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Jumpstart Innovation with Adventurous Thinking

Lesson 9 of 37

What is the Negative Space Lens?

Sally Dominguez

Jumpstart Innovation with Adventurous Thinking

Sally Dominguez

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Lesson Info

9. What is the Negative Space Lens?

Lesson Info

What is the Negative Space Lens?

This is exciting, we are gonna do the first Lens, Negative Space, and in terms of the innovation quadrant, Negative Space is useful in all four quadrants, So Negative Space is a big one, it's also, I find, the easiest to understand. So again, I start with the easy Lens (chuckles), but also the one that's immediately applicable to most stuff that you're doing. So, what's interesting about the Negative Space Lens, is we're not looking at the problem, or the issue, or the thing. We're looking at everything that is not. It's quite zen, really. So basically, we're looking at the stuff that surrounds whatever the main things is. That being the Positive Space, and we're looking for opportunities to Optimize and deliver a better experience. So if for instance, you think of a FedEx truck, the FedEx logo. Many people don't see the arrow in the word, FedEx. Plenty of people do. It's possibly the most awarded piece of Negative Space design because... and it actually came about when the graphic des...

igner was literally, just compressing the font. Compressed it in and went, "Ah! There's an arrow in the FedEx", which is so cool because what it does, is suggest subliminally, process and progress. Right? So the next time you see a FedEx van, take a look for the arrow and you'll see what I'm talking about with Negative Space. Negative Space is not the Positive, which will be the word, FedEx. But, the Negative, which is the Space behind. So for instance, if we look at these pavers, the Positive Space would be the paver themselves. They're the things that we walk on, they're the things that are what basically, this paving is about. It's the ability to walk from A to B without falling down in the mud and without hitting the grass, right? So pavers are the Positive. Negative Space is everything that is not the Positive. So Negative Space in this example, is what's growing in between and this would be considered Optimized Negative Space because what is not the paver is filled with something that brings us visual joy and texture, and happiness. And purifies the air and does all sorts of other things as well as offering a haven to earthworms and bees. So the idea here is, that we've looked for the Negative Space, which in this case, is literally the Physical Space and the earth between the pavers. And we've come up with a way to Optimize it. The Negative Space basically, is looking for the other. Looking for what's there. The interval between events or the Physical interval and Space between. It's actually quite a hard concept to grasp. For instance, if we're looking around this room and saying that the Positive Space is the Space occupied by me and you all, on the chairs, and the crew, and the Negative Space is everything else. It's all of the Space around us, it's a little bit of Space underneath the seats. It's the Space around low and around the back of my screen but it also, if the door were open, would flow out. So the tricky thing with Negative Space is it's massive unless we contain it. The key to being able to Optimize Negative Space, is to give ourselves a container to work with that is small. So I'm gonna show you an example to illustrate all the aspects. Because Negative Space is not just Physical. It's two dimensional, three dimensional, and Emotional, and time. Is that four dimensional? I'm not sure. So one of my favorite examples of Negative Space is a roof on a high rise building and the way a green roof works with a roof. So if we consider that what we're looking at here is a high rise building and specifically, we're gonna look at the roof. Mkay? So Positive Space is the roof and normally the roof on a high rise has the elevator overrun, it has air conditioning ducts. It's painted white because that reflects the heat which keeps the building cooler, but in being painted white, it's also reflecting light into the faces of all the surrounding buildings. It's not normally a trafficable thing. There's a lot of wind up there, it's normally a bit miserable, it might be ash felt with some pebbles on it, it's a bit manky. Not a pretty thing. So if you're in a building that's taller than this building, you're looking down on what's basically a waste land painted white. So if we're looking for the Negative Space, we're looking for... Okay. The roof is doing what it needed to do. It's covering the building. But, here is a Space that could be Optimized, and how can we Optimize it? If we put a roof... If we put vegetation on the top of that Space, we immediately have a massive Optimization. We have amenity for the people inside the building. We have completely reduced the glare to the surrounding buildings. We've given the surrounding buildings something beautiful to look at. But we've also actually, reduced the heat of that whole area because that reflected light is no longer happening. We're now absorbing it with vegetation. We're purifying the air with vegetation. We can probably grow stuff and we can definitely filter the gray water from the building, using the right sort of vegetation. So we've given... Taken this bare, really nasty, utilitarian rooftop and we've transformed it into something that is giving amenity to the people in the building, to the services of the building itself because it's basically gonna reduce. It's gonna insulate so it's gonna reduce the amount of heat or cooling the building needs. It's gonna reduce the glare to the other building. It's gonna give us a great place to be and it's gonna give us a great place to look down on to. So green roof is an awesome example of Optimizing Physical Negative Space. You can argue that it's also, giving the people in the building a better sense about the building. It's giving a beautiful place to be, so Negative plat Space also seeks to Optimize experience. And that's a really important part of it because Negative Space is a super useful tool for customer service. We can Optimize Physical Space, so on a page, a Negative Space is the first go to, to web designers or graphic design people. They're always interested in what the Space around their main message is doing. You know. Do you have a lot of white Space, which was the trend up until I think, recently. Do you try and fill that in? Do you try and M.C. Escher it, where you have an exact balance between the black and the white. You know. What are you doing? But then it goes into three dimensional Space and how else are we using the Space around us and then into Relationships and Amenity. Like how can we Optimize the experience? And a classic one for that is call centers. So you know now, when we call a call center, they always say "Is there anything else I can help you with?", well that actually trails back to around 2011, when American Express did a little look at their call centers and according to the accountants, the call centers were processing a huge number of calls. And that was good. Success. But according to the customers, the call center was a massive fail because they were very dissatisfied by being shunted off the line. They weren't happy about being like rushed through a conversation and they felt like they weren't getting everything they'd called for. There is a Negative Space opportunity. In that case, the call is the Positive, but what didn't happen on the call, is the Negative Space opportunity. So these people weren't happy. They felt like they weren't being given time. And so, American Express rethought the caller experience and decided that in fact, instead of trying to get people off the line, they will keep people on the line and ensure that they'd ask everything that they needed to know. So the reason people say, "Can I help you with anything else?", is to make sure that you end that experience thinking, "Nope. I'm good. I've asked everything I needed to ask". You were given the opportunity. So perhaps it's less calls but only just, but the customer experience is massively enhanced. Similarly when you go to a doctor's surgery. You know now in many, you get whipped off by the nurse fairly quickly into your wait. Where she does some vitals and stuff, and then plops you into a secondary room to wait for the doctor. That actually originated with Mayo Clinic and the jack and jill rooms. The idea that people's waiting can be a