Shaping ideas that work

Sometimes when a challenge or problem forms part of our daily life, it becomes difficult to ‘see’ it differently. We end up stuck in a cycle of looking for solutions within the problem and never really get anywhere. This cycle is something that many young change drivers are confronted with in their journey of finding solutions for challenges faced by their communities.

 “The innovation tools that are introduced to Activators during train aim to open up ways of thinking. The tools stimulate unexpected ways of looking at situations and coming up with ways of looking at problems and finding solutions we have never thought of before. If we aim to address the problems we have been living with for decades, our current way of thinking won’t do it, we must cultivate new ideas.”, says Landy Wright, Programme Director

The ACTIVATE! Innovation Toolkit

A number of innovation tools have been developed for the ACTIVATE! programme. These innovation tools are designed to enhance and amplify thinking processes, to spark creative conversations, to open up new insights into old problems and to explore innovative solutions to challenges we face in South Africa. 

Here we explore some of the innovation tools Activators are exposed to during their residential training:

Archetypes –The Archetype cards contain short stories about archetypal characters – characters that represent a particular way of acting and thinking. The cards don’t tell you the names of these characters. Nor do they tell you what they look like. Each archetype is represented by a hat they might wear. This is because archetypes are not specific people, but characters you meet over and over again in stories (and in life). You’re familiar with these characters without having to know much about them. You expect them to behave in a certain way. You can use these archetypes to help you think of different ways of dealing with a challenge. Knowing about Archetypes allows you to be mindful of how you are thinking. Are you thinking like a politician, a headmaster, a business woman, an NGO worker, an artist or a satirist? How do your inner archetypes expand or limit your ways of thinking? The more you are aware of Archetypes, the more you can liberate your thinking and the more solutions you can create.

Concept cards Often when we are confronted by a problem or a situation we make an instant judgement and jump to an instant solution or conclusion. The introduction of Concept Card provides Activators with an opportunity to examine a problem or situation through different frames of reference and perspectives. The Concepts cards aim to guide our thinking about challenges that we face. During the training the example of a figure and ground card is used. The card highlights the fact that our minds are hardwired to notice the foreground issues first and not the seemingly unimportant background issues. (We notice the figure first before the ground)  But what if the background issues are the primary issues when addressing that particular challenge? That specific object card has thus enabled the mind to consider all issues when moving to a solution, both the foreground as well as the background issues, which we might have been totally overlooked before. 

Washline – a visual way of presenting ideas by literally plotting every aspect of a project idea and ‘hanging it on a wash line’. Although the Washline comes across as a linier planning tool, new ideas and steps can be added and the project plan amended and modified simply by shifting the items on the wash-line.

Object cards – using everyday objects to unpack project ideas. This encourages creative and in-depth, critical thinking. The object cards are images of everyday objects, simply things around us that we know well. But when you apply them to problem solving and solutions creation you will see these very same objects can very powerful tools for innovative thinking because they can help you break out of your usual way of thinking and see new possibilities. The cards are there to help externalise thinking by helping to focus on something outside of the mind, for example, a hosepipe in a discussion about education can be seen as being a tool where teachers pass information through to learners. This then encourages a debate about the analogy this illustrates. The idea of teaching simply being a way of ‘piping’ information from one end to another in a very linear manner. This means you can handle that thoughts can be handled like objects on a table, rather than struggling with the foggy thoughts that sometimes appear to be in our minds. Once you’ve established the habit of seeing common objects as tools to think with, you’ll start to see the whole world as your own thinking tool box.

Icon cards – The Icon cards have descriptions of iconic people. These are real people who, through their words and actions, demonstrate ways of being in the world. Some have overcome tremendous difficulties. Some have acted in unexpected ways to show great moral character. Some have contributed knowledge that has allowed us to learn more about ourselves and our universe than we had ever imagined. All of them have at least one unique and powerful lesson we can learn. These icon cards help develop the habit of recognising remarkable traits of iconic people, not just a source of inspiration, but a potential tool to think with. For example, Nelson Mandela is known changed the course of history by encouraging reconciliation. One could then can turn this into a question by asking, ‘how can an act of reconciliation help solve a problem?’

 “The feedback we get from Activators is always so positive and many find the tools relevant to their work, whether it be running their own project or in their jobs. For example, the wash-line method helps to identify “blind spots” during planning.”, says Lauren Daniels, Training Programme Officer.

As ACTIVATE! trainers, we believe that it is possible to learn how to innovate and that public innovation is a critical component in addressing the entrenched, divisions in SA.

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