I had a one-on-one meeting with one of my peers in the design world a while back. I shouldn’t call him a peer, really. Coach, perhaps? He’s a lot better at some of the actual work of design than I am, and he’s been doing it longer. He’s really helped coach me through the design process, even as I’ve coached him to understand the metacognitive challenges of trying to teach people to reflect on what they’re learning, and how they’re learning it.
Still, neither of us is trained as a designer. We’ve come to that role accidentally, as Accidental Creatives, and discovered:
- We LIKE being creative; and
- We are CAPABLE creatives.
We both are what IDEO, and Tom Kelley, call “T-shaped people”: we have broad wealth of knowledge and experience (that’s the top of the T), but we also have deep knowledge that is unmatched in our respective disciplines (That’s the vertical of the T). That doesn’t mean that, as untrained designers, we don’t hit pitfalls; but being untrained designers gives us advantages that others don’t.
I’m drifting from my topic. That’s because most design work takes place within what I like to call “the metacognitive envelope” (if I ever start a rock band, that’s our name. You read it here first; you can’t take our name.) When you’re in the Metacognitive Envelope, you’re so busy using so much of your brain — creativity, memory, willpower, visual processing, language processing — that you can’t at the same time observe the process your brain is going through. It’s like licking your own elbow. Your focus is on solving the design challenge, not on what types of thinking you’re doing, or in what order.
The vast majority of what we did was put ideas on paper. I can’t say that all the ideas were good. A lot of them weren’t. I can’t say that all the ideas were bad, either, though. Most of them, as individual ideas, were not at all important. Some of them were only good because they were in context with other ideas of similar quality.
The point I’m trying to make, ultimately, is that we came up with the mindset of success first. We talked ourselves into believing there was a great solution, we could find it, and that people would be impressed with the results. The forward-leaning intent to find great results preceded the great results.
And we got great results.
I wish all my projects turned out like this. More, I wish I had an easy way of teaching this process to my students.