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Creative Acts of Curious People

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Creative Acts of Curious People with Sarah Stein Greenberg

Sarah Stein Greenberg, Chase Jarvis

Creative Acts of Curious People

Sarah Stein Greenberg, Chase Jarvis


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1. Creative Acts of Curious People with Sarah Stein Greenberg


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Creative Acts of Curious People with Sarah Stein Greenberg

Hey buddy, what's up? Chase? Welcome to another episode of the show. You know the Shore? I sit down with amazing humans unpacked their brain with the goal of helping you live your dreams and career hobby in life. The guest today is Sarah Stein Greenberg, she's the executive director of the D school at Stanford. With your wonder what the D school is that is the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, very famous design school where they bring in all kinds of people from numerous disciplines and they work to underpin what design does across industries on a global scale. She's got a new book that we talked about called Creative Acts for curious people how to think, create and lead in unconventional ways. It's out now. I highly recommend this conversation. If it's if you're interested in solving things like how do I see things in a new way, How do I work well with others? What are some ways that I can make sense of that? I've got these great insights but how do I articulate them in my project,...

whether that's a creative project, a business project, design project or otherwise, how to put your work out there and how to slow down and focus something I know we all need. So I'm going to get out of the way and again, invite you to enjoy this conversation with yours truly and Sarah Stein Greenberg take it from here. Mhm. Yeah mm no Sarah, thank you so much for being on the show. Welcome. Happy to have you here. Thank you. Thanks so much Chase for having me. I'm really looking forward to our discussion. Awesome. Well, of course it would be um incomplete without me congratulating you on the new book, which uh, for those who do not know creative acts for curious people, an amazing book. I have it open in front of me here on my computer and uh, but I don't want to start there. I want to start at the beginning, I want to start with you realizing that design, that creativity is not just a nice to have, but a critical thing to have in in career, in hobby and most importantly in our life. So take us back to when you started realizing this in your life, wow. I mean, how far back should I go go all the way back, I can go all the way back. Yeah, I mean, I have to say like I was raised in a house where I think there was a lot of creativity that was being celebrated and I I had a very vivid imagination as a kid and I kind of lived in a lot of ways in those worlds of like stories and that, you know, the adventures you can have as a child when they're there aren't sort of fixed constraints and rules. Um, and also maybe like growing up in a pre digital age was was there weren't as many distractions perhaps. Um, and I remember, you know, just like the joy of that huge box of legos that my parents had gotten at a yard sale that had no instructions and had no kind of rules attached and anything you could make or anything you can imagine you could build. And so I think that that really is a core part of my fabric from a very early age, I also say you know, my dad is an incredible maker and builder and carpenter and he just was somebody who's totally self taught and so um growing up, watching him in the dark room processing photos, I mean just like the whole range of creative output and I think that just really landed, made a big impression. And then it was until later that I got to stanford and found there was this whole community of people using this language called design to talk to each other about how to work collaboratively and how to solve open ended messy, ambiguous problems and I realized like, oh I found my people right, like they have the vocabulary that I've been sort of trying to move toward for for the whole earlier part of my life. So we talk a lot on the show. First of all, aware of the audience here identify as creators entrepreneurs or who are people who are inspired by that. So you're it's not going to be a tough sell, but I'm curious if you could for people for someone who might be a Doubter or new to this industry, the show to you and your work, you talked about two things I was hoping you'd go deeper. One is designed as a language and then to this idea of creativity being much larger than art as something that underpins the solution to problem the largest problems that our culture will ever know. So, I'm wondering if you can share a little bit more philosophically how you know this, this truly is for everyone. And as a as you talked about, it's a fabric of you. But how is design and how our design and creativity fabrics for a modern era? Why? Why this and why now? Yeah, this is my favorite topic of all time. So we'll just have to stop me when it gets to be too much getting the philosophy of why is design important? Okay, like, let's I know I'm I'm ready to go. So the you know what I, what I encountered when I was in grad school was this like very weird, experimental, unconventional place. It was, it was literally in a trailer at the edge of campus and it was a group of faculty and designers who had come together and we're seeing the tremendous uptake of design in industry and lots of different types of problem areas. Like all of a sudden design was being used in healthcare to redesign the patient experience or design and design process. Design methods were being used in business and all kinds of new ways, not just as kind of like the elegant packaging, the finishing act of a product or a service. And this group of faculty led by David Kelley were really interested in like, okay, what would it look like to develop an educational program that was that interdisciplinary, that had faculty from across the university and actually had had students from all over. So all of a sudden I was taking, I was enrolled at the business school, getting my MBA. But I walked into this trailer where the floors were sticky and the windows didn't open and it was just like the very first place on campus that that had been had been allocated to the what's now called the D. School. And there were electrical engineers in the class and there were mechanical engineers and there were Mbas like me and there were medical students and there were policy students and humanists and it was this just like incredibly cool mix of different ways of thinking about the world and the premise there was like designers for every one of these students and we don't currently have a common language, a common way that we look at challenges together. So by working through the methods of design, you get that medical student to be able to work collaboratively with the N. B. A. Or the electrical engineer. And that group of students like looks at a set of challenges, whether it's in health care or education or in business in a totally new and fresh way. So I just got this like taste of if you have a process in common or a set of processes all of a sudden it unlocks this potential for interdisciplinary collaboration. So that was one piece of it. And then the other piece was like, oh we're not just solving problems like at the end of a product development process, we're using this to tackle some of the most ambiguous, challenging, open ended problems in the world that you can imagine Problems that don't have obvious solutions. And you know, this is I've seen this over the past 15 years at the D school time and again unlock really powerful solutions. So one example that I I write about in the book is a group of students who went on to found an organization called neural health. They were partnered with a hospital in southern India that provides cardiac care that hospitals model is like high quality, large scale provision of services. And the students went thinking like, oh, we're here to help design the patient flow or make this more efficient or lower cost. And then what they found using design using observation, using interviewing, like really trying to map the systems that they were seeing and visualize them was there's a whole other set of opportunities that no one is paying attention to and they really tuned into those and wound up launching this organization that provides health health training to family members who are waiting in the hospital, often without a lot of understanding of what to do once their beloved family member is released and often in low, very low resource settings. And this very inexpensive intervention that the students designed dramatically lowers the rate of hospital readmissions and of post surgical complications. They found that opportunity because they were paying attention kind of beyond the boundaries of the original way the problem was being framed. And that is the capability that I think design offers to everyone is the opportunity to notice