I am a Prototype

​By Tamara Christensen

Are you creative?
Perhaps the saddest phrase I’ve ever heard uttered in the English language is I’m not creative.
It breaks my heart every time.
Mostly because I know it’s not true.
Or, at least, I know that it doesn’t have to be true.

I can still remember the feeling of defeat when, in 3rd grade, I got back my art project from my teacher and found the lowest grade I had ever received. Admittedly, it was a weird collage that transformed a giant pink construction paper egg into a witch-like woman with an offensively long, pointy nose and beady eyes and stringy spaghetti hair. Ugly as she was, I loved her. She represented two favorite fairy tales combined and I felt so clever when I made her (even if that wasn’t exactly the assignment). But I got a very unsatisfactory grade. And I got much more than that on that day. I got the message loud and clear that I wasn’t quite as clever and creative as I thought I was.

Photo by Mike Fox on Unsplash

The truth is, we are all born creative.
We all have the ability to find, frame and solve problems in novel and useful ways.
A research study conducted by NASA revealed something startling. In kindergarten (between the ages of 5 and 6 years old) 98% of children who take creativity assessments perform at levels that are considered creative genius. Yes, it’s true. Almost all of us start out as creative geniuses.
But by the time we reach adulthood, that percentage has dropped to 2%.
Wait, what?
Yes. Only 2% of adults retain that level of creative genius from childhood.

So what happens?
Well, we go to school. And we spend a lot of time learning the correct answers and we learn to want to give the correct answers so we can get good grades and get ahead. And then we get jobs and stakes are high and mistakes are costly. And this limits our capacity to experiment and creatively explore lots of possible answers, lots of alternatives, because we don’t dare make a mistake or fail (yes, that F word!). This “pursuit of right” eliminates our curiosity about the “potential of wrong”.

So, as we age, we start to go backwards in our creativity. It’s like we are the Benjamin Buttons of creative genius. We are born wise creative gurus and lose it, slowly, as we get older until, in the end, we are imagination infants.

But here’s the amazing thing: it’s never too late to improve your creativity!

Creativity is a learnable skill!
I am not talking about artistic creativity here. Of course we can learn to paint, dance, perform, sculpt, draw, sing, etc. We may even learn how to make beautiful witches out of construction paper eggs. But that’s not the kind of creative expression that I am referring to, it’s not the kind of creativity that most of want to apply in our daily work.
I am talking about the ability to find and frame and solve real problems in ways that are new, unusual and helpful to the people involved. These are skills that we can learn and practice and apply and develop.
Ironically, what it takes to be willing to learn creativity is the very thing that we lose as our creativity diminishes: the courage to fail.

Learning is prototyping.
When designers come up with ideas, they have to represent an idea that’s in their head in such a way that makes it easy for others to see what they are thinking. This is why designers draw and make 3D models of their ideas (i.e. buildings, products, cars, furniture, etc.). Once there is a tangible thing to touch and interact with and talk about, then it’s easier to show that idea to others and learn how to improve it. What works? What doesn’t?
These representations are called prototypes, things that designers build so they can better think through their ideas. And a prototype is never perfect. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a tool to foster learning.

Learning theories like Constructivism and Constructionism point to a connection between what happens with our hands and what happens with our heads, i.e. how we build things out in the world impacts how we build understanding. Humans literally build to think.

Prototyping is about experimenting and trying things out. It’s about building to think. Learning by doing. Taking a chance to make something and see what happens. It’s a willingness to take action and then reflect on what the heck happened, and then take that learning and apply it to the next action.

Designers aren’t the only ones who are prototyping. Anyone who is committed to learning from experiences is prototyping.
Teaching is prototyping
What did I do? So what happened? Now what can I do better next time?
Organizing a conference is prototyping.
Attending a conference is prototyping.
Designing training programs is prototyping.
Even parenting is prototyping! (Thank goodness, because I get to learn to do this better everyday.)

And the beauty of it is this: there is no failing in prototyping. We only fail when we fail to learn.

I am a prototype.
Are you ready to learn to be creative?
If so, then you are ready to be a prototype.

A prototype is a tool for thinking about problems and their solutions. A prototype is evidence that learning is possible.

Being a prototype means you are ready to not be perfect. Ready to try and maybe not succeed, but definitely learn something along the way. It means you are ready try and learn some new creative skills at the conference that just might reconnect you with your creative genius.
(and think of how many people would benefit from that?!!)

I am a prototype means I am ready to learn.

I, Tamara, am a prototype and I am ready to teach you some fun, productive, creative tools that you can continue to experiment with in your own work and life.

I look forward to learning with you all in French Lick soon!