Thinking with my hands at Lift13 in Geneva


Attending the Lift Conference in Geneva for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect.  But I did have one hope that would make my trip from New York City worthwhile: the possibility of gaining a new “access” to creativity.

I have come to believe that much of what we consider “creative” is more like “synthesis”—using our existing skills to put together some of our old ideas in rather familiar and expected ways.  But finding a new access to creativity allows results that are outside of the predictable result of our existing skills, ideas, and beliefs.

When I encountered the “Think With Your Hands” workshop at Lift, I got exactly what I’d hoped for. The wonderful team of Dotti Toellner and Lena Blackstone (from Point Blank International, in Berlin), and Caroline Szymanski (from The School of Design Thinking, also in Berlin) led a group of about 30 participants through a well-planned series of exercises that created the opportunity for spontaneity and creativity.  Even the video homework—instructing us to collect 20 found objects prior to the workshop—was so fine and polished, we could tell we were headed for something great.

When the workshop began, we had the opportunity to break into groups to prototype—in silence. And my rules of collaboration went out the window. This exercise gave me the opportunity to experience myself in a new space of creativity!

Here are some of my experiences and observations from the workshop:

  1. When we were initially asked to come up with a concept phrase that we would prototype, e.g. “collaboration over long distances,” it was apparent that the group members were concerned and had a strong need to know where we were headed before making a decision about the concept.  People were trying to anticipate what we would be asked to do next with the concept.  They were wondering if what we came up with was too specific—or perhaps too general.  It was obvious how much we all want to avoid ‘doing it wrong.’  Doing this exercise gave us some space to practice letting go of that concern.
  2. When we were prototyping, I noticed a heightened sense of awareness of the actions of the others in the group.  Since no talking was allowed, I noticed that I was trying to understand the intentions of the others through their actions, through the way they were placing objects together.  I noticed that my desire to ‘listen’ for their intentions and understand their ideas in silence was much greater than when someone is speaking.
  3. When someone placed something that simply made sense for the others, there was a tangible sense of “yes”—clear agreement, even without words.  And I think people were more likely to agree and follow the lead of others, without the distraction of spoken words.
  4. I noticed how abstract design combinations by one person led to more new meanings, new interpretations, and new ideas by others—way more than are generated by explicit, linguistic, agreed-upon design.

The “Think With Your Hands” workshop required me to disable many of my “go-to” creativity and collaboration skills, and challenged me to develop some new ones for the sake of truly creative outcomes!

Click for more information about this workshop and the Lift13 Conference.

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