things that are in plain sight that no one else is seeing. And two do it by doing that. Find those opportunities that are just their off road. They're not what anyone else is seeing with conventional approaches. That's the kind of design that we teach at the D school and like the kind that I think can unlock so much potential. Well, clearly in creating as we're going to go meta here for a second, because clearly in creating the living in life for yourself that you have right now, go back to that grammy trailer that you described earlier. You have, you know, you've come a long way, probably the career that you had didn't exist when you showed up at the D school and now, here you are. I'm hoping if you wouldn't mind giving a little first of all context, uh, for those who are not familiar with your work, we know that you were creative as a kid and that you dropped dropped in on a uh an MBA at stanford and got seduced by the D school. But uh give us some other context. How do you describe your work today? And I mentioned the book, but we'll get to that in a moment. Just talk about your profession and most importantly your path because clearly this moment at the but you were a graduate student um had an impact on your trajectory. Yeah, I mean I have one of those paths that only makes sense in retrospect, but if you look back, it's completely clear to me how I can connect all those dots. So I studied history as an undergraduate, right? I love history, I love understanding the kind of the reasons why that are not obvious on the surface. And you know, I thought like history is going to make me a good citizen, like a functioning citizen in today's world, but I'm not a practicing historian, that's totally fine. Right? Then I went into a kind of non profit world, health care advocacy. I worked at planned parenthood. Um and that was really about working at the intersection of politics and education and health care delivery. And I mean that's one of those dots that can connect in retrospect, is like I love being at intersections. Then after, after stanford after I had kind of had this awakening and realization that like design was the thing that I wanted to do. Um I worked at a consulting firm called monitor and monitor had made an acquisition of design firm called Doblin. And so again I got to work at that intersection of like management strategy and design and innovation. Um and as a part of that I spent time living in India and working in India for a couple of years. So I had this amazing immersion in a culture that was not my own. And again like working at those intersections and being kind of a translator between worlds between fields. That's there's something there for me that is that's part of my Creative Wellspring and today you what would you if you uh had to say your title, what your job is when you show up in the morning, where do you show up and what do you do? I mean I currently show up, my title is executive director of the stanford D school but on any given day that could mean like I'm teaching that could mean I'm rearranging furniture that could mean I'm doing long range strategy and visioning kind of like what do we think education should look like 10 years from now. So I have probably one of the most dynamic jobs that I could imagine and that's important for me, like variety is just so so critical and so stimulating well, you know at Creativelive, we believe that the future is also largely self directed and while we support and believe deeply and things like stanford the D school, there's so much of this is again, self initiated, self driven exploratory in nature and in a way that is sort of like the design process. You talk early in your book, which drops this week, called again this week, based on when we're releasing this show called Creative Acts for curious people how to think, create and lead in unconventional ways. You know, early on, you talk about not knowing as the process of design where it will take you. There is a little bit of an uncovering a peeling of the onion, uh perhaps a thesis, but ultimately like the students that you mentioned for the at the medical environment there. That that on their trip to India, they discovered and ended up working in an area that was completely different than the one that they originally thought. So, I want to now take that and abstract it to modern culture. What we are sitting in. As you talked about the intersection, we are at the intersection of the future of work, the future of education, the future of the internet. You sit at that intersection with the D school, we are on the cusp of pandemic where people's lives have been completely upended, economic pain, physical literal pain, humans dying and the future seems for many more uncertain, more uncertain now than ever before. And when I read your book, I couldn't help but feel this, the presence of the oppressions, precious possessions is present. There we go of that, the timeliness of this material. So I'm wondering if you can share a little bit about why and how the book came into being and why it's especially timely for now. I think this is such an important topic. I mean, the framing that you're describing from the book about not knowing like we are a culture that wants to know, we want to know what's in that future. We want to know what's happening tomorrow and for good reasons, we want to know is my kid going back to school in person, like is my house going to be saved from the forest fires that are happening all around us. Um we want to know like what's our what's the career path we really want to know both, both on a personal and I think a social societal level and what I think is very powerful about working really in any creative field, but certainly in how we think about design at stanford, is that any time you are tackling something using design, you are going on a journey from not knowing to knowing, I mean, you're not really going to know everything at the end, you're gonna know a lot more than when you started And I think of that as a skill in and of itself, right? The one the mindset that accepting that not knowing is the state of things at the beginning and that you have a reliable set of tools to be able to show up anytime you are confronted with a challenge that you haven't faced before. That I think is the under one of the underlying things that design is really good at teaching us. And so we have created an educational experience and environment at the D school that actually allows students to have that full journey. Like a lot of school, we are robbed of a lot of that journey, right? We are given a set of problems that actually the teacher knows all of the answers to their in the book. They're very clear, it's very textbook, very cookbook and that is not enough to help people actually practice that journey and develop the confidence that you can actually face. Those kinds of uncertain, ambiguous challenges in the future. And I think it's also interesting that sort of like that feeling that we're all having, which is like the future is more uncertain than ever. The future is always uncertain. The future is actually exactly as uncertain as it always has been because it's the future and that's the nature of the future. But it feels it feels much more complex. The rate at which our society and our culture and even the planet is changing around us is accelerating and that creates this like level of anxiety, anxiety and pressure about how am I going to navigate? How am I going to get through that journey from not knowing to knowing that used to be a shorter journey where you could show up with more expertise and actually be equipped and now I think it's all about the opposite, it's showing up with curiosity and showing up with the ability to rapidly learn about a new context as it's unfolding and continuing to change. That is what we've just lived through in the past 18 months and are continuing to were now navigating this new part of the pandemic that is still uncertain, that is still unpredictable. And so these skills at the root of design, I think are also very connected to how are we going to navigate creatively through these daily challenges, these daily pressures that were that were all under at the moment. Well we're all biased and I will be the first to admit that on the show, I walk in with a certain level of bias and attach myself to concepts that are themes in the show, themes that I hear in you the guests work and it makes me want to highlight at the core in many ways of something that you said there was about learning how to learn and this concept of meta learning and learning that are being aware rather that part of your ability, our ability as humans, as creators, as creative people, is being able to be comfortable with figuring it out while you're doing it. The concept of you know, building the plane while you're flying it or you know, the car while you're driving into the boat, while you're growing it or whatever. And so it makes me want to ask what role do you feel like learning is and continue if you would to paint the picture of learning as something that's lifelong for us, because I know I know that's what you