A Lesson in Turning Inward to Solve Outward Problems

By Lisa Dubow

I really am not a cynical person, but let’s be honest, we humans are a distraught race. We are routinely plagued with small-scale stresses, like our vexing propensity to lose house keys, as well as more substantial adversities like self-induced environmental destruction and social and political unrest. However, despite the debilitating unease associated with these dilemmas, people around the world continually find ways to exploit their anxieties and utilize them as the driving force behind topnotch innovations. Our universal desire to ignite change, both small and large, has led to the creation of numerous apps, websites, and various on and offline mechanisms that help people take necessary steps toward eliminating their problems.

The Prompt

So, when the interns of Big Spaceship were instructed to simply “make something”, it should have been a piece of cake to propel ourselves into motion. However, we found ourselves scratching our heads for hours on end and struggling to identify the golden nugget within an interesting quandary that could point us in the direction of a compelling final product. In an effort to get the gears going and generate a creative spark, we took to the white board, scribbled in notebooks, and even tried communicating in antiquated English dialects, all to no avail. We were totally stumped. No sticky note or sketchpad seemed to be leading us in the right direction. And it only took a few weeks of failed brainstorm sessions for it all to finally click—the problem waiting to be solved had been glaring at us with wide eyes and an evil grin the entire time.

The Problem

It was the ominous creative block, an all too familiar beast that roams in and out studios, classrooms, cars, grocery stores, and even our very own homes. The monster knows no boundaries and when it surfaces it sinks its razor sharp teeth into the human brain and gnaws away at any inkling of a good idea. Upon identifying this problem we all sat back on Big Spaceship’s comfy white couches and thought to ourselves, “Maybe, just maybe…the scope of this issue is bigger and badder than we think”. We decided to find out once and for all. We chose to investigate the extent of the creative block’s influence by heading to the Internet to see whether the vicious brute was afflicting other people around the world. By tracking conversations on Twitter, examining popular search terms on Google, and inspecting communities surrounding online puzzles and brainteasers, we found that creative blocks were serving as a pervasive source of distress for individuals of all ages, genders, and professional backgrounds. So there it was, right before us, the big menacing problem ready to be solved.

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The Concept

We saw our call to action, identified a point of entry, and ultimately conceived the concept behind HATCH—a responsive website with daily creative challenges intended to stimulate the brain and help fend off the monster that impedes innovative thinking. We decided that these daily prompts (or “hatches”) would be open-ended challenges that encouraged unconventional and uninhibited thought processing. But coming up with these prompts proved to be easier said than done. Once again, we found ourselves gathered in a room tossing out pieces of paper filled with jumbled ideas, uncertain whether any of them could actually be transformed into compelling content for the web.

The Experiment

So again we turned inward to unravel an outward problem. We tested a few different challenges internally on our very own Big Spaceship crew. We crafted the prompts, typed them out on paper, and passed them around the office. We gathered a few key insights from our colleagues’ responses that lead us to rewrite and rework clearer activities that catered to more open-ended solutions. Though our process was not totally scientific, we learned quite a lot about the value of collecting user perspectives in constructing the key features and overall functionality of a website.

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The Result

As the project picked up momentum, HATCH took on a personality and found its true form. By the end of the three month summer term, we developed the concept and design for a website with quirky and coherent content for challenges, a user interaction canvas containing tools for unrestricted responses, and a gallery filled with every user’s daily submissions and an upvote system to show support for the community’s creations.

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We ultimately came away with a stellar idea that we’re continuously perfecting. Aside from discovering a group-wide affinity for the late night pizza and coffee combo, the process also allowed each of us to discover the value in looking at problems locally under a microscope in order to better execute solutions at a greater, more macro level. At the very core of every revelatory insight is a human behavior. It just takes surveying the scene and taking note of its scope to find one enlightening discovery that can be turned into a dynamic final product.

*HATCH is still in beta. Details to follow!

**This post was written by the amazing strategist Lisa Dubow but would not have been possible without the help of her fellow interns, technologist Olga Romanova, strategist Rachel Weaver, designer Dane Mason and producer Daniel Carlin.

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