Unblock your creative potential with Design Thinking

Do you remember yourself back in kindergarten? You played and experimented and tried out weird things without fear or shame. And then you grew up and started to see yourself as “not the creative type”, if you happen to be like us. What happened?

In this blog post we’ll show how creativity isn’t a rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few, instead unblocking creative spark with Design Thinking can have far-reaching implications for yourself, your organisation and your community.

You don’t have to be artistic, just creative. With Lego Serious Play it was easy to visualize our E-bike concept.

Design Thinking comes to help

Creativity is not magic, it’s a skill. The IDEO brothers Tom and David Kelley strongly believe that most people are vastly more creative and capable than they know. It’s that the fear of social rejection and failure is something we learn as we get older. We believe this happened for us too. That is why it felt like seeing light at the end of the tunnel when we got to know Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is a process for creative problem solving. It can be understood as a way of thinking which leads to transformation, evolution and progress, to new and better forms of living. Design Thinking humanizes and simplifies technologies, problems and several complex issues. As a personal note, trying and testing Design Thinking processes and methodologies have fueled our personal creativity.

Our kids couldn’t have been more proud of us.

No more supernaturally gifted geniuses

In the last century, according to Tschimmel (2010), the perception of the creativity concept gradually moved from the paradigm of the “supernaturally gifted genius” to the paradigm of the “creative person”. He or she has the innate potential to think creatively, but more importantly, can improve creative thoughts by applying certain techniques and methods.

Decisive in determining whether a person is creative or not, is no longer just the characteristics of the personality and cognitive abilities. What counts is the recognition of a work as a creative achievement and its integration into the domain.

After some sweaty moments we were able to transform our concept into a storyboard.

Five ways to practice your creativity muscles

Like a muscle, your creative abilities will grow and strengthen with practice. We summarized five tips from the literature how you can take the most out of Design Thinking to unblock your creativity.

1. Don’t expect the most brilliant ideas strike like lightning, instead they are the result of hard work augmented by a creative human-centered discovery process. Empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them.

2. Multitalented team beats the lone genious inventor. The increasing complexity of products, services and experiments forces us to adapt a team-based approach to innovation.

3. Use your empathy. By taking a people first approach you can observe things that other do not. Many of the world’s most successful brands create breakthrough ideas that are inspired by a deep understanding of consumers’ lives.

4. Embrace risk and failure. “If something hasn’t been done before, there’s no way to guarantee its outcome.” View failure as part of the cost of innovation.

5. Feed your creativity by doing new things or things differently daily: wash your teeth by standing only one leg, try new recipes or invent ones, draw whatever even if you think you can’t, write down daily one idea or inspiration. Start with Dan Roam, the man behind “Napkin Academy”, who shows how to draw anything.

Written by Katriina Valkeapää and Maarit Saari

References and links: 

Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95.

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business.

Kolko, J. (2015) Design thinking comes of age. The approach, once used primarily in product design, is now infusing corporate culture. (Links to an external site.) Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71.

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland. 

Tschimmel, K. (2020). Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – a human-centred ménage à trois. In Perspectives on Design: Research, Education and Practice II. Ed. Springer “Serie in Design and Innovation”. (in process)

5 thoughts on “Unblock your creative potential with Design Thinking

  1. Hi Katriina and Maarit,

    I really like how you put it all together. I remember when I was young, I used to spend hours at my room playing with the green plastic soldiers and creating stories for days. Of course when you grow up it is not the same anymore, but now my creativity muscle will be 24/7 working.

    Thank you so much for a very nice post,


  2. Great topic and also touches on what we wrote about! 🙂 As you took the perspective that creativity is not a gift that you are born with but rather a skill that you learn, we studied creativity or design thinking from the latter angle. We agree that abilities for creativity and design thinking grow and strengthen with practice and essentially time. It is hard to imagine that anyone of us was born creative nor even knew we wanted to be service designers straight from school. It all comes with trial and failure, learning and developing, and with time. 🙂

  3. One thing that I would add to your list of ways to practice creativity is having fun or being playful. I think we become naturally more creative when we are in a state of play and can also use it intentionally to practice creativity. It’s been connected to the state of flow (a concept coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

    I think play is great for any kind of skill practicing and mastering because one is not so focused on what the actual outcome it is (remeber, we’re “just playing around”) but rather enjoy the process.

  4. I remember myself at kindergarten, and it was like you said: no shame and plenty of time to use to play. Now there are pressures to succeed, be efficient, follow the rules, not to make a fool of oneself… Luckily, like you say, creativity can be practiced and relearned. The checklist you have created is great to help in that.

  5. Great post Katriina & Maarit! I was inspired by your five step summary. I would love to make a visualisation of the summary and share it to my network.

    Too often people think that “naturally creative” people just have ideas popping in their heads from nowhere. Though this might be true to some, the most valuable ideas come as a result of a creative process.

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