believe from reading the book. Um just paint a picture and go beyond the D school too, help people understand this role of learning as a, as a tool in the toolkit to solve the world's biggest problems and simultaneously what you're going to have for dinner tonight. I mean, it's funny because there were, you know, of the many thousands of title ideas that I came up with for the book. Like, learning how you learned was, you know, like I kept returning to this core concept of learning and ultimately it felt like it wasn't the right title because learning has such a bad rap, right? It's like we so this is a book about learning how to learn, but it is that is that is the side benefit, that is what you will actually uncover. And I think I would love to figure out how do we reframe in our culture, how we think about learning a lot of people are learning is about what you did in school and thank goodness that's over and yet our lives are continuing to change at this, at this unprecedented rate. And I want to reclaim that process of learning as something that is core to creativity because it is right when you are setting out in a new part of your field, when you are trying to solve a problem in an unconventional way or something that needs an unconventional solution. Because the old ways aren't working. The first thing you have to do is learn everything you can about that new problem. And it really helps if you have a way to kind of de bias what you think the solutions might be and to and to let go of what you think some of those solutions might be to try to observe the environment or the situation through other people's eyes and lenses and that's all a part of learning. And then you're absolutely right. The sort of meta cognitive part of that is like, oh, am I aware that this is one of those moments where my pet idea is coming out? Or is this one of those times where I'm really allowing myself to be influenced by what other people are thinking or how other ideas might be used in new combinations. So it's like it operates on so many different levels. It's that attitude of like I'm preparing to go on this journey from not knowing to knowing it's about that true willingness to challenge your own assumptions and your and your own views. And then it's like these very practical skills about observation and noticing and visualization and how you organize what you're learning along that journey so that you can spot those new opportunities. One of the things about the book that stood out to me is that there are so many exercises in the book that are very, I'll use the word clever, but they're also very simple helping you see these biases and um and I think our different than so many of the ways that you talked about us learning in the past, whether that's from a textbook or I thought it was interesting that you even used the word cookbook, like one cup of this, two teaspoons of this and then you get your thing and I wanted to share an example. So part of the way that I have learned to learn is by um peeling back the layers of okay now I'm going to go read this book from cover to cover or I'm going to go watch this documentary or attend this class and there's an exercise about just take an hour of time which I think was this is just such a cool exercise and uh take an hour of time and just follow a threat, choose a thread whether that's going to be. I think the examples in the book were like a color. So you're you just got an hour and you say start walking like I'm my my journey is red. What do I know about red and then you see red and you allow yourself to just unpack the concept of red Nous. Now there's so many other exercises and if this is peaking your interest right now and you're a watcher or listener again, I cannot recommend this book. And of course Sarah's work enough. But walk us through an idea like what happens to you when you do something without the end in mind with the example maybe of this this journey, a one hour journey, what you do to go through that journey and then what's something that you might um derive? What benefit would you derive from doing that exercise? Um This is one of my absolute favorite assignments. It's so often. Have you tried it? Did you, did you go on a door if I did, I did, I only did 30 minutes but I'll just, I'll go to the punchline. What I found is this is actually how I have decided I am best at learning as an adult, which looks it's very, very nonlinear and yet I get a very rich experience. And the best example again, what I was halfway through this thing going, oh, this is exactly how I learn, which is okay. I've got to say I'm reading a book topic and in the book comes up this idea of a film and then I'll google some films on there. I'll find the documentary and I'll watch a youtube trailer of a Youtube trailer points to something else that's similar and then I'll follow that at the end of my, you know, what started out to be 60 minute or 90 minute little session four hours later, I've consumed like 16 videos. I've read two or three articles, I've got a book open to a certain page, I've got a bunch of highlights in there and I've got four or five other things that I want to read on the topic and it's very nonlinear, very comprehensive and I think that it's at arm's length, feels very um dilettante ish, but when you start to think about all of those different inputs, It's ultimately a very robust, uh you know, way of getting used to re wrapping your mind around the field of, of that particular topic. So it just 30 minutes in and I did that, I was like, Okay, red is going to be my thing. And I started walking until I saw a red thing or if a car went, which is the case, a car went by and I started walking following the car in the direction that went until I saw the next red thing. So, what it did to me was unlocked. This, oh my gosh, this, this ha ha about this is exactly how I learn. I allow my curiosity to go in a way that I haven't actually planned because I'm not in a room with the doors closed and my book in front of me where I can only touch the book. So maybe more than you bargained for when you asked me if I did the experience. But um that is the experience for me and what I realized from it. Not not more than I bargained for exactly what I hoped for when anyone does these kinds of assignments. I mean the degree to which people have these powerful personal realizations about how their own minds work is extraordinary. And so the dory viz this classic experience where you know we are constantly filtering the information around us and you just stop noticing what's there. So the derivative is this simple premise that you follow one thing another. Another idea is like follow smells and that one is like completely mind blowing for people because we're so used to just cuing off the visual or follow a type of sound. I had one woman follow um lines recently and she had this like almost metaphysical experience where she by the end of it, she was like imagining lines that could be superimposed on natural contours and she was thinking about the role of like creating lines and constraints for herself and also not paying attention to constraint some lines that other people were. It was like it sort of went in this very profound direction. So it's this prompt that just allows you to train your attention in this very intentional way and then crazy stuff happens and I love hearing that for you, you linked it back to this broader theme about how you learn in general, which sounds really lateral, really intuitive and then you must have developed a way that you process and bring that kind of back into something that is useful that is directional. And I think what a lot of people fear about that kind of less linear, more lateral type of learning is like, Okay, well, if I read the 15 things and then I bookmarked the 18 different, what am I doing with that? Right? And that's actually another way or another another area where there are some there are some assignments specifically to help folks who don't have that orientation. Think about how do you map something that is so non linear? How do you bring those insights together in a way that then you can select, Okay, this is the direction I'm going to move, this is this is the next step for me in my process. Yeah, again, using my own example at to avoid the risk of being like preachy, I can go back to my own experience it there was a reconciliation that happened. I really learned this about myself as I was observing my own meta cognition around writing my book creative calling. And that's part of the reason, as I was doing this exercise following red. It brought me back there and everything became very, very clear, but it there was a little dialogue that went on and it was almost with an authoritarian sort of principle voice in my head which was saying, but essentially making an argument. How do you put this to use, how do you then organize these ideas and thoughts? And, you know, whether that's the patriarchy or the rules that we were raised with as a kid, or more likely all of our educational experiences, which is you have to read this book from start to finish and then you go watch this