Teaching Our Future The Future
I sound like my mother: “Kids these days are just so different than they used to be.” It’s true; they certainly are different, and we should be observing how they’re different in order to learn from them.
Teaching a University of Cincinnati Trend Forecasting class once a week for the past 5 years has been one of the ways I feed my brain. I share with students the practice of ‘sensing today’ in order to predict the trajectory of tomorrow, and it has thrown me a lot of curveballs throughout the years. Constantly being around students has made it obvious to me that sometimes the “older and wiser” professor isn’t always right. Yes, I have the experience and the education—but they’re tapped into a vast amount of information that doesn’t always pass my desk.
Many of the lessons I have learned in the classroom apply daily to my work at Hyperquake. Strategies around research, types of thinking, ways to evolve points of view, and methods for healthy conflict are all lessons that don’t come from textbooks.
DIRECTIONAL VS. ORGANIC RESEARCH
In order to find true patterns of trends, you must practice organic, unbiased research. This involves taking off all blinders and looking across the sociocultural landscape. Twelve years ago, when I was taking this extremely niche and unknown class called Trend Forecasting, organic research was easy. We went to the library and paged through piles of magazines and publications that reported on a multitude of fields, interests, and categories. Thanks to Google, organic research is seemingly impossible to my students today. Their brains are different. Why go to 100 different sources when you can just type what you want to know into a search bar? This has been one of the hardest things to teach a generation of directional researchers who follow and friend the types of thought leaders that they identify with. The answer for my students was to give them the gift of time: time to look at new sources, time to explore beyond their computer and into the world around them. Once they have space to organically explore, the ideas begin to flow.
What I have realized is my clients are very similar to my students when it comes to directional research—they simply don’t have time to digest everything in the cultural zeitgeist. They have piles of work to answer for today; they’re not always able to look toward tomorrow. In order to give our clients the time they need today, it’s our job to look into the zeitgeist and pay attention to trends for them. It’s our job to sense what is going on in the world around us, in order to help shift our clients’ brand trajectories toward a more successful future.
LINEAR VS. SYNTHETIC THINKING
Our brains are wired to notice patterns of familiarity. We can read hundreds of articles from different sources, and our brains will organize them into something that we already know: this is linear thinking. The brain can be more malleable once it’s stretched into an uncomfortable zone, a place where a new type of pattern is formed: this is synthetic thinking. This new approach to thinking can be a frustrating challenge for students because most classes are structured to follow a very linear path and there is typically a formula to success—“If you follow this path, you’ll get an A+.” However, to be successful in a Trend Forecasting class, you must be able to find the provocative thread that connects all of your research together in a forward-thinking way. This can take 3, 4, 5, or more iterations of research synthesis. Forecasting is a practice. It takes patience, the willingness to be wrong a few times, and the ability to let go of ideas that aren’t working. This is where professor turns drill sergeant—do it again, and again, and again, and you will eventually find the most provocative, future-forward, insightful trend.
Every creative team member has been in THAT brainstorm, where someone won’t let go of “that one idea.” It holds the team back from crafting the perfect solution. As a strategy team, we drill the same practice into all of our work. Nothing is perfect until we put our work through a multitude of lenses and layers of synthetic thinking.
CRITIQUES VS. HEALTHY CONFLICT
As a junior in college, creative reviews and critiques can be an emotional experience of joy, spite, elation, disappointment, and your perception of who you are. In a generation where everyone gets a trophy and failure isn’t addressed, these creative critiques have gotten downright hostile at times. As a teacher, the challenge at hand is to evolve and push their work, while not completely turning them off from sharing all of their ideas. I approach every critique as an opportunity to build, not to destruct; yet it’s also not a time to stroke egos or to soften the fact that there is more work to do. A critique is an opportunity for healthy and productive conflict. I have found that the more I listen to them, the more receptive they are to listen and receive feedback from me.
As a creative professional, it is imperative that you are a builder and a critique artist of your co-workers’ work, your clients’ work, and your own work. I am hired to help teach and push students, just as we are hired to evolve and challenge clients. The healthy conflict works as long as everyone is willing to listen and appreciate new angles. It requires a certain amount of vulnerability to be open to critique, but it is a necessity to grow our work, our clients, and ourselves.
Thankfully, I work for a company that encourages us to follow our passions; it enables each Hyperquake team member to bring his or her own unique set of talents to the table. The early Tuesday mornings spent in a tiny room on the 6th floor of DAAP have been invaluable to my growth, both personal and professional.
Photo Credit: Flickr fusion-of-horizons