Children are born thinking innovatively. That’s because the world isn’t defined for them yet. How many uses for a paperclip can an adult imagine? Not as many as a kindergartner. Our education system systematically drives innovative thinking skills out of our children. That’s positive when you’re trying to teach kids to read, do math, or recite historical facts. It’s damaging, however, when you’re trying to prepare your children for a future in which innovative thinking will be increasingly important in every industry.

Several years ago, we started working with our local schools to deliver fun, engaging innovation workshops. We teach basic principles of group-based and individual ideation and design-centered thinking. We lead games and exercises that become tools students can use throughout their lives to break down the barriers that hold back innovative ideas. We use challenges that the kids know and understand well to make the experience enjoyable, presenting entertainment design “problems” that we task the students with solving. So, while the purpose is to teach and enrich, the workshops do yield some interesting entertainment ideas and provide deep insight into how kids think about the problems posed, though it requires some interpretation…these are kids after all.

FORMAT

The workshops typically consist of two sessions held a week apart. Each session lasts about two hours. Session one focuses on building creative confidence, defining the challenge, describing the target audience, and creating a lot of ideas through divergent ideation exercises. Session two centers on narrowing the idea list, generating new ideas based on the narrowed focus, and synthesizing thoughts to create an overarching concept.

The students worked collaboratively as “islands” of grouped desks, using mountains of sticky notes and markers to express their ideas. A little bit of instruction is followed by a lot of games and activities to teach design thinking and build confidence in creating innovative ideas.

PRINCIPLES

The workshop typically focuses on a few core principles:

  • On day one, there are no bad ideas. Use “Yes, and” to build on other people’s ideas and generate as many ideas as possible.
  • On day two, we need to come to agreement quickly. Now there ARE bad ideas because we need to use our time effectively to drive a concept forward. It’s time for convergent thinking.
  • Voting is used to quickly pick the most popular ideas. Don’t get hurt feelings if your ideas aren’t picked. They probably led to some of the most popular ideas coming forward. Plus, this is just one group of kids! Even if yours isn’t voted best here, it may be considered the best idea by a larger group of kids.
  • Innovation is at the successful overlap of desirability, feasibility, and viability. The workshop focuses on developing ideas for a desirable experience. Some feasibility limitations are introduced on day two. Viability is not in the scope of the workshop.
  • Don’t focus on what YOU think is desirable. Instead, design for the target audience.
  • Both group and individual time is required to get the best ideas. Groups help deliver a lot of diverse ideas, but individual work time gives you freedom you need to really synthesize thoughts and make sense of the concept.

EXERCISES

A wide variety of games and activities are used, including the following examples:

  • Improv games, such as group storytelling and acting out a visit to the entertainment venue
  • Constraint-oriented brainstorming, such as “How would we serve drinks without cups?”
  • Brand marriage brainstorming, such as “What would the experience look like if it were designed by Apple? Disney? Nintendo?”
  • Word association exercises
  • Commercial writing activity

DESIGN CHALLENGE

We always start with a design challenge. It’s usually related to a real-world entertainment design project we’re working on. For instance, “What would mini golf of the future look like?” or “Design a place ‘where your imagination comes to play.'”