movie and then you do all these things in different classes with different sets of people and basically never are these things sort of co combined or interlaced? And if so it just gets too messy, we can't talk about it. But what I realized is that that was developing a framework for me that was developing, sort of understanding the scope of ideas that were out there, the abstract connections that were between them and for me that was the that was the the genocide cua the thing that I didn't know was going to be there, How, you know, stoicism was related to leadership was related to niche was, you know, perfectly relevant for the topic that I wanted to write on for, you know, how to sit down and just do the work, how to be disciplined as a creator. So it mostly was a mapping exercise for me and this fight that I had with myself that I would think I would have at other schools, but probably not at the school, which is Yeah, but what what good is all of this? And so I'm wondering if you could make the argument for us, why at the d school this is not just tolerated, but celebrated and also why this sounds crazy to anyone who, you know, maybe got their education in a very linear fashion, which is probably most of us. Yeah, So, I mean, you touched on a couple of things I'd love to return to. One is the idea of, like, the different modes of learning were often focusing on observing and listening, but much less on doing and trying. And so part of part of the like we have these underdeveloped muscles as learners, right? The much more active engaged, experimental, Like, well, what if I do just walk this way and see this thing, right? And and that framework that that legitimization of those other modes can be incredibly powerful. And I in writing this, one of my colleagues offered this great analogy um that wound up in one of the chapters in the book around, like if you went to the gym and you only worked out the right side of your body, like your, you know, your right arm would be super built and your left arm would be puny in comparison. And essentially, like, that's what we're in most education. You're right, that's what we're doing. We're really emphasizing a certain number of skills and we're leaving out this is the more active engagement, experimental. Let me try something and see what happens when I when, when I put something new into the world or or try a little test of something. So I think there's a piece of that that we all need. The encouragement to recognize like that framework is actually rooted in really solid thinking and research and more of education needs to embrace all of those different ways of learning, not just the ones that are kind of like currently embedded in most education. I think that would serve us very well. You sound like one of those people who's like you found your way to a type of learning that works for you and being able to name, that gives you power to say like, yeah, this is this is something real, this is how I do it. And actually you naming it then helps other people realize like, oh, that's a way that I could also operate. Um, don't I think the the other piece that you're describing is just this, um, you know, the embrace of the lateral right? Like why is it worthwhile not to have a prescribed linear approach when we're trying to solve open ended challenges, whether it's in a design class or at home or at work or in society at large? And the very simple reason is like, if you start out with an idea for what you're producing and you're working on something that is open ended or that needs a new and creative solution, you're just unlikely to be coming up with something that's truly new and innovative, it's your all the early ideas that you have are clouded by, you know, whether it's the patriarchy, whether it's your own biases, whether it's how you grew up, whether it's absolutely well intentioned, best thinking about how you might serve a community that hasn't actually yet taken the community's needs and history into account. So recognizing that when you start in that posture of not knowing you have to go wide first, and that's what allows you to actually find those more powerful reframing moments where you're like, oh, I thought the problem was efficiency in this hospital. But it turns out there's this other problem that we could really serve people's families. The students didn't frame their project from the kind of medical standpoint, but actually they've created something that is having profound medical impact in terms of reducing those complications. So that that's the space that we all need that permission to go wide before we converge the design. We talk a lot about flaring and focusing or diverging and converging. And what I find super interesting is that that is really hard, that the flaring part that diverging part is very easy to do with a group of people and the converging part is really hard, I think in a lot of ways. The flip is true if you're working on your own, it's harder to go broad if you're just in your own mind. Right. And but it's a lot easier to make decisions because it's a committee of one. So a lot of the skills that I think people need to build is especially when you're really, if you're working on your own, you need help diverging and if you're working on your group, you need help converging off often. And and some of the assignments that I that I included in the book are specifically aimed at helping with those. All right. This is some jiu jitsu here. This is like superficial jiu jitsu. But now you talked about uh, I used my own example and you've talked about sort of the conceptual example and I'm wondering if you could use this on yourself, reveal for us your process for writing your latest book. What was your process? You started out presumably having done these things myself years ago and you had an idea or there was a collection of ideas and how did it end up in this package that we are buying on amazon right now as people, as people are listening to this. Well, we have 2-3 more hours. Right? I just wanted to check. No, I'm totally kidding. So, so I mean there's there's a couple. I feel like there was like a a preparation stage where I didn't even know I was writing a book. But in fact there are moments when I was working out these ideas that happened way before the container for the ideas was known. So I started with a with a small group of colleagues like we just went on a few totally self created writing retreats and we just started trying to figure out what do I have to say? Like what comes out when I create the space and the time, what's what's and then share and give feedback and kind of do a little bit of work shopping. So that was one piece of it. Um I had also like ideas that I knew were really important um like there's one maybe we'll get to in a minute around what's called productive struggle. I have been thinking about that for a long time, but I just hadn't found the right vehicle for like really sitting down doing all the research behind it, really thinking about where that connected with everything else that we're that we're teaching and doing. And so that was this little independent thread that was like floating out in my brain that needed a place to land. I'll also say in a really important part of my own process during those early retreats was um locating my inner critic. So my inner critic is super mean to me. She is very concerned with being completely original and also fact checking and she wants that to happen to be guaranteed before I've written a word. So I'll be I'll be thinking about something and she'll get concerned that like I can't back something up with like a randomized controlled trial and then all of a sudden she'll get in the way. So what I realized is like, oh she cares about important things, but I need to like write down what her objections are and then put them away. And that process which I know many other writers share of this sort of like I think Anne Lamott describes this as like little mice that she puts in a jar on a shelf. Like you have to like somehow figure out how do you um not pretend those voices aren't there, but just figure out how to pay just the right amount of attention at the right point in your process. That was totally fast. I didn't know, I didn't know how loud she was, but she was like, she got in my way until I figure out how to deal with her. And then the other thing I'll say is that because I am a really visual thinker, I had to put all of the different parts and pieces and ideas that I had all the different assignments, all the different essay ideas, the different illustration concept, all of those pieces. I had to externalize them. So I put them all on sticky notes. I have a I have a hallway between my kitchen and my bedroom and because I did, I did a lot of this during the pandemic, I was this was my workspace and I just took that whole wall and basically mapped out the book and just, you know, it's like, really? And then I had then I had something that I could that was movable, that was rearrange herbal. And that allowed me to think about what is the organizing principle, like what is the structure, how our readers going