Fill in the blank: Practice _______

You probably filled in the cloze statement above with “Makes Perfect”, but the February 2008 issue of Architectural Record fills it in with “Matters”, as in Practice Matters, specifically in Creating a firm culture that supports innovative design by Andrew Pressman.

While Practice Matters is referring to architectural design firms, the ideas readily transfer to any institution or organization that wants to foster an open and creative exchange of ideas. The gist of the article discusses how several distinctly different firms have each successfully established their cultures of innovation, a necessary criteria for design firms. In defining “culture”, one list of a culture’s elements includes …promoting innovation, continuing education, communication, and so on”. This sounds like something all companies should be doing, and could certainly be the backbone of a strong professional development program in any profession.

Before reading further be forewarned … if you are risk averse then you may find it difficult to agree with many of the following strategies. Indeed, in my role at school as Coordinator of Technology Training, I have yet to figure out how to truly move along those people who do not like change and who are not interested in taking a risk. (If you have any suggestions, they will be most welcome in comments to this post!) This list is a summary of the salient strategies used to induce innovation at the various design firms. Some are exact quotes and others are almost exact quotes, with minor rewording.

1. Hire naive misfits who argue with you.
2. Encourage failure. ~ Fail often to succeed sooner.
3. Fully commit to risky ventures.
4. Make use of the experts in your company or school or environment.
5. Inspire by the power of cross-fertilization. Bring in individuals who excel in other disciplines.
6. Intentionally mix up planning teams.
7. Brainstorm using enlightened trial and error, and focused chaos.
8. Blend collaboration and competition.
9. Create a physical space that promotes an atmosphere of shared experience, mutual respect and casual (and nonhierarchical) exchange.

The philosophies are summed up in Pressman’s closing paragraph:

If you’re successful, you’re in jeopardy of becoming complacent. So get out of your corner office, fail often, argue respectfully with coworkers, adopt a learning culture, don’t accept anything at face value, and start to innovate.

Reading this article took me back to Mel Levine’s discussion of the three stages involved in learning something. Levine notes that the first stage is general interest, the second stage is preparation, which entails practice, and the third stage is the career. He said you need plenty of the second stage in order to reach the third.

Thus, if the sometimes elusive goal of creativity is the third stage, then perhaps many of the suggestions in this article, if practiced openly and continually, function as stage two, the stage of preparation.

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