The Sandbox Discover Program: Creativity is for Everyone

Drawing comics, writing stories, and designing products are all examples of tasks that require a high level of creativity. Anything with an artistic component usually brings some form of creativity to our mind. It makes sense – creation is inherent in the artistic process. And because creativity is so salient in the artistic professions, it can easy to forget how important it is in other places. Surgeons, teachers, and chefs all apply creativity in their day-to-day professions. There are always new medical technologies being developed, new teaching methods demonstrating difficult concepts, and new dishes showing up in two-minute videos on Facebook. At the core of each of these is innovation. And in every innovator, there is an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship isn’t the first thing that comes mind in association with creativity but it’s certainly not a large mental leap. Entrepreneurs have to be creative. They design new products and services to solve problems in a world full of other peoples’ solutions. Often, the difference between a successful and unsuccessful entrepreneur is the ability to create a product or service that stands out from the rest. In doing so, a successful entrepreneur is creating something that hasn’t been created before.

If you wouldn’t describe yourself as a creative person, you’re not alone. In fact, some studies even suggest that creativity in North America is declining. But research also shows that people’s beliefs about their own creative potential don’t correlate with their actual performance on creative tasks. So, if you look at a piece of play-dough and don’t see the statue of David waiting to be carved out, don’t fret!

Creativity can be as easy as combining word stacks. In this challenge, Discoverers were asked to quickly draw random combinations of adjectives, nouns, and verbs. How would you draw a happy dragon flying? How about shy toaster drinking?

This term, ShiftKey Labs is offering the Sandbox Discover program to help entrepreneurs in Halifax to re-discover their creative potential. We say re-discover because there is a creative person inside all of us. At some point, when we were all children, we could look at a rectangular blob of clay and see a rabbit with lasers shooting out of its ears. That creative eye fades over time – often resulting from a fear of judgement. We don’t want to talk about our ideas until we know it’s the best idea. We don’t want to put forward an idea that is destined to fail. The blob of clay becomes a rectangle because we fear that nobody else will see the rabbit.

Sandbox Discover is a seven-week program led by Dr. Jenny Baechler that teaches elements of design thinking to budding entrepreneurs. Our first week was a crash course on design thinking. If you’ve never heard of design thinking (or human-centric design, if you prefer), it’s an approach to problem-solving that emphasizes quantity over quality in the early stages of creation. By observing problems in the world as they happen, we look to the people experiencing those problems to find inspiration for a solution.

Dr. Jenny Baechler leading the crash course on design thinking.

So maybe you want to help the city of Halifax become more environmentally friendly. That’s a big task. Instead of tackling the issue head-on, design thinking would encourage you to go out to places that could use some assistance. Maybe it’s a library, the boardwalk, or restaurants downtown. At each of those places, you might see people leaving garbage at tables. Maybe you notice that garbage cans are not easily found from the places where people are sitting. Or maybe you notice that there isn’t a problem with garbage. At this stage of innovation, you’re not looking for problems or solutions – you’re looking for observations to bring back to the drawing board for inspiration.

Sending people out into the real world is exactly what we had the students do in our second week of the program. Our problem was how to enhance group experiences for students at Dalhousie University. We sent our Discoverers out in groups to make observations at each of the buildings on campus. After 20 minutes, many had only observed an empty atrium, making observations about the layout of the building instead of how people were interacting. At this stage, an empty room is just as valuable as a full one. After all, it could reveal that a problem for groups at Dalhousie is a lack of places to congregate. After discussion of our findings (and some free pizza!), the night was finished.

Finally, in our most recent session, we took our observations back to the lab and started to come up with insights. Maybe the atrium in the Killam was empty because people didn’t feel welcome in the evening hours. Or maybe people were just at class. Insights don’t necessarily have to be right. They’re just a way of taking the observations we make and trying to synthesize knowledge from them. As the mantra of design thinking goes, Discoverers tried to generate as many insights as they could in order to have as much to work with as possible.

Design thinking is about using our observations to ask questions. By generating as many questions as possible, we increase the chances that our questions will spark an idea!

The Sandbox Discover program is free, includes pizza and pop each week, and occurs every Wednesday from 6:00 – 8:00pm in ShiftKey Labs (Goldberg Computer Science Building, Room 426). You can register online for it or even just show up at the door! If you’re worried about having missed the first few weeks of the program, fear not! Each workshop is modular, meaning they are independent of the material discussed in other workshops. Our last week of the program will be a three-hour Design Challenge that brings everything together from the previous sessions. Those who attended the majority of the previous sessions will certainly have an edge over those who did not, but we welcome everybody to try and apply design thinking to the task!

Our Sandbox Discoverers at work! Thank you to Shivam Mahajan for taking this fantastic photo!

So if free pizza, a wonderful learning environment, and valuable knowledge sound like something you’d be interested in, join us next Wednesday! At our next session, we’re really starting to see how design thinking helps us to generate ideas. Expect to see many sticky notes, hear (and encourage) ridiculous ideas, and experience how design thinking truly does spark innovation in everyone’s mind!I

Author: Alex Sproul

Lab Coordinator at ShiftKey Labs. Bachelor of Computer Science Student at Dalhousie University.

Leave a Reply