to want to engage with this different material. And I'll say like I had this really big insight which was like, I don't I want it to be something you could read from front to back, but you never have to write. I want the reader to be able to engage with the amount of material and the content that is right for them. So it's like if you're somebody who really wants that language to be thinking about what's your own learning process, there is a section for you. You can find that if you're someone who's like, hey, I want some skill development around building and making things and how do I test that and how do I ask for feedback in the right way. There's a section in there for you and I don't want that to be dictated by my sensibility of what you might need. I really wanted that to be something the reader could arrive at. And part of that mapping process and that visualization on the wall helped me see different ways that I could do that. I love, unlike working and finding out how people finished whatever project they were. Thank you for sharing that little more personal maybe than you thought you were getting into. But this, you know, writing about creativity and creating, we have this in common myself with my book period of calling and you with yours, did you find that you got stuck at all? Because you were writing about creativity? There were times where I'm like, wait a minute I'm supposed to be I'm supposed to have all the answers here because I'm writing about it hoping to uncork other people, but I'm stuck. Were there any problems? Any times you talk about obviously productive struggle, which in case you're looking at the book, I've got a pre copy here and it's on page two oh seven, uh, I think two of 7 to 8 rather, but productive struggle. Did you struggle at all when you wrote your book? Especially given that was about creating a book? Yeah, I definitely struggled. I mean, I think, you know, so so productive struggle comes from uh actually comes from math education. Um, and before you say anything, my mom is a math teacher. So I have a huge admiration for deep love and affinity for people who teach math. It's like could not be more important, but it's not, you know, it's not something that a lot of people find easy and then there's like the whole dialogue we have of like math is hard and then people think math is hard and so some some really interesting research is happening in Math education around the reality? That when you first struggle and have a hard time doing something, trying a new a new technique and mask you are actually much more likely to be able to transfer that knowledge to future problems and to retain it for longer periods of time. So it's more fundamental way of learning. And and I think the same thing is true in creative work where if it's a struggle, like you're actually stretching, you're actually growing and learning to recognize those moments and actually be like, okay, if I'm struggling, I am working on something that is worthy of my creative talents, right? It's actually the thing that's going to set me up for the next hard, harder thing that I'm going to attempt to do. So I think, you know, for me, productive struggle is this like massive the important mindset shift around like what to do when you are struggling? I struggled. Um I struggled in one place because we teach in this very in person collaborative way and we're asking our students to try things out even before they know whether like why they're trying something out and we have the ability to orchestrate sort of this, this dance almost that kind of unfolds when something is on the page. It doesn't have that kind of like so much of that human kind of like, hey, I'm going to model this, you're going to try it out, then we're going to debrief together, why is this important? And I really wanted the emotion and the energy that happens every day with our students at the school to come to come alive. So for me that was a big area of like, can I, can I faithfully, can I do this content justice and give the reader a real sense that like the work of creative work is emotional, right? There are highs and lows, there are times when you're going to feel really challenged and struggling and times when you're going to feel elated and both of those are really important. They tell you important things about your own, your own self and your own process and how you work or don't work well with others. So I wanted that that layer, the emotional content to really come through and that was, that was a challenge. That was, that was one place that I was, I'm worried about, fascinating. I want to read a uh opening paragraph if I may from um that productive struggle part, the first time I heard that a feeling of gloom might be a normal part of creative work, I was incredibly depressed about what I was currently producing. It was a project focused on irrigation tools for small plot farmers in Myanmar and a week before the final presentation, I was having a full blown crisis of confidence compared to the needs of farmers who are working for our solution or redesigning, thereby reducing the cost of water pump seemed inconsequential. A far more experienced designer named Nicole Kahn was mentoring me, seeing my dejected attitude, she told me bluntly, I know exactly what you're feeling. I called the trough of despair and every designer I know relates to this feeling. So I love how you start out because I think so many times we as creators are, people identify as creators, we get, you know, that inner critic um the, the perception of a lack of progress, you know, underscores or access an anchor to um what we feel like is is something that's while you talked about here depressed about what you're producing. So what's the most without having to read the book because it's in there. But what's the most effective or the most simple prescription you might give based on your experience can hear, you ought to read if you're listening or watching page to a weight of of creative, extra curious people. So what's the, what's the simple, if you could give someone a piece of advice who has is feeling the gloom or the depression about what they are currently producing. I mean, the simplest advice is also really hard, which is show your work to someone else and that's exactly what happened in that, in that passage that you were reading when I shared what was going on with me to Nicole, she just like punctured that bubble. She helped me understand that was really normal. But then also she reviewed the work and she gave me good feedback. And I think a lot of times when we're feeling nervous about the quality of the work, that's when we like hold on to it most tightly. It's like, well, if no one ever sees it then no one can not like it, right? Like, and that's like you have to push past that. And one thing I'll say is like, that's just not easy. It's just something that you get to when you see over and over the benefit of doing that and how it hurts a little and it helps a lot often. And again, that's that struggle rather that's a productive struggle, right? It's like when you're learning a lot, even if it doesn't feel very good. That's exactly the zone that you want to be in. And for me, especially if I'm early on, I have to show multiple versions, right? Like my ego is too fragile to just be like, here's my baby. Let me tell you all about how wonderful it is and now critique it. That doesn't work for me. So I have to say, hey, I have three different ideas going here are three different options or three different versions. Can you give me some feedback on the range? And then one, they're usually not as I haven't invested my whole heart in any one of them. I'm not like really in love with one and then the two others are just like dummy prototypes to share for feedback, but really like not getting, not waiting until the end to share that work and sharing multiple directions. That's kind of how I can carve out the emotional territory to get ready to expose my unfinished work to others and get and get good feedback. Then you're in a dialogue, then you're not alone in that, you know, like toiling away without any sense of like how is the world going to receive this and the gap between what you are intending to express through your work and what's actually perceived by others. That's how you shrink that gap is by is by showing it to others and seeing what they get from it. And we're just like, I think a lot of times hardwired to hold onto it for too long in our own creative process. The sooner you get it out there and show it, the more you can almost use that person giving you feedback as a collaborator of sorts. Was this new to you, a learned behavior or was it's natural for you. This is um this is a great example of that design vocabulary really helping me out. So I had an early in my early stage of my career, I was like a communications manager for this big project and we were showing a bunch of different work that was going to be like, you know, how do you describe these fundraising goals and how do you, how do you actually can help a wide range of people get spun up about how you might work on this campaign