Physical time but it is usually the Emotional time that they will judge a business by. If they are waiting for ages either on the line or in person in a place, the Negative Space opportunity is to transform that waiting experience and make them thinking, "I've been waiting too long" into "What's next? I'm really anticipating this, it's great" and so breaking that experience up by having the nurse perform the preliminaries or by moving you into a different room, and or, is actually managing your time expectations. So that you have some feeling of progress. That is Negative Space Optimization. So Negative Space is all about asking what people didn't get. You know, what they were looking for that they didn't expect, how long they felt they were waiting. In addition to, "What Physical Space do we have?" So the Sharing Economy, of course, is totally based on Optimizing Negative Space. You know, you have a car. When are you not using it? So do you need a car? Or can we share? You have a bed. When are you not using it? When you're not using it, it's a Negative Space potential. So now you have Airbnb or Couchsurfing, whichever way you want to go. Tool libraries, this whole concept, repair cafes, the idea of people sharing resources is a way of Optimizing, not only the resource itself, the Space when it's not used, the time that's not used, but also people's experience. You know. So now that you can say, "Well you can come together in this cafe to repair that thing". It's actually giving them a better experience in the repair sequence. You know? It's a pretty interesting thing. Food trucks are a classic example because if you think of the first Negative Space in our area would be a car park. A car park a certain points in the day, and at certain points of the week, is chock-a-blocked full of cars. But there are moments where it's desolate and windswept and empty. And any large Space can be completely transformed by bringing in a food truck. At the same time, a food truck is completely Optimized because it can move from place to place. While as a restaurant, Negative Space would be the time that nobody's there. The time that there is no crowd. There is no audience. The time that we're not cooking, perhaps. So a food truck enables you to take it to the people. To actually follow the crowd around and Optimize that supply chain. But also can transform other Negative Spaces, other community areas into bustling marketplaces. Anyone that's been down to Fort Mason on a Friday Night, would know and our Off the Grid is incredible. It's an incredible community that assembles thousands of people down there, eating, and then voom. It's gone and it's back to cars. So this is the idea of Negative Space, that we take what's there that we're not currently using, whether it's Physical or whether it's something that's missing Emotionally, or whether it's an amount of time, and we choose to Optimize it. There is a key to determining Negative Space, and this is the key. So on your little bit of paper, I want you to think about if I say to you, "I would like you to draw the Negative Space around that X". What do you immediately do? Have a go. If you're at home, have a go. At work, have a go. Because this is key. Most people start by doing this. Right? We draw the outline of the X because that's sort of easy. Well that's sort of an X. You know what I'm saying. But what we've done is we've gone straight to the Positive. What we actually should have done if we were only looking at the Negative Space, would be to sort of color in from the side, color in and then some here in the middle. It's messy, right? All the stuff that's not the X, I would need to be coloring in. You see how messy that can be? That's not an easy thing to do because where do we start? Do we go off the page? Do we go off into the room? The Negative Space is everywhere that is not that actual black cross. So, the key to Negative Space, is this. Find yourself a boundary. Once I have a boundary, I can now color in basically the Negative Space of my X. Now, I think I've done my X in the wrong direction. (laughs) But do you see how much easier it makes defining the Negative Space if you have a boundary? So the first thing you want do, whether it's a scenario or Physical object, a product, is to drop a three dimensional boundary around that thing. In my head, I normally do a sphere. I like to work in spheres, so I normally put everything in a bubble and then I look at all the Physical Space inside that bubble. But if we're looking at a scenario, we also need to give ourselves a time constraint. Like I usually use 24 hours. We're gonna try this in a minute, to give you a go. So what is really crucial to Negative Space is understanding your boundary. And once you've worked out how to Optimize your Negative Space within that boundary, then you just expanded a bit. You look around and you can expand the context. But unless you start small, it's a slippery thing and it escapes you really quickly. So if you have an object, then you drop a box around it. Right? And you just consider the Space around that thing. What I find is the most useful analogy, in terms of Negative Space, is to think of yourself really really healthy. So you've gone in to a doctor's waiting room. You are super super healthy. You're about to get a medical check up because you're about to go on a massive holiday. (cheering) So you are vibrating health, but it's flu season and you're gonna go into this doctor's surgery and you're gonna sit in a full room of super sick people. So you might have someone throwing up in a waste bin, you might have a baby screaming. This thing is packed. It's taking ages. Think about that. Think about all the emotions you're feeling in there. So in terms of Negative Space, we have the Physical Space between you and all the sick people. We have the Emotional Space between you and all the sick people. Because you know they feel closer than they actually are. You can feel their germs coming towards you and so the Negative Space there, is the way you feel, the closeness you feel. You want them further away, but they feel like they're too close to you. Negative Space opportunity. Then we have the time you wait. The real time you wait, lets say it's ten minutes. The time you feel like you wait. I don't know. Two hours, maybe? You feel like it's taking forever, even if they've given you forms to fill out, which is another way of occupying your Negative Space time. You're still in this room with these super sick people. So, again. A Negative Space. We have the actual time something has taken that we can work with and we have the Emotional time it feels like it's taking, that we need to be aware of. Because both of these can be Optimized to improve value and expectation. Right? And we have that Emotional Space. So Physical Space, Measurable time but just as important as those Measurable reality things, is the Emotional Space of whatever it is that you're looking at. The people using these things. And that is where we can actually add incredible value on the experience side of things. So Negative Space is immediately obvious for its usefulness in product design. But, it has really valuable use in terms of service delivery and customer satisfaction. So it's kinda cool thing to use in all sorts of spots. Now, you could possibly over Optimize something. Maybe it is. Maybe you don't want every tiny little spot filled. But this is a really good tool to look at something you may already have and understand how you can improve it. And in doing so, you'll move it around that innovation quadrant. So basically it's this. Three ways: Physical, Measurable, and Emotional. And once we've looked at all those Spaces, we then try and push for that five minutes to come up with ways to Optimize. What can we do with those Spaces? Now it's interesting, normally, I'm a super interactive workshop but we don't have room for that. So, what I need to do is for you to experience that activated mindset by trying an activity but we're gonna accelerate it into quick time. What we're about to do is the first time that I ask you to push for five minutes on something that you will immediately think is ridiculous. Now, I've run this workshop. I've run this particular exercise for five years at least. Countless times. And every single time, people tell me it is impossible because as soon as you start looking at Negative Space and going "Oh. How can we improve that?" and you try and bring in disparate things to make your brain pop. Your expert brain will shut you down. So, we haven't tried yet an exercise with a lens but we're about to do it.

