MiXing Up Our Mindset For Innovation

Wave like a tree. I believe I was in my twenties when someone cued me that this behavior was a sure-fire way to ward off a threatening bee. I have never forgotten that advice and I’ve even passed it down to my children although it has yet to take hold. Their fear stifles them from believing this mantra and its related silly gestures could ever possibly work. Impossible! they say…

The MiXMpls event on October 12 at Brave New Workshop conjured up all sorts of ideas around what’s possible. MiX, or the Minneapolis Idea eXchange, a Minneapolis Downtown Council initiative tied to the MDC’s 2025 Plan, was founded on asking what’s possible. And for the eve of the 12th, we found ourselves asking what’s possible if we move past our fear of the unknown? What’s possible if we put aside our fear of not getting it right?

As Brave New Workshop’s master of engagement John Sweeney (co-author of The Innovative Mindset with Elena Imaretska) kicked off the event with an improvisational exercise related to fear, some of us began to squirm. Oh, this would be painful. In our standing circles of ten, one by one, the first five people were instructed to call out five items in categories of states, countries in Europe, cars, books and values. The remaining five participants had to make up names for new toys and poems they would write.

A collective, visible relief filled the room at John’s announcement of the exercise completion. Then he walked us through the inner workings of the brain throughout the exercise. In a jumbled mess of varied answers that could all be considered "right," he pointed out that we all experienced similar scientific patterns of information retrieval, fear of the unknown and emotional reactions. We were all so predictable.

That should’ve been comforting, right? To a certain degree it was. On the other hand, it was a wake up call to learn or be reminded that despite all this commonality, the largest swing factor in accessing creative ideas and answers is mindset.With that nugget of insight, the evening’s panel of four took the stage. Tom Fisher, Director of the Metropolitan Design Center and author of numerous books including his most recent Designing Our Way to a Better World, kicked off the conversation. It was a conversation about mindset, suggesting that our more mainstream problem-solving approaches might benefit from a design thinking overhaul.

Design thinking is a formal method for practical creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking – starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. The panelists were familiar with design thinking and Fisher’s book and primed (some with props) for conversations around transportation, environment, economy, education and healthcare.

The panelists Peter Frosch, VP of Strategic Partnerships, Greater MSP; Sondra Samuels, President and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone; and Dan Collison, Director of East Town Business Partnership at MDC (Minneapolis Downtown Council); each with a focused interest area, provided varied examples and elements of real world design thinking or the lack thereof.

From MLK’s Beloved Community to East Town’s new park, or lung, as national park designer and landscape architect Olmstead affectionately termed urban parks, conversation flowed. Too quickly it was time to break into groups and give design thinking a run-through at our tables of 8-10. Every table had 30 minutes on their assigned topic area (transportation, environment, economy, education and healthcare) to share ideas, select themes and ideas that rose to the top, and suggest at least one innovative idea that addressed a problem in a unique way.

At the culmination of this exercise, MiX attendees heard viewpoints from 10 different groups on five different topics. The overlap and connectivity in ideas between groups was apparent. Resoundingly, the proposed solutions we heard were focused on the most holistic, emotional, empathetic and grassroots ways to integrate ideas for the most impactful and efficient solutions.

I should just post the Poll Everywhere snippets from the conversation by the audience -– i.e. healthcare: crunches not lunches; education: no passing second grade until every classmate is on board; environment: we are the environment. As a MiX co-chair with Eric Caugh, I’m excited we captured all of it in various ways so we can continue to build on the momentum of MiX by creating actionable tasks to move ideas forward. Eric and I said a few words about the history and future of MiX including a heads-up to look for semi-annual events and ongoing dialogue and work throughout the year.

Then it got silly again. The BNW Improv team, supreme listeners that they are, spewed out a skit of scenes from the roundtable sharing. The highlights: transportation: a technology glitch in a switch over from ski to bike lanes in Minneapolis, and a green car with a rooftop garden; education: a couple sends their second-grade son to Australia for a class and back in a nano-second; environment: a completely self-sufficient environment of one with an apple tree growing, harvesting and nourishing itself, and the good environmental steward watch measuring at level brown.

Profound ideas? Possibly. We closed out with a video on Allan Law, The Sandwich Maker, and made sandwiches on site that night. A reminder that sometimes the simplest, intuitive gestures -- making a sandwich, waving like a tree -- produce the most significant results when done intentionally, collectively and collaboratively.

-- Here’s to mixing up our mindset for the good of Minneapolis!(photos 2-4, Dusty Hoskovec)