.”

  • Porter Gale (@Portergale), Former VP Marketing, Virgin America, who talked about her Phoenix rising from the ashes moment and how she bootstrapped Virgin America into the memorable blitz-creative carrier it is today, and transformed her career and life in the process. Sound bites:

“Winners look not for an abundance of resources but for one of relationships.”

“What are three things you are passionate about? Cultivate relationships in those areas.”

Key take aways from the conversation included how to get started carving the contours of creative thinking by using propelling questions to overcome old habits, adopting a can-if mentality, and becoming more resourceful adopting a mindset of abundance.

What is your propelling question?

[image via]

* Firestarters is a series of invite-only gatherings to bring together planners, strategists, and other agency leaders to discuss and debate the most challenging issues facing the industry.