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Creative Acts for Curious People

How to Think, Create, and Lead in Unconventional Ways

Foreword by David M. Kelley
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“A delightful, compelling book that offers a dazzling array of practical, thoughtful exercises designed to spark creativity, help solve problems, foster connection, and make our lives better.”—Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author and host of the Happier podcast

In an era of ambiguous, messy problems—as well as extraordinary opportunities for positive change—it’s vital to have both an inquisitive mind and the ability to act with intention. Creative Acts for Curious People is filled with ways to build those skills with resilience, care, and confidence.

At Stanford University’s world-renowned Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, aka “the d.school,” students and faculty, experts and seekers bring together diverse perspectives to tackle ambitious projects; this book contains the experiences designed to help them do it. A provocative and highly visual companion, it’s a definitive resource for people who aim to draw on their curiosity and creativity in the face of uncertainty. Teeming with ideas about discovery, learning, and leading the way through unknown creative territory, Creative Acts for Curious People includes memorable stories and more than eighty innovative exercises.

Curated by executive director Sarah Stein Greenberg, after being honed in the classrooms of the d.school, these exercises originated in some of the world’s most inventive and unconventional minds, including those of d.school and IDEO founder David M. Kelley, ReadyMade magazine founder Grace Hawthorne, innovative choreographer Aleta Hayes, Google chief innovation evangelist Frederik G. Pferdt, and many more.

To bring fresh approaches to any challenge–world changing or close to home–you can draw on exercises such as Expert Eyes to hone observation skills, How to Talk to Strangers to foster understanding, and Designing Tools for Teams to build creative leadership. The activities are at once lighthearted, surprising, tough, and impactful–and reveal how the hidden dynamics of design can drive more vibrant ways of making, feeling, exploring, experimenting, and collaborating at work and in life. This book will help you develop the behaviors and deepen the mindsets that can turn your curiosity into ideas, and your ideas into action.

*Includes a downloadable PDF for printing of key exercises from the book
Getting Started

Think about the last time you tried to change, fix, design, or solve a problem in your life and you really didn’t know what the outcome would be. Maybe it was a challenge you took on following a promotion at work, the search for an apartment in a new city, or an effort to organize your neighbors to deal with a block-wide problem. You might have felt a mix of things—excitement, commitment, and nervousness—all at the same time. You might have been secure in your skills and prepared a creative approach, yet still felt like a beginner. This is really common: when faced with an open-ended challenge that doesn’t have one fixed, right solu- tion, we can all feel like beginners. And it’s true—we are inexpert in that particular problem. However, if we have practiced how to tackle an open-ended situation and learned how to handle all of the complicated feelings that arise while doing so, we can improvise our way through any challenge.

This is a story about a group of beginners facing a large, messy, creative challenge and bringing all they had to it. It’s a story about a big opportunity hiding in plain sight and about finding a signal within a noisy, complex system by listening to the clarion call of human suffering and fear.

It’s about resilience, inventiveness, improvisation, humility, and many leaps of faith.

It’s also a story about Edith Elliot, Katy Ashe, Shahed Alam, and Jessie Liu, four graduate students pursuing degrees in international policy, civil and environmental engineering, and medicine. Their lives took an unexpected turn when they met during a d.school class called Design for Extreme Affordability. As part of the class, they began to work with the Narayana Health Hospital chain of cardiac care centers founded by a charismatic surgeon, Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, based in Bangalore, India. The team was asked to travel to India, find opportunities, and design solutions to improve the patient flow in order to help the hospital get closer to its mission to deliver high-quality, low-cost care on a wide scale.

When they started, the team had a lot of support and a willing partner, and they had already experienced a few of the assignments included in this book, specifically The Monsoon Challenge (page 89); I Like, I Wish (page 212); and Stanford Service Corps (page 264). But their biggest advantage was that they went into the situation without being fixed on the exact problem they would tackle. What the students thought might be the need and what they actually found turned out to be two very different things. No matter your skill level or the scope of the challenges you take on, approaching the unknown with the spirit and tools of inquiry will help you uncover bigger and better opportunities than you could imagine beforehand.

That’s just how design works. It can take you on a journey to learn not just how to solve a problem, but also how to identify what problem might be so worth solving that you reorganize your life around the endeavor.

