Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Art of Discovery

C. Engdahl
Product Marketing Manager
Sopheon

At first glance, this entry may appear to have nothing to do with the Front End of Innovation. There is a point to the story though.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate on a fairly regular basis in the academic lives of my children. My oldest kids are late elementary aged, and it’s been gratifying to help out in what might be considered non-traditional ways for a working dad. Not simply have I helped them with activities like homework and school projects, or attended conferences and other occasional evening programs such as concerts and carnivals, but I’ve also actually participated in activities during regular school hours. I’m proud to say I’ve volunteered to read during class, attended my fair share of off campus field trips, and participated in a variety of other programs and activities.

One of these other programs is something called “Partners in Art”. The program is designed to introduce elementary students to works of fine art and to provide them an opportunity to explore and discover the creative process for themselves through discussion and participation. On a monthly basis in each classroom a parent volunteer presents several works of art around a particular theme and provides the students an opportunity to also create their own work of “art”. A theme might involve a particular genre of art such as Impressionism, a specific time period such as the American Revolution, or perhaps a particular country or world region such as Africa or Central America. I find Partners in Art a particularly rewarding program because it’s educational for both the students and presenters, and has an inherent creative element. It is also gratifying to see the discovery process that takes place amongst the students during each session. It’s as if you can see little light bulbs go on in their heads each time they have a connective thought or discover something new during a session.

It just so happens that because of a creative scheduling trick, I actually gave a Partners in Art presentation this morning for my daughter’s class. And as has been the case during previous sessions I’ve led, it was evident the kids actually enjoyed themselves. Not only was the Partners in Art session an opportunity to avoid at least temporarily their regular academic lessons, but more importantly it gave the kids an opportunity to stretch their imaginations beyond their usual activities and draw connections between an otherwise unknown artistic world and their daily lives. Their faces gleamed with discovery. It didn’t hurt either that the art project associated with today’s lesson also happened to be downright fun.

Go for a moment now beyond the walls of this elementary school and think about your own daily professional objectives. I’m not alluding to the idea of having fun at work. (Although if I gave it some additional thought perhaps I could scrape together some sort of Robert Fulghum-esque life lesson with a tie-in to the Front End of Innovation. That might be a stretch though.) No, I’m really talking about the discovery process each of us goes through to accomplish our Front End of Innovation objectives.

In the development of new product ideas or other innovation activities I believe there is a discovery process we must all go through to be successful. Whether we explicitly realize it our not, we all strive to make different kinds of mental connections. We compare and contrast various formulations of ideas. Try different juxtapositions to reveal novelties. And like Picasso, perhaps we even “borrow” elements from other great artists and incorporate their work into our own. In the end, if you’re fortunate, the outcome of your efforts will be the same as the students I saw this morning. At your moment of discovery, you’ll get a big smile on your face, feel a sense of enlightenment, and be reenergized to continue your work. It’s a beautiful thing when it all comes together. Be careful though not to smile too big. You wouldn’t want your boss to think you’re having too much fun.

2 comments:

Simon said...

What a beautiful little story. And I whole heartedly agree. It's what I love about my work as well. Bouncing among the shoulders of giants, sometimes I get a glimpse of divine inspiration and get that great big smile on my face.

Simon

C. Engdahl said...

Hope the smiles are big and come often.

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