Here’s to the Imagineers!

Here’s to the Imagineers!

I was invited to speak at the second Think Different Dundee which took place last night at Drouthy’s, Dundee. It was a great evening with a broad range of disciplines, minds and sensibilities in the room – all with a desire to think differently. What follows is a (slightly) more articulate, (hugely) less shambolic interpretation of what I said…
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I’m a little concerned about this talk of mini-TED talks. The first TED talk I ever saw was the JJ Abrams talk which he starts by explaining how he was asked to do the talk. When asked by Abrams what he should talk about the rep said “don’t worry about it. Just be profound”. So then Chris asked me to do this and I said “Great, what should I talk about?” “It’s up to you,” was the reply, “We’re aiming for 4/5 minute TED talks.” In my head that sounded like, “It’s up to you. Just be profound.And in a quarter of the time.” So, though I’m told you should never make apologies before you speak publicly, I’m going to make two: 1) this won’t be profound, and 2) nor will it be 5 mins.
So, as this is Think Different I thought I would bring along a copy of an original Apple Think Different advert from 1998. Along with the campaign was a piece of text written by Apples ad agency  – I’m only going to read the first section but I thought it would be appropriate: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.
As a title I suppose Crazy Ones is fine for an advertising campaign but not so good on your ID badge! And so it got me thinking about a title that I’ve had my eye on for some time now, Imagineer. Imagineer. If you’ve heard the title before it’s probably because of the Disney Imagineers who come up with interactive stuff, the animatronics and theme park rides for the Magic Kingdom. But I discovered recently that while Disney have used the title for some time they didn’t originate it. Imagineer was defined originally in the 1940’s by an aluminium (or Aluminum) company in the USA called Alcoa. They even put out a statement at the time to explain it:

For a long time we’ve sought a word to describe what we all work at hard here at Alcoa… IMAGINEERING is the word… Imagineering is letting your imagination soar, and then engineering it down to earth.

Letting your imagination soar, and then engineering it down to earth. So, to Alcoa Imagineering is a combination of imagination and engineering. Imagination is key, obviously… and hopefully everyone arrived with their imagination intact. But what about Engineering? Alcoa were using the noun and thinking about traditional engineering (which is fine), but we could also read it in the sense of the verb, to skilfully arrange for (something) to happen. I like the sound of that. So, this combination of imagination and engineering is a powerful concept… but… I think we could also throw in something else, and if we’re going to tell an interesting story then we need three things anyway, right..??!
So lets throw in Pioneering, as in, forging a new path. imagineering venn diagram I think that when you bring those three things together – Imagination, skilfully arranging for (something) to happen, while forging a new path – you have something pretty amazing. And hopefully this is summarises the intent behind Think Different Dundee. So I thought that we should have a think about what this could look like, because these ideas in isolation are not new, these ways of thinking have always been there…
A big part of what excites my imagination these days is how widely attainable technology is to us and the possibilities and opportunities that that accessibility presents us with. A lot of my freelance work is spent teaching digital media you young people (of all ages) – and typically I use mobile devices for filmmaking and animation. What we can achieve on an iPad today is amazing. I could have made the same films 20 years ago but to take to edit and share on the go would have taken a Volvo Estate to carry all of the kit – the VHS top-loaders, huge cameras, a generator for the power source…! You just wouldn’t do it. But today it’s in our hands – for most of us it’s in our pocket. So it’s accessible! And that’s exciting to me. It fires my imagination.
To apply skilful arrangement to products or services is valid and amazing in itself, … but another aspect to it, what I value most, is when the person I work for enables or facilitates the environment that allows this kind of thinking – a space that allows me to think different. That’s the kind of skilful arrangement that I really appreciate. A big reason for working freelance is that I can try to enable that for myself – but I’ve also been lucky enough to experience in my day job as well. Again, this thinking has always been there – did you know that the Post-It note came about because the company 3M allowed employees 10-15% of their work time to develop their own ideas? They had to be pitched to the company at some point but the space was there to experiment. So recognising the need for this way of working and enabling it is a huge responsibility for leaders. Roselinde Torres in her TED talk, What it takes to be a great leader, says “Great leaders are not head-down. They see around corners, shaping their future, not just reacting to it.” So if you’re in such a position, take the opportunity to thinking differently and enable an imagineer.
I work in public services. More than ever public services need imagineers. There are fewer resources but we need more out of them. And so the smallest change can make all the difference. My enthusiasm for Service Design comes from the difference that I have seen it make when people for a wide range of disciplines come together and this video is a great illustration of what the service design approach can do.
Let’s ignore the fact that the unfortunate chap is a bit drunk… the fence and the space on the other side represent the service, but hit’s not clear to our hero how to access it. Rather than enabling him it restricting him. It makes no sense to him. This is what happens when public services don’t think about the people who are using them – it’s frustrating. But what I’ve seen service design achieve, through observation and investigation (in this case it’s the camera man) is identify the people who have discovered a work around (the young boy). Looking at how people use services is a great start to fixing them in a more substantial way but it means getting in a ground level, asking questions, and putting ourselves in their shoes. I hope that tonight you will leave excited and imaginative. I hope that you will be better prepared to make things happen, skilfully. I hope that you will be inspired to forge new paths. Here’s to the Imagineers.
Thank you for listening (reading). TED Talks to look out: JJ Abrams,  Roselinde Torres
See also: Why I am NOT a service designer

Steve Jobs talking about the ‘Think Different’ campaign:

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  • Pingback:Back to the Present – Imagineering the Future | Jon Gill
    Posted at 22:54h, 27 October Reply

    […] talk I delivered to ThinkDifferently Dundee. It was based around the concept of Imagineers… go here for the original post or read the new, much shorter version that I’ve written for my LinkedIn […]

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