Creativity, one toothpick at a time…

Feb 21st, 2017

At the last minute, I was asked to step up and deliver remarks on the “Creativity” session at the 2017 Government of Canada Boot Camp for Public Service.

Over 1000 people across the country in person and on-line.

Here is what our ISED Design Lab wrote for me to share….

“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical. And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully watching me.

But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical. And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.”

You may think Supertramp’s Logical Song is dark. But it’s a starting point for what I want to say about creativity.

In the 1960’s, researcher George Land re-purposed a creativity test for use by NASA.  The idea was to measure what it meant to be creative. And use those results to pick innovative engineers & scientists for the space program.

It worked so well, Land wondered what would happen if he tested kids, instead of NASA recruits. Not just once, but three times over their child and teenage-hood. Thereby documenting their creative abilities as they grew.

He tested 1,600 kids aged 3-5 who were enrolled in a Head Start program. The kids were retested at age 10, then age 15. And here’s what he found.  At:

Then Land’s test was applied to 280,000 adults. The result?  Only 2% passed the test for creativity.

So how did we go from “happily,” “joyfully,” and “wonderfully,” to “clinical,” “intellectual,” and “cynical”? Let me shift your world.

What Land found out was the following:

“Non-creative behaviour can be unlearned.” Let me repeat that. “NON-CREATIVE BEHAVIOUR CAN BE UNLEARNED.” How?

I want to tell you the story of Ellen, Jason and the Tactile Map.

“Ellen & Jason met in the design thinking Lab at Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).

Jason is visually impaired. He’s a multiple Canadian Paralympic and Para-PanAm medal-winning machine. Jason currently works in ISED Corporate Management.

Ellen, his colleague, works on the ISED Innovation 2020 file.

When Jason started working in CMS, he had a hard time physically navigating his floor. Ellen, sitting kitty corner to his office, saw the problem and got to work. She printed off the office floor plan & did her homework on possible solutions.”

Let me interrupt myself.

Creativity is not something that just “happens”. It’s based on hard workintuitiondedicationplay, and a desire to solve a problem.  Ellen saw a problem and tried to fix it.

You know, relying on inspiration to hit you to spurn creativity, that’s lazy.   My Lab team tells me this every day. You need to seize it, work it and own it. Like Ellen.

“Ellen did her research. She went online, and discovered the idea of a tactile map.  A tactile map uses the same concept as Braille. Each texture points to a different location, space and person.

She played with her daughter’s craft supplies to build a prototype of a tactile map for Jason.  Pipe cleaners for a men’s washroom. Cupcake holders for the women’s. Popsicle sticks for the printer room. Toothpicks for filing cabinets…

When Jason’s fingers first touched the tactile map prototype, he couldn’t believe it. He now had a much better understanding of what the floor looked like.  Thanks to Ellen’s work and vision.

But it wasn’t quite there, yet. If one of those darn pompoms or toothpicks fell off that map, parts of the ISED floor became invisible to Jason.”

I’m interrupting myself again.

Creative failure is okay. It’s okay to be wrong, because if it doesn’t work, it’s not working.  Which means it can be better.  Creativity means creating the better.

“Ellen and Jason knew their idea could be better and serve a greater purpose.  Ellen dropped by the Lab on a Friday Open Lab afternoon. She shared with me & Sylvie, our Lab Ops Manager, her weekend project for Jason without any preconceived notions.

Another thought. Creativity means seamlessly connecting people regardless of where they come from. Our Lab enables, convenes, & connects. Because creativity demands it.

“We connected Ellen & Jason with Erik. He heads the National Research Council’s Fabrication Design Lab. The National Research Council is a Nobel prize winning Government of Canada organization and space.

Erik got their vision. And developed a 3D printed version of Jason’s tactile map. A 3D printed map offers new opportunities. Not just for Jason, but to create a more inclusive society for visually impaired Canadians across Canada.

Imagine a tactile map used outside every restaurant or bus route in every city, village and space across the nation. Any visually impaired person could navigate the world more easily and more autonomously.

Jason says, quote: “People often have ideas and we’re all guilty of sitting on them sometimes, but I want to encourage people to pursue their ideas, explore them and see where they lead.”

So I want to leave you with a final thought.

When you think of creativity, many people think of artists like the Group of Seven or musicians like Gord Downie.

But it’s the everyday creative geniuses like Ellen, Jason, and Erik that make a difference in public service.

Going back to the song by Supertramp. How do we unlearn our “clinical,” “intellectual,” and “cynical” behaviours?

We do it by:

Now here’s my plug.   At the ISED Lab we unlock creative value in public service. From designing: an inclusive strategy for persons with disabilities, a hackathon on Homelessness, a Dragon’s Den on how to use blockchain in the public service; or a serious game on mental health and well-being in the workplace.

We disrupt. Interested?

Join Kent, our Lab mascot, and us on February 22 & 23 for our upcoming IDEATE Design Boot Camp. Generating ideas and tapping into your creative potential. Free.

Let me conclude and ask you to reflect on a time when you were the most creative.

Tweet it out using the hashtag #CBC_CDC, #ISEDLab#LaboISDE, and my handle @ChrystiaC. Let’s hear what you have to say.


Chrystia & The ISED Lab Team (Sylvie, Mary, Kayla, Donovan, JP, Tabatha, Daniel, Margy)