Class Description

The rise of design thinking has revolutionized the way we solve problems—helping us open our minds, embrace our imaginations and be more innovative. But what if we could take the design thinking process to an even higher level? What if we could be less reactive and more proactive in our thinking?

Award-winning inventor, journalist, educator and speaker Sally Dominguez created the adventurous thinking methodology to promote an agile mindset, which is necessary for consistently innovative practices. Even the best of us can get stuck in our default “expert” neural pathways. Adventurous thinking helps us get out of those ruts, reignite our curiosity and tap into the underutilized parts of our brains.

This two-day course introduces the Five Lenses—negative space, parkour, thinking sideways, thinking backwards and rethinking—which Sally has used to help some of the biggest corporations, organizations and government agencies throughout the world integrate innovation into their work. By the end, you’ll have the tools you need to transform your thought processes and explore true innovation.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Harness your curiosity to think outside the probable and explore the possible.
  • Use multiple perspectives to achieve a deeper understanding.
  • Experience “bearable discomfort” to force your neural pathways to open up.
  • Disregard small daily failures at home and at work.
  • Get your radical ideas accepted by others.
  • Know what you don’t want and why that’s important.


Ivana Vucinic

This class is truly AMAZING! It is really unique and it got me thinking in new and innovative ways. Very much out of the box thinking! Makes you become courageous, Well done, Sally!!!

Sukey Dominguez

Jumpstart Innovation with Adventurous Thinking exceeded my expectations! Sally brought practical tools that, "lenses" to flip every situation inside out and find the possibilities in every situation. As one who works to lead teams, healthcare providers facing incredible demands to achieve results in population health / ultimately global health and the wellness of business operations, I'm thrilled to have found this course. Design is one thing, taking risk is another. I'm inspired by Sally because she drives energy to see what CAN be in the future. This is a unique class and I look forward to her next offering.