together. And I had this like weird instinct that I should go talk to those people before we finish the materials, but that was not something that I was trained to do. And it helped, it actually helped us understand and then design the materials more effectively. I wish I'd known to do that multiple times throughout my work. Then when I started taking classes at the D school, I realized like, oh there's a real, there's rigor around what this process could look like and this has now become so core to human centered design. Like it's probably not news to most of your audience, but it's really powerful to share that unfinished work, get feedback early and do that throughout. You can also help you with like that de biasing process where you're showing it to people who are really different than you, who have a different background, different life experience. And that is um one of those things that I did learn formally at the D school that I'm super grateful for. Well you also you build, you know, tribe along the way that you just, you're, you're being mentored by Nicole and specifically started sharing with her and you got value out of that relationship whether she thought she was mentoring you in the classic sense Or you just end up sort of bringing along um people uh you know, along your journey. And they can get emotionally connected and invested. And it can help inspire you or can in turn be inspired. I just when I you know, listen, I was listening to you say that just conjured up so much of the the collaborative nature of you know, nothing despite your name being on the book. How many people were involved? Yeah. I mean, yeah, interviewed over 100 people and faculty and designers who've been teaching at the D school for years. Kind of the question that we asked was like, what's your favorite assignment that you've ever taught that you've ever created? Or what's the assignment where you've seen the most profound transformation with students. And so it wasn't ever about like, you know, what's the sort of methodical process that we're trying to express? It was really about capturing that intensity of learning. Um that can happen when you're when you're when you're open to it. But can I ask you a question? Oh yeah. I'm curious like, well, do you have a Nicole Like who is the person in your in your practice when you're working on? Whether it's photography or anything else that you're you're showing that kind of unfinished work to and getting that guidance from mm hmm I like to think how do I operate? Because it's so it's sort of hard. It's become um So ingrained in my process. I think I have a harem of people, of friends in each different discipline in which I feel like I operate. So in reading in writing my book for example where I think I'm a proficient writer. Not my natural, more visual but I enjoy writing and I think it's an effective way of communicating ideas. So I shared the earliest work with my friends who I think are incredible, incredible writers with Renee Brown or tim Farriss Seth Godin and you know, I feel very lucky to have to call those people who are of the best writers of our time in my little But that is that is a community that I have cultivated mostly unknowingly just because I like their ideas who they are represent what they represent and maybe are overlapping Venn diagrams. But And I think of it an entirely different group that if I've got some entrepreneurial struggles or if I'm raising money or if I'm managing um you know, a project around creative live. There's a completely different set of, of creators and entrepreneurs that I might go to. So uh that's one of the reasons I was sort of leaning into this idea of community, the role that other people have played even though it's your name on the book that so many people come together to help make anyone thing successful. And most people because they see a your name on the book or your name in Lights or the director's name on the film that it was somehow a solo act. And I think you, you know, you were just scared how many people you interviewed in order to create your book. It's nothing as a solo act really. Um, so you know, that's my, um, strategy is to have, you know, a field of experts almost like an advisor and unofficial, definitely unofficial. I don't advocate like formalizing any of this, but people that I feel have developed a rapport with where I can come to them with challenges and to, to do exactly what you're sharing. And for people out there, like what Sarah is preaching now is this process of sharing your work. Let's go back to Austin Cleon has been on the show many times like this idea of sharing your work as a, you know, you get ideas, you get um, the lens of other people. You know, usually if you can have these people have more experience than you do, then you're getting the real, the real juice. Um, I don't know if that was where you're aiming to take the question, but what would you, you know, what's your analysis of my answer? I mean, I think you've found your way to the a version of exactly what, what I think works for many people. And the thing I keep hearing you say is like report these are people you actually have a real relationship with that, that trust allows you to be vulnerable to share, share writing. That is excellent. But that you may not yet know is excellent because it hasn't gone through that, you know that treatment um you know, or or a problem that neither one of you, you or your trusted advisor knows the answer to like a business strategy question, but that you can it's like you can feel okay both of you being in the not knowing space together. And I feel like that I mean at the core of that is trust and that I think because if we think about creativity as something that you do by yourself as a solo practitioner with all that mythology around it, we're missing that piece of like it's this deep interpersonal relational practice that at times, even though like it may result in a piece of quote solo work. It is this collaboration behind the scenes and I think that's I mean it's a really beautiful description of how humans can relate to each other and and make make our work better together. All right. Uh I've contributed to your survey having done so many of those interviews. I love the title of your book. It's to me you talked about having thousands of titles and you know, anchoring a little bit around learning, but this idea of creative acts, not just for people, but for curious people. So following question is what role did that play in the title and if we can if you are not overwhelmed by the question, what role does curiosity play in? You know, our search for for who we want to be or become or or just in your work. I mean to me, curiosity is just so linked to learning, like real learning happens when you are curious about something. And so the more we can kind of like raise that up and celebrate that as as uh and it also doesn't imply you already are knowing, right? It really says I'm about to go on this on this journey and I'm open and I'm curious and I'm going to get filled up throughout that journey. My curiosity is going to be stated. And or partially at least, um so to me it has all this like the implication is like it's a starting point, not the end point. And I think that that is what I was trying to express. And then I also really I really want this book to be for anyone regardless if you've ever heard of the D school, regardless if you see yourself as a designer. In fact, in a lot of ways I wrote this book for people who don't yet see themselves as designers but who are curious and who want to tackle hard challenges and who want to exercise their creative skills. And so I just I didn't I wanted to create the door is open, right? Please walk through this door. Like I hope everyone sees themselves as a as a curious person, but I know that not everyone already sees themselves as a creative person. And then I'm sort of backing my way to the front end of the title. But then Creative Act is like it's the action, right? It's not just the idea, it's the expression of the idea. It's the it's the daring and the bravery to show that unfinished work to try to make a crummy prototype to write that first draft and then actually to try to get it out in the world. And that same bravery is like, you know, in every one of these assignments in the book, it's like you just have to be willing to try something a little bit different just once. Right, Follow that color red around your neighborhood. Something interesting is going to happen, right? But it's a little unconventional. So there is this sort of like posture that you have to lean into your you're leaning forward, you're acting. And I mean that's the that's the the thing that we all need right now, right? We have to act our way forward. There isn't, there isn't a script for the times that we're living in and we cannot just continue our kind of routine behaviors. The context is changing so rapidly. So we have to act and we have to learn from our actions and then we have to quickly course correct and then we have to act again so much in the title. Right? Creative huge concept, curious, massive concept. And