Designing the future

Designing the future

Being creative and thinking of new ideas, often requires unlearning the patterns that we tend to think in. Instead of looking for techniques to make us become innovative, we may find that we can be intuitively inventive as long as we are not hampered by our preconceived notions.

In order to free-up our minds, it is worthwhile considering the different modes in which we think, so that we can consciously direct our inventiveness.


Creativity and imagination

We normally think that the most important talent for coming up with new ideas is imagination, if we have a good imagination, then we can be the “ideas man”. However there is a precursor to imagination, which is our wish to be creative.

Innovation starts with the feeling that by applying our creative-will, we can somehow make the world a better place. Subsequently, we imagine the type of thing that could help people, according to our nature and field of expertise. We then select the most promising idea, and start working through the challenges of implementation.

The thing that fires imagination is our initial drive to be creative. This creative-will then finds its expression through imagination and practical application.

the image [that we imagine] is not a state… but a consciousness… the imaging consciousness… is spontaneous and creative… the image… in so far as it is primary and incommunicable, is the product of a conscious activity, is shot through with a flow of creative will.

The Imaginary


Division of labour

The phases of creative-will, imagination, resolution and development, are not necessarily done by one person. In a corporate environment, the general direction for advance may come from management. The product development team may be tasked with coming up with possible ideas and selecting the best proposal. The research and development department may be tasked with turning these ideas into practical reality. And the manufacturing division will turn out the finished product.

Innovation can occur anywhere within this chain of creative-will, imagination, resolution and development. For example, management may feel that the company should move in a new direction. The product development team may conceptualise a new product that breaks with existing norms. The research and development team may make a technological breakthrough. And the manufacturing division may gain unprecedented efficiencies.

However, the higher up the innovation-chain a fresh approach is applied, the greater the innovation will be. For example, if management decide on a new direction, the ripple effect of originality through the company, will be far greater than if a production manager makes a process more efficient.

Professor Ikujiro Nonaka of the Hitotsubashi University, gives the following example of how a fresh approach from high-level management, can filter down the chain of innovation, until it results in the creation of the knowledge that is needed to realise the management vision.

In 1978, top management at Honda inaugurated the development of a new-concept car with the slogan “Let’s gamble.” The phrase expressed senior executives’ conviction that Honda’s Civic and Accord models were becoming too familiar. Managers also realized that along with a new postwar generation entering the car market, a new generation of young product designers was coming of age with unconventional ideas about what made a good car.

The business decision that followed from the “Let’s gamble” slogan was to form a new-product development team of young engineers and designers (the average age was 27). Top management charged the team with two—and only two—instructions: first, to come up with a product concept fundamentally different from anything the company had ever done before; and second, to make a car that was inexpensive but not cheap…

Project team leader Hiroo Watanabe coined another slogan to express his sense of the team’s ambitious challenge: Theory of Automobile Evolution. The phrase described an ideal. In effect, it posed the question, If the automobile were an organism, how should it evolve? As team members argued and discussed what Watanabe’s slogan might possibly mean, they came up with an answer in the form of yet another slogan: “man-maximum, machine-minimum.” This captured the team’s belief that the ideal car should somehow transcend the traditional human-machine relationship…

The “evolutionary” trend the team articulated eventually came to be embodied in the image of a sphere—a car simultaneously “short” (in length) and “tall” (in height). Such a car, they reasoned, would be lighter and cheaper but also more comfortable and more solid than traditional cars. A sphere provided the most room for the passenger while taking up the least amount of space on the road. What’s more, the shape minimized the space taken up by the engine and other mechanical systems. This gave birth to a product concept the team called “Tall Boy,” which eventually led to the Honda City, the company’s distinctive urban car.

…the City’s revolutionary styling and engineering were prophetic. The car inaugurated a whole new approach to design in the Japanese auto industry based on the man-maximum, machine-minimum concept, which has led to the new generation of “tall and short” cars now quite prevalent in Japan…

The Knowledge-creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation, page 11

Honda achieved a quantum leap forward because management’s encouragement to be creative started with no preconceived notions of what the company’s future products would be. This pure creative-will filtered down through the company’s echelons and allowed the engineering team to imagine an unfamiliar shape of car, which totally broke with the conventional wisdom of what a car should look like.


Dynamism and creativity

In order to be inventive, we can fire up our imagination and free ourselves from our assumptions about the way things have to be. We can allow our thoughts to lead us in whichever direction they go, and fight the feeling that the things that we have imagined could not possibly be right.

However, the degree to which we can channel our creative-will altogether, depends on our commitment to experiencing the pure joy of living in all areas of life.

As human beings, we are driven to grow and learn, to move forward… We are driven to reinvent our world and ourselves. Human creativity is intrinsic to our nature. Our desire to create is fundamental to our essence, central to what makes us human.

…The building of a house is an expression of our creative drive. The nursing of a patient is an expression of our creative drive. The teaching of a child is an expression of our creative drive. The raising of a family is an expression of our creative drive. The writing of a novel or of a book on economics is an expression of our creative drive. Our… expression is as diverse as we are unique, as varied as our dreams.

As such, our… expression is as abundant as the creative activity that brought it into being. We are as prolific as we are creative. The greater our creative activity, the greater its impact on our material world.

Economics of Fulfillment, page 58

Creativity and imagination are part of who we are. If we live in a fresh and energetic way, our creative-will will show us the way forward when conventional knowledge and know-how have drawn a blank.

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