That’s where we hope this story ends, anyway, but that’s not where it begins. Like so many great tales, this story starts with a miscommunication.
Sarah Stein Greenberg View titles by Sarah Stein Greenberg
The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known as the d.school, was founded at Stanford in 2005. Each year, more than a thousand students from all disciplines attend classes, workshops, and programs to learn how the thinking behind design can enrich their own work and unlock their creative potential. View titles by Stanford d.school
Educator Guide for Creative Acts for Curious People

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

About

“A delightful, compelling book that offers a dazzling array of practical, thoughtful exercises designed to spark creativity, help solve problems, foster connection, and make our lives better.”—Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author and host of the Happier podcast

In an era of ambiguous, messy problems—as well as extraordinary opportunities for positive change—it’s vital to have both an inquisitive mind and the ability to act with intention. Creative Acts for Curious People is filled with ways to build those skills with resilience, care, and confidence.

At Stanford University’s world-renowned Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, aka “the d.school,” students and faculty, experts and seekers bring together diverse perspectives to tackle ambitious projects; this book contains the experiences designed to help them do it. A provocative and highly visual companion, it’s a definitive resource for people who aim to draw on their curiosity and creativity in the face of uncertainty. Teeming with ideas about discovery, learning, and leading the way through unknown creative territory, Creative Acts for Curious People includes memorable stories and more than eighty innovative exercises.

Curated by executive director Sarah Stein Greenberg, after being honed in the classrooms of the d.school, these exercises originated in some of the world’s most inventive and unconventional minds, including those of d.school and IDEO founder David M. Kelley, ReadyMade magazine founder Grace Hawthorne, innovative choreographer Aleta Hayes, Google chief innovation evangelist Frederik G. Pferdt, and many more.

To bring fresh approaches to any challenge–world changing or close to home–you can draw on exercises such as Expert Eyes to hone observation skills, How to Talk to Strangers to foster understanding, and Designing Tools for Teams to build creative leadership. The activities are at once lighthearted, surprising, tough, and impactful–and reveal how the hidden dynamics of design can drive more vibrant ways of making, feeling, exploring, experimenting, and collaborating at work and in life. This book will help you develop the behaviors and deepen the mindsets that can turn your curiosity into ideas, and your ideas into action.

*Includes a downloadable PDF for printing of key exercises from the book

Excerpt

Getting Started

Think about the last time you tried to change, fix, design, or solve a problem in your life and you really didn’t know what the outcome would be. Maybe it was a challenge you took on following a promotion at work, the search for an apartment in a new city, or an effort to organize your neighbors to deal with a block-wide problem. You might have felt a mix of things—excitement, commitment, and nervousness—all at the same time. You might have been secure in your skills and prepared a creative approach, yet still felt like a beginner. This is really common: when faced with an open-ended challenge that doesn’t have one fixed, right solu- tion, we can all feel like beginners. And it’s true—we are inexpert in that particular problem. However, if we have practiced how to tackle an open-ended situation and learned how to handle all of the complicated feelings that arise while doing so, we can improvise our way through any challenge.

This is a story about a group of beginners facing a large, messy, creative challenge and bringing all they had to it. It’s a story about a big opportunity hiding in plain sight and about finding a signal within a noisy, complex system by listening to the clarion call of human suffering and fear.

It’s about resilience, inventiveness, improvisation, humility, and many leaps of faith.

It’s also a story about Edith Elliot, Katy Ashe, Shahed Alam, and Jessie Liu, four graduate students pursuing degrees in international policy, civil and environmental engineering, and medicine. Their lives took an unexpected turn when they met during a d.school class called Design for Extreme Affordability. As part of the class, they began to work with the Narayana Health Hospital chain of cardiac care centers founded by a charismatic surgeon, Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, based in Bangalore, India. The team was asked to travel to India, find opportunities, and design solutions to improve the patient flow in order to help the hospital get closer to its mission to deliver high-quality, low-cost care on a wide scale.

When they started, the team had a lot of support and a willing partner, and they had already experienced a few of the assignments included in this book, specifically The Monsoon Challenge (page 89); I Like, I Wish (page 212); and Stanford Service Corps (page 264). But their biggest advantage was that they went into the situation without being fixed on the exact problem they would tackle. What the students thought might be the need and what they actually found turned out to be two very different things. No matter your skill level or the scope of the challenges you take on, approaching the unknown with the spirit and tools of inquiry will help you uncover bigger and better opportunities than you could imagine beforehand.

That’s just how design works. It can take you on a journey to learn not just how to solve a problem, but also how to identify what problem might be so worth solving that you reorganize your life around the endeavor.

That’s where we hope this story ends, anyway, but that’s not where it begins. Like so many great tales, this story starts with a miscommunication.

Author

Sarah Stein Greenberg View titles by Sarah Stein Greenberg
The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known as the d.school, was founded at Stanford in 2005. Each year, more than a thousand students from all disciplines attend classes, workshops, and programs to learn how the thinking behind design can enrich their own work and unlock their creative potential. View titles by Stanford d.school

Guides

Educator Guide for Creative Acts for Curious People

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

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