as you said, the this core to True Learning. I didn't understand what it meant. I understand like to learn something for a test in school, but the first time, you know, there's something that you're truly passionate about, learn to bake a pie or two read a balance sheet of a business or you know, when you're actually doing maybe doing that thing that I talked about, where you're watching videos and reading about it and searching something on the internet. And it just, it seemed to, you know, something just beautiful emerged. And then underscoring it all with action again at the title, having written a few titles and try to help other people with some others. I just think it's this absolutely spectacular book. And so I would like to, there's a uh in my researching for our conversation today, there were a number of, you know, if extracting what people might use this book for. So I wanted to read a couple of those share a couple and then, um, ask you a question about two of them. So, some of the things that this book has the power to do, see things in a new way, help people work well with others makes sense of insights, which I thought was especially powerful, tell a compelling story. We are, you know, wired for story, work toward equity and slow down and focus. So, I want to focus on Double Anton. I would like to focus on the last two and we'll cover them in in that order. What do you mean when you say this book can help us work toward equity and by your book, I'm saying, you know, this is your work, this is in many ways, this is a piece of you and I understand you being concerned and helping people work toward equity. What do you mean? So I think that one of the exciting shifts that is happening in design right now is the recognition that when you create something and you put it in the world, your design is not just the thing you put in the world, but it's the things that happened as a result, it is a sense, a greater sense of responsibility for what we put in the world and the ripples that happen as a consequence. And you know, in in tech for example, we're seeing all kinds of instances where there's these incredibly powerful, exciting emerging technologies ai synthetic biology Blockchain and they're having lots of unpredictable effects because of the nature of that technology and what we are really thinking deeply about as design educators. And I'm hearing this a lot from folks who are practicing designers is like how do we show up when we're putting things in the world that have those longer tail effects that we can't always predict that there's there's some real open questions there, but just the idea that design work is not just what you make, but also what happens as a consequence. That is a really important conversation happening in design and technology as well. I love that an example that was shared with me recently was the concept of a curb cut. So what was once thought as part of the, the americans with disabilities act that allowed people with wheelchairs to go up a curb at an intersection. So because of that act we had to allocate enough dollars to cut a certain number of curbs in a certain number of cities and in doing that, what the designers of this both philosophical and the people who actually acting out in the field long behold cut curbs were great for people who were walking with walkers or people who had difficulty lifting their legs or baby strollers or bikes and skateboards and scooters and all these alternative methods of transportation. And again, this idea that with if we widen the aperture of who we can, you know, invites to the party, how much better the party actually can be as so inspired by that. And when I was reading the bits in the book about equity, just it's a, it's such a powerful concept. Let's do the other one. Now, this idea of slowing down and focusing. So you know, it's no secret that, you know, Silicon Valley is known for the kind of move fast and break things idea. And I think there is a part of the way that we practice in design that has that, that that does help people move into action like from reflection into action. We literally call that a bias toward action and the idea as we were talking about that like hey you should try small experiments, you should actually see what happens when you put your work out in the world. That is so valuable because it gets people like moving forward in a way that when you're producing something new, you literally don't know what's going to happen until you try that small experiments, you could think about it forever. But unless you move into action, nothing will actually manifest. On the other hand, if you only are in that mode of bias toward action, you are missing the other half of the equation which is slowing down which is patience and you know the dream that you went on that is an exercise in patience, right? You don't know what the outcome is going to be. You set aside the special time, you're walking in this very intentional way and paying attention to the world in a different approach and moments like and I'll link it to the equity conversation like the one there's a fantastic assignment in the book called the Futures Wheel and the Futures Wheel which I learned from a futurist and designer named lisa K Solomon but has its roots actually in the seventies um is this way of thinking several degrees ahead in time. So what's that going to be? What are all the possible implications of the work that I'm doing right now? Like those curb cuts or like use, oh, I've designed this new algorithm that's going to help me do X, Y or Z. Well, what could happen as a result well and then you get to the next layer, all of those nodes are an opportunity for you to ask yourself what could happen as a result of all of those changes. Then you go to a third degree and actually people are like pretty good about thinking about what the first degree implications might be. But this is a structure but not so good at thinking even further into the future. So this is a just beautifully structured way to have that imagination about what the future might look like as a result of your work. So it's that, but you need some patients to do that right? You need to say, okay, before I rushed this to market, let me take the time and think about that broader, that broader impact that I'm trying to create, What could the future look like? What's my preferred future? How is the work that I'm doing related to that and which which direction do I want to take my project or my work as a result. And of course if you're concerned about equity in any sense in terms of social equity in terms of racial equity, doing that kind of a practice with a broad and diverse group of people helps you spot all of those blind spots that you might have where you're overlooking what the consequences might be for a group of people who are who are not like yourself and have a different a different lived experience. Sarah, thank you so much for being on the show for writing about what I think is the most important thing. And you said that we opened the show with it right? Why now? And creativity and cultivating um the muscles of what you write about are more important now than ever before. So thank you so much. Congrats on the book again, for those who have been listening and watching creative acts for curious people how to think create and lead in unconventional ways out september 21. Uh this group, the people who pay attention to the show are great at buying books to support authors. So please uh support Sarah in her work, get a copy now and whether it's at your local bookstore or one of the big box stores. Uh And again, thank you so much for being in the show. Where would you direct people other than the book, which it's my job to help them understand where to go, get that anywhere. You could steer them to see more about your work or would it be the D school or what would what would your recommendation or ask of the community be? Yeah, I would love to get more folks headed over to the D school site. We have a lot of really cool projects that are featured there. So if you're looking to figure out well, what can design do, like how are people stretching design in all of these interesting ways. There's lots of great stories and examples there. And I'll also say we provide a lot of educational opportunities for people who are not enrolled at stanford as students. So if you're working in Higher ed, if you're working in the social sector, if you're working in a corporate environment, like we think learning as I've hopefully made clear happens at all stages of life. And so, you know, if you're interested in in the kinds of experiences that are that are featured in this book, but you want a taste of the kind of the live version, then come check us out and that's uh yeah, that's D school dot stanford dot e D U. Awesome sarah stein Greenberg, thank you so much for being on the show. Congrats on the book, you've got a bunch of fans and allies over here on the show and I'm looking forward to um seeing where this work, your next work. Um we'll take you and we'll take the world. Thanks for being on the show. Thanks so much. Chase. Yeah. Mhm

