12 Power Skills to Fuel Your Growth in 2022

Power skills for 2022 from IDEO U instructors and creative leaders

What skill do you want to cultivate in 2022? 

We asked our IDEO U instructors and leaders who’ve joined us on the Creative Confidence Podcast the same question. Whether it’s something they’re working on personally or a need they see in the market, many of their answers share a common thread. They’re what you might call soft skills. 

We believe that successful creative leaders rely on a foundation of soft skills—or more accurately, power skills—to tap into real needs, fuel creative thinking, and bring out the best in every person on their team. Here are 12 skills these leaders say will be critical in the coming year. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Emotional Proofreading

Emotional proofreading power skill for 2022

Miscommunication is much more likely when you’re not face-to-face with your teammates. Partly because we all suffer from what researchers call a “negativity bias”: if what's written has an intended positive tone or impact, we'll perceive it as neutral. And if it's neutral (think "Sure."), we'll perceive it as negative.

The next time you’re about to send someone a message, pause to emotionally proofread what you wrote. Firing off a note at 9pm that says, “Let’s talk tomorrow,” when you mean, “Your draft looks great overall, but I have a couple small comments I’d love to talk through tomorrow,” can ruin someone’s night. And if you drop an unexpected 1:1 on someone's calendar to talk about an upcoming project, let them know right away what the call will be about. Thinking through how your actions and words might be received can prevent you from piling unnecessary stress onto others.

Liz Fosslien
Co-author and Illustrator, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work
Head of Content, Humu

 


“Thinking through how your actions and words might be received can prevent you from piling unnecessary stress onto others.”
Liz Fosslien


 


Cultivating Joy

Cultivating joy power skill for 2022

After two solid years of stress, bad news, and video calls, we need joy in our lives and in our workplaces more than ever. Remote work makes it all too easy to default to "nothing but business" mode. But genuine human interaction, playfulness, and fun are important for collaboration and innovative thinking. You can always tell when teams are joyful in their work: The quality of the work is better.

Jenn Maer
Former Design Director, IDEO
Storytelling for Influence Instructor, IDEO U

 

If you want to be more creative and bring more playfulness into your work...draw more! I've been around creative people my entire career and they are comfortable doing "back of the napkin" sketches. Try doing three quick sketches a day this week and double that each week going forward. 

Brendan Boyle 
Partner, IDEO & Founder of IDEO’s Play Lab
From Ideas to Action Instructor, IDEO U

 


“You can always tell when teams are joyful in their work: The quality of the work is better.”
Jenn Maer


 


Frame Shifting

Frame shifting power skill for 2022

Our assumptions about where work gets done, how work gets done, and who does the work are in constant flux. We all need to get better at expansively looking at the broad set of levers at our disposal in redesigning the "how" and the "who" to shift the work. What if we did it faster? What if we tried to get to the most minimal viable unit of progress first? What if I didn't own this but just influenced it? Shifting our lenses around these elements creates a vast world of new possibilities.

Sara Kalick
Former Vice President, SYPartners
From Superpowers to Great Teams Instructor, IDEO U

 

Especially now, when our ability to be physically proximate continues to be challenged for some of us, seeking ways to lift your gaze up out of the immediate and hold a broader perspective is key. It’s so easy to slip into well-established patterns of interpretation and to not hold space for a wider array of possibilities. Ask yourself to take an extra beat before responding as you normally would. Or explore alternate interpretations of a circumstance or piece of information. Holding perspective can break things open in valuable ways. 

Ilya Prokopoff
Partner & Managing Director, IDEO
Human-Centered Service Design Instructor, IDEO U

 


“Holding perspective can break things open in valuable ways.”
Ilya Prokopoff


 


Creating Community

Creating community power skill for 2022

Consider joining or creating a peer-based community. My work is in supporting people in flourishing at work. And one of the biggest things I've observed over the past few years is that people think they're the only one struggling with whatever they're struggling with. When they join a community of peers, they find that they're not alone and they find ways to support each other. I see this a lot at the middle manager level. These folks are often holding so much of the emotional support for their people. As we continue to work remotely, they in many cases are some of the only touch points to the broader organization. But the managers themselves are often feeling really isolated and overwhelmed. A peer-based community can change that feeling significantly. So if I were to offer one piece of advice to managers, create a cohort within your organization or across organizations. Use it as a safe space to identify what's hard and to get support in changing that.

