Think Jar on the 2012 Intersection event at Pixar

Creative Organizational Culture

Intersection Event

Despite coming back to a jarring -25 Celsius here in Canada, I’m inspired after attending the Intersection event at Pixar Studios last Saturday (January 14th, 2012).  This was the first Intersection event and the organizers are planning to make it an annual thing.  The event brought together a mash up of innovators from diverse fields, where we were able to learn from bright people, bounce ideas off each other, network and possibly find collaborative intersections. The Intersection event is about linking disparate fields and ideas to spark creative thinking and relevant innovations that might benefit others.  Frans Johansson, Intersection speaker and author of the Medici Effect, underlined the importance of intersecting by saying that diversity in teams can help to foster an explosion of ideas.  Johansson, pointed out that innovative ideas do not usually occur if a team all come from the same field and training.   The event made me realize there seems to be something in the zeitgeist these days that if you want creativity, innovation and fresh ideas in your field, you need to mix things up and look in places you normally wouldn’t. You need to find ways for ideas and people to intersect and collide. It affirmed for me that Think Jar Collective has the potential to be on the right track for sparking relevant innovations in human services and community health because we are consciously intersecting with diverse fields.

Back to this… -25C

After intersecting here at Pixar…

A highlight for me was listening to Tim Brown of IDEO and Ed Catmull of Pixar talk about what fosters innovation. Tim Brown, reflected that when he first started out in design, the paradigm was to get a challenge from a client, slave away in a hidden room and then unveil your ‘finished’ design to the client.  He said this often was met with a less than enthusiastic reception and usually didn’t yield innovations. What was necessary for design innovation was getting IDEO’s design teams to  go out into the world, really engage with clients, take the clients along for the journey and find unexpected links to the design challenge in the process.  As Tim Brown spoke, I found an intersection between my field of Community Disability Service, and the design world when he said, “You have to be careful of the temptation to want to answer a question before it is even asked.”  It made me think that often in disability service design when we are working with an individual to help them build a support plan that empowers them and helps them lead a rich life, the temptation is to put on the ‘expert’ hat and tell them the answers we think they need.  Instead, we need to find a way for the person we are supporting to be at the helm, and for us to truly listen to their needs rather than try to sell our preconceived ideas.  Tim reflected that if you really listen to what clients actually want, this will help you meet their needs and produce high quality results.  Asking the right questions and truly listening to client needs is also one of the determinants of quality human service work that has a chance at bettering peoples lives.

Tim Brown and Ed Catmull intersection

Summary of the session with Tim and Ed on what fosters innovation


Hearing examples of intersections was helpful because the notion of disparate ideas bumping into each other and producing an innovative “love child” is hard for our linear reasoning minds to grapple with. For instance, Johansson spoke about how an architect got an insight from looking at a termite hill to come up with a building that stays naturally air conditioned in the desert.  He also spoke about how one of my heroes, Richard Feynman, came up with an insight in physics by watching students spin plates in the cafeteria at Cornell. This insight stemming  from spinning plates, led Feynman to win a Nobel prize.  One thing many of the speakers cautioned, was that these ‘aha’ moments do not just come out of nowhere.  The people that found intersections between disparate ideas had also spent years working, reflecting, trying things, and failing before a seemingly unexpected insight arose. So, a key message I took away was, work hard on your challenge, know your domain and purposefully take time and breaks to explore totally different fields, ideas and insights.  Especially take time to intersect with passionate people from diverse disciplines.   That seems to be a key ingredient for fostering innovation and relevant creativity in whatever field you come from.

Termites intersecting with architecture

Next year the Intersection event will take place at the GooglePlex.
Here are a selection of cool quotes overheard at the conference

“The fundamental thing that leads to innovation is not accepting the status quo” Leila Janah

“Getting the process right is not the goal” Ed Catmull

“Remove the fear of failure and encourage your team to be unusual” Ed Catmull

“We (at Pixar) bet on the person not the idea, we never start with the idea” Ed Catmull

“You can be passionate about an idea, but if it doesn’t actually work you have to accommodate” Tim Brown

“Innovation doesn’t start in your head, it starts out in the world”  Tim Brown

“We are horrible at predicting what will work” Frans Johansson

“People that change the world, try far more ideas” Frans Johansson

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