Leveraging the Power of Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” Albert Einstein.

Like Tim Brown from IDEO, we have found that it is more effective to initiate the act of design by taking design out of the hands of the designer and putting it in the hands of those most impacted by the design.  On a recent project we were faced with a challenge that changed my method of initiating, envisioning and conceptualizing a project in collaboration with those it impacted the most. 


The challenge was put to us by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center when they asked us to create a new experience for the child patient, their family, and their caregivers in the design of a new satellite hospital. The essential ingredient in the process of putting design into the hands of those most impacted it was to find a way for children to be active participants in the design process.   

To do this, we created a process tool we call “Imagine.” In this case,  where we utilized narratives to lead children through a series of visioning sessions to uncover the qualities of their favorite places, the places that make them happy, feel good and most importantly not scared.  We then worked with the kids to do sketches or “ideagrams” to diagram or “draw what they saw” while listening to the narrative.  The process, taking no longer than 30 to 40 minutes opened a new way of working together that fully engaged the creativity of the children.  We then worked with the children, core project team and parents alike to apply those favorite qualities to the design of new space and the experiences they would have when receiving or giving care.  In his terrific book Inner Game of Work, Timothy Gallway puts it this way.

“It is more effective for a golfer to “see” the trajectory of his golf ball rising into an arc against the sky, then falling onto the green and rolling into the hole, than it is to say to himself, “I want to hole this shot.”  Likewise, if your goal is better teamwork with your colleagues, it contributes to mobility to envision what that might look and sound like.  When you use pictures, sounds, and words to project a desired future state, more parts of the brain are involved in the goal setting.  This increases the likelihood that more of your brain will be used in the process of fulfilling the goal.*”        

When we used this process with parents as well as kids we found it worked equally well if not better than what we were using to engage adults in collaborative design thinking.  We use this method today with a wide variety of groups, including business and community leaders complete with crayons and construction paper.  Though occasionally we find, especially serious executives, skeptical of the idea that you can do effective work with a crayon in your hand, this has tool has made the sometimes ethereal process of visioning immencely practical, leveraging the power of the imagination.

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