Fighting the Fears That Block Creativity

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tom Kelley and David Kelley for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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What does it take to spark your creativity?

For Doug Dietz, the executive behind GE Healthcare’s magnetic resonance-imaging (MRI) equipment, it was seeing a little girl cry.

He remembers the day vividly. He’d come to a hospital to see one of his machines in action and was initially pleased. The scanner looked beautiful and was functioning well; the technician on duty had no complaints. But just as Dietz was about to leave, he saw a child, clearly distraught, crying and clutching her parents’ hands, terrified at the prospect of entering the MRI suite. When she couldn’t be calmed, an anesthesiologist was summoned. That’s when Dietz learned that hospitals routinely sedate young patients to get them to lie still for the procedure. The realization triggered a personal crisis. “I was so focused on the shiny object, the new features, how clever we’d been, that I missed the big picture,” he recalls. He resolved then and there to improve the MRI experience for pediatric patients.

He first shared his concerns with his boss at GE, who suggested he attend a customer-focused innovation class at Stanford’s Hasso Plassner Institute of Design, or, which is where we met him. Fueled by that experience, Dietz then pulled together a small team of volunteers including childhood learning experts from a children’s museum and child life specialists from a local pediatric hospital to help him think holistically about how kids experienced the MRI technology. Soon, the group developed a prototype of what would later become the Adventure Series of GE scanners. The complex equipment inside the machine remained unchanged, but the outside, indeed the entire MRI room, was transformed with colorful decals suggesting a journey to outer space or a cruise aboard a pirate ship. The team also wrote imaginative scripts for the MRI operators so they could lead their young patients through the story — for example, telling them to listen closely for the moment that the rocket ship would “shift into hyperdrive” just before the machine makes what might otherwise be a scary, loud noise.

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Tom Kelley is the general manager of IDEOand the author of The Ten Faces of Innovation (Currency/Doubleday, 2005). He is an executive fellow at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and at the University of Tokyo. David Kelley is the founder and chairman of IDEO and the founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, where he is the Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering.

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