Amy Bonsall
Former Senior Design Director of Venture Design, IDEO
Designing a Business Instructor, IDEO U

 


“Create a cohort within your organization or across organizations. Use it as a safe space to identify what's hard and to get support in changing that.”
Amy Bonsall


 


Small-Scale Experimentation

Small-scale experimentation power skill for 2022

No one knows for sure what is coming in the next few years. But we can make a good guess that tomorrow will look different than yesterday. We’ll have new ways of working, new modes of collaboration, new expectations from customers and employees. I think it is a bad idea to solve for the unknown, launch new big initiatives and hope for the best. Instead, I think we need to get better at exploring the different futures we believe may come our way, and launching experiments aimed at helping us learn quickly. Not huge complicated pilots, but quick tests that can tell us more about what’s actually happening in the world and how we might effectively respond.

Jennifer Riel
Global Director of Strategy, IDEO 
Designing Strategy Instructor, IDEO U

 


“We need to get better at exploring the different futures we believe may come our way.”
Jennifer Riel


 


Grounding in Purpose

Grounding in purpose power skill for 2022

The most pressing skill for professionals to cultivate is how to help connect purpose to work—how leaders can ensure that they're truly connecting with their people and they understand their “why.” What are they passionate about? What’s in it for them? What’s driving them? As we move from existing models to remote work and work from anywhere, it's harder to connect with people. We don't have the conversations we used to have. A lot of folks have been asking themselves what they’re getting out of their work and questioning the status quo. 

As someone that believes in value, I think this is a great thing. Many of our models need to shift and we now have major drivers of change. If leaders, individuals, and employers want to be on the winning side of that change, then it’s imperative to focus on helping people connect with their purpose and their work in a way that is more sustainable. Create value on both sides of the equation.

Dwayne Edwards
Executive Portfolio Director, IDEO
Leading Complex Projects Instructor, IDEO U

 

It's important for each of us to define a sense of purpose and direction. But this year, cultivate your proprioception—that sixth sense that tells you where you are in space: your body, but also your sense of self. The waves of change won't stop coming in 2022, and we'll all be thrown off-balance when we least expect it. And while disequilibrium is a powerful force for your creativity, you'll benefit from knowing where your ground is, and where to find your personal horizon. When we know where we are and what we can truly count on we can better choose where and how to move next.

Alex Gallafent
Senior Design Director, IDEO
Impactful Presentations Instructor, IDEO U

 


“When we know where we are and what we can truly count on we can better choose where and how to move next.”
Alex Gallafent


 


Leading with Empathy

Leading with empathy power skill for 2022

Since we will clearly still be living and working in a hybrid world in 2022, a skill all professionals will need to develop or refine is remote empathy. Although the typical group video communication is adequate for many purposes, it doesn’t always score highly for warmth or empathy. So instead of jumping straight into the meeting content, try starting with a one-sentence check-in, where each person says something about what background they bring into the room. For example, sharing what they are currently working on, what personal/professional issue they are wrestling with, or even just what they were doing right before the meeting started. On video calls, I have started trying to arrive a few minutes early, in hopes of getting a quick one on one conversation or speaking with a handful of people before everyone else arrives. Making more of a human connection in that way can help us be not only more empathetic but also more effective. 

Tom Kelley
Partner, IDEO
Bestselling Author, Creative Confidence, The Art of Innovation, and The Ten Faces of Innovation

 

I'd like to focus on creating a better place to work for myself and those around me – in other words, as a leader, how do I transform the employee experience? Soft skills are actually a lot harder than I thought. As a creative who usually spends time learning new tools, processes, and programs, I'd like to begin spending more time on knowing what to do and say when employees face tough personal struggles. I'd also like to learn how to influence my colleagues to be more empathetic, especially in these virtual working environments. So, I plan to attend learning experiences and interactive sessions focused on growing leadership skills in this topic.

Donald Burlock
Senior User Experience Designer, Amazon
Author, Superhuman by Design: Keys to Unlocking Your Creativity for Life-Changing Results

 


“Making more of a human connection … can help us be not only more empathetic but also more effective.”
Tom Kelley


 


Making Room For More Voices

Making room for more voices power skill for 2022

Notice the absences, the negative space—Who’s not present here? What’s not happening? What of value or significance has been extinguished or eliminated? This can guide us to think about what and who is or might be being overlooked. It’s an observational skill to hone, a level beyond noticing what is happening now and understanding context based on current signals we can sense immediately. It asks us to notice changes through time in history and in space, which is important for the longer arc of increasingly systemic challenges we face today.

