While working on our next set of enhancements to ProtoShare, we developed the following flowchart:
This short, iterative approach captures the review process we’re working to facilitate in ProtoShare. We think this process is the cornerstone of collaboration, and is important to support well in ProtoShare. Let’s take a closer look at the steps above.
For me, the easiest way to make my creative ideas a reality is to start by getting the ideas out of my head and into a concrete form. By using ProtoShare, I’m able to quickly move past vague concepts and illustrate and communicate my ideas of a solution to a problem.
Like the process of writing down your ideas, building your ideas in ProtoShare is not just recording what is in your head, but is transformative in and of itself. You can look at your idea more objectively and understand it better. This lets you modify, re-work and improve your first effort. I’ve always been a ‘rough-draft’ kind of worker – get something on the page and work to improve it. My best ideas never appear fully-formed. They all require effort and work to get right.
After some initial building, the breakthrough step in my process is sharing. Yes, while building I’ll get key insights into the problem I’m working on, but nothing can stimulate and improve my ideas like getting other people to look at them. Particularly if there is another key stakeholder, I can make sure that even if we’re not completely on the same page, we are at least reading the same book. Usually, the result is that problems, solutions or benefits that I did not see are obvious to a more objective reviewer.
After all the feedback and discussion, we need to decide what to do next. Do we need to try another approach? Should we make minor modifications? In short, have we solved the issue adequately? If the answer is Yes, we’re done. Check this off our list and move on to another issue or phase. If the answer is No, start prototyping again. The nice part about ProtoShare, is that I don’t even have to be the builder in the next phase. I can easily hand it off to someone with a different skillset or who wants to try an approach they have in mind.
Other People’s Thinking on the Creative Process
This entire exercise got me thinking about the creative process in general, and how collaboration affects the creative process. So I did a little research. I found many models of the creative process, but many flowed from a single source: Graham Wallas. In his work Art of Thought, published in 1926, Graham Wallas identified four ( well – he had five, but it’s generally been distilled to these four ) stages of the creative process:
Immediately it occurred to me that the ProtoShare process and the individual creative process summarized by Wallas were models of the same underlying process.
The ProtoShare Process
Preparation – Understand the problem. Explore the problem. Get your ideas in concrete form. This is the Build phase in ProtoShare. Yes, there is preparation that happens outside of ProtoShare, but until your idea is in presentable form, you are not prepared.
As I mentioned above, the act of building in ProtoShare forces you to make many aspects of the process explicit. It pokes holes in your initial thoughts and ideas and inspires new takes on the issue. I can imagine an individual going through Wallas’ entire creative process during just the build phase of ProtoShare, and iterating on this. The key difference is that Wallas’ process applies to the individual. ProtoShare takes the process and applies it to groups, allowing a creative process that is bigger than any individual contributor.
Incubation and Illumination – Live with the problem. Experience the problem. Figure out a better way to address the problem. This is where ProtoShare’s collaboration really kicks in. The work done in the build phase is shared with other stakeholders. Multiple viewpoints, insights and ideas from an engaged team ensure that you can effectively address the problem ( or have effectively addressed it ). You share with others to get deeper insights and to overcome your biases.
Verification – Is the problem addressed? Verification is also built into the process by getting the important stakeholders involved. If you’ve solved your problem, you’re ready to move on to the next item. If not, you’ve learned something, and its time to revise your idea or try another angle.
I see Wallas’ creative process as one cycle in an iterative process, and others have made this same connection ( see links below ). Re-creating our original flow diagram with Wallas’ terminology incorporated:
What this ( hopefully interesting ) discussion tells me is that the power of collaboration allows you to harness other people’s brainpower as part of the creative process. I believe that is why we’ve had so much success with our collaboration in ProtoShare. I know it has revolutionized our internal creative process, and I’ve heard the same from customers.
By the way, we’re working on adding features to make this natural creative flow work even better by improving the way teams communicate and make decisions. I would love to hear your ideas or feedback on features to help you get the most from ProtoShare.
If you’re interested in the study of the creative process, here are a couple of links to get you started: