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Inspired Ideas Often Begin as a Box of Crazy

The Design Thinking Exercise That Helps Teams Tackle Difficult Challenges

There’s a scene in the 1995 film “Apollo 13” where Gene Kranz, the NASA flight director played by Ed Harris, is informed that an earlier explosion on the Moon-bound spacecraft has damaged a filter, putting the crew in imminent danger of carbon dioxide poisoning.

Kranz calmly challenges his Earth-based team to solve the problem and quips, “Well, I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole, rapidly.” The scene cuts to a group of engineers gathered around a table. After dumping a box of random materials that the astronauts would also have access to onto a table, the lead engineer explains, “We gotta find a way to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that.”

“Well, I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole, rapidly.”

 

As the presenting sponsor for Cincinnati Design Week 2017, we at Openfield Creative wanted to kick things off by capturing both the stress and the spirit of problem-solving conveyed in that scene in the form of a fun, fast-paced experience called Box of Crazy: A Design-Thinking Game.

Area designers with different levels of expertise and experience gathered to play.

They were randomly assigned to a team representing one of 15 