Jane Fulton Suri
Partner Emeritus & Executive Design Director, IDEO
Insights for Innovation Instructor, IDEO U

 

As we're spending so much time on calls and in virtual meetings, I’m paying attention to how much the power and privilege of someone who's on a call correlates to how much space they take up on the call. We need to practice our skills as facilitators to notice this, step in, and create a different kind of container. If you notice someone is speaking a lot, interject and invite others to participate and feel valued as part of the conversation. Leave some space for those voices that don't initially want to speak up. Another approach is to create an equitable rotation of speaking time. Everyone gets a chance to share for the same amount of time. Consider how you can bring more fun into the space. Maybe through creative warmups, doodling and drawing, improv exercises. Help your team feel a sense of play because imagination and creativity come from that safety that you create in a space by having some fun.

Stuart Getty
Senior Design Lead, IDEO

 


“Leave some space for those voices that don't initially want to speak up.”
Stuart Getty


 


Finding Balance

Finding balance power skill for 2022

What I mean by balance is finding ways to move through two states. Being bold, but being realistic. Being persistent, but seeking moments of comfort. Exploring the new, but finding satisfaction in what’s stable and steady. 

Melanie Bell-Mayeda
Former Partner & Managing Director, IDEO
Human-Centered Service Design Instructor, IDEO U

 

People love to set boundaries, but they tend to disintegrate very quickly in the face of new priorities. It is truly a skill to be able to hold a boundary over a long period of time. It’s a benefit to yourself, so that you are actually able to deliver what you set out to deliver and not burn yourself out in the process. And it's important for others to see boundaries being held because it gives them permission to do it for themselves. At IDEO, we often say “Yes, and…” when building on each other's ideas. Here's a slight tweak when it comes to holding boundaries. What's your “No, and…”? 

Heather Currier Hunt
Executive Talent Director & Global Head of Learning and Development, IDEO
Cultivating Creative Collaboration Instructor, IDEO U

 


“People love to set boundaries, but they tend to disintegrate very quickly in the face of new priorities.”
Heather Currier Hunt


 


Agility

Agility power skill for 2022

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have put a lot of effort into becoming a flexible leader. When offices closed, we went fully remote, which opened up a talent pool that was previously unavailable. I was feeling disconnected from my team. We instituted an employee pulse survey, and from those responses have built a company culture focused on employee growth and satisfaction. Practicing agility has created a better company and made me a more effective leader. 

As a remote-first company, I can now focus on results instead of real-time activity. I trust the people I hire to deliver—that is what we base productivity on, not hours worked. I understand that working from home comes with distractions that may not be in an office. I trust my staff and put my employees first. Offering them the flexibility to work outside the standard 9-5 allows them to deliver their best work.

Chris Bennett
CEO and Co-founder, Wonderschool 

 

As we head into another year of the unknown, one of the most important skills to develop is the ability to create multiple options and scenarios. The act of scenario planning enables leaders to think about multiple outcomes in advance and plan for different situations. Even if a new or unexpected situation were to develop, those who have had experience thinking through multiple options will come out more prepared and more resilient. 

Mike Peng
Former Partner & Managing Director, IDEO
Cultivating Creative Collaboration Instructor, IDEO U

 


“Practicing agility has created a better company and made me a more effective leader.”
Chris Bennett


 


Meaningful Collaboration

Meaningful collaboration power skill for 2022

Now more than ever the skills to work and lead across distance are critical. Especially as companies are headed into a hybrid work environment. One phenomenon that I find happening often with hybrid teams, even before the pandemic, is the tendency to save up all of the ideas and the brainstorming and the things that people needed to influence on until people were in person with each other. 

This created incredibly intense moments of in-person interactions, like an all-day brainstorming session or meetings that had a laundry list of topics to cover. Try to move from these peaks and valleys to more of a lapping ocean wave. To have ongoing influence and collaboration, you still have these in-person touchpoints, but allow them to be more for personal connection.

Get creative in building new rituals for remote work. But my plea to you is to not rely on in-person moments as the only way to influence and collaborate. 

Sacha Connor
Founder and CEO, Virtual Work Insider

 


“To have ongoing influence and collaboration, you still have these in-person touchpoints, but allow them to be more for personal connection.”
Sacha Connor


 


Leading with Questions

Leading with questions power skill for 2022

I see most people functioning through the uncertainty that is the pandemic, but their thoughts, attitudes, behaviors and beliefs have really morphed because of the strange times we have all been required to live through. That means that anyone who is managing people, or selling to people, needs to understand not only what they are doing, but also what they are thinking. Take this opportunity to reacquaint yourself with the people you are designing for and learn what is motivating them today. With so many workers experiencing burnout and looking for new professional opportunities, it seems like a reasonable time for people to start asking questions

Kerry O’Connor
Design Director & Business Designer, IDEO
Designing a Business Instructor, IDEO U

 


“Reacquaint yourself with the people you are designing for and learn what is motivating them today.”
Kerry O’Connor


 


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