When you’re coming up with solutions that are truly innovative, and so radical they’ve never been seen before, it can be tough to keep momentum moving. Going after creative solutions means prototyping ideas and concepts that may not work, and embracing that failure as part of the process. But without evidence that you’re going to reach the right creative solution, it can be easy for teams, or even leadership, to lose faith. And without a solution, it’s impossible to have a real impact.
So how do you move past challenges, even when constraints are tight and solutions are elusive? It’s all about supporting rather than managing, and showing grit, resilience, and optimism, even after several rounds of prototypes, or the realization it’s time to start asking new questions. Here are four ways to maintain momentum as you address a design challenge.
1. Connect your challenge to its purpose
Sometimes, when you’re really in it, it’s helpful to remind teams of the why of the project: How does whatever you're working on further the goals of the company or organization in a bigger way? Are you creating a digital project that helps banking customers save more money? Creating a system to help patients understand what has to happen before they can leave the hospital? Or making a product that helps people invest more responsibly? At IDEO, our Creative Difference team has its purpose written on the walls of its project space. Every challenge you face has a purpose. Remind your team of that bigger thing, to help inspire them, and keep pushing forward.
2. Build up your creative confidence (and your team’s)
Leading by example is a huge piece of keeping momentum going, and that means taking risks of your own, both early and as you go through the design process. As Tom Kelly, partner at IDEO, says, “That combination of thought and action defines creative confidence: the ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.” Let your team see your motivation and optimism for a project, and your willingness to push forward even after failure.
At the same time, it’s important to lead alongside your team, and empower them to make an impact. Set the tone for your team by making your project feel like a collaboration of co-conspirators, and give those around you ownership over parts of the project. That way, they will have as much motivation as you do.
3. Keep your project alive with prototypes & experiments
Early excitement over ideas might fade as prototypes fail and radical ideas turn out to not provide the solution you’re looking for. Keep enthusiasm high by providing new data, asking new, provocative questions, and moving on to the next set of prototypes. Make sure to have something tangible to share so team members and clients can see definitively that things are moving forward. Keep a list of questions that help you investigate and support ideas on their way to the marketplace.
4. Tell big stories
IDEO organizational designer Sally Spinks has a mantra, “Do small things, tell big stories.” As an idea progresses, make sure to gather indicators of success, anecdotes of change and data to maintain support as you move through the different stages of a challenge. Tie those pieces of evidence to the ways that they will meet real needs in the world. And once a product or service has hit the market, make sure to leverage case studies to show how it has made an impact, so that enthusiasm for your solution continues even after a project or challenge is complete. As IDEO Chief Creative Officer Paul Bennett says, “Give me the thing that’s going to move my heart and not just my head.”
When in doubt, remember to embrace the process, and keep asking questions. If you move forward with confidence, your team will too.
Help your team navigate ambiguity and become more creatively competitive. Join our Leading for Creativity online course.