Class Description

There's a common misconception that artists have a monopoly on creativity...But the very act of making waves - no matter the career - is a creative one. The Chase Jarvis Live Show is an exploration of creativity, self-discovery, entrepreneurship, hard-earned lessons, and so much more. Chase sits down with the world's top creators, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders and unpacks actionable, valuable insights to help you live your dreams in career, hobby, and life.


It’s an obvious truism but something often neglected, but design is everything. It’s literally in every man-made thing we make, use, or celebrate. According to today’s guest, the act of design and creativity can benefit everyone, whether they see themselves as creative or not. Design is a process of free ideation, the overcoming of challenges and the presentation of clever solutions.

Sarah Stein Greenberg is Executive Director of the at Stanford (aka the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design), which brings in designers and creatives to explore what design brings to global industries. She’s also the author of the intriguing new book Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create and Lead in Unconventional Ways.

Sarah cites her early discovery of the freedom of Lego construction, together with her father’s carpentry practise, as twin inspirations for her own creativity. We talked about design as a language and creativity extending beyond the narrow realms of “art”.

She gives the example of students tasked with improving patient throughput at a busy hospital. Their novel improvement, based upon observation, was to design a program of health education for the families nervously waiting for their relatives’ discharge. This oblique intervention significantly reduced the rate of patient readmission. Design can be an adventure and a revelation.

Among the highlights:

  • How navigating uncertainty requires an open attitude to creativity.
  • The importance of “meta-learning” (learning HOW to learn).
  • The value of recognizing one’s own bias and assumptions.
  • Strategies for exploring serendipitous discovery and ideas mapping.
  • The difference between diverging and converging, and how they are both necessary parts of the creative process.
  • How to respond proportionately to constructive criticism.
  • Struggle as a sign that productive learning is occurring.
  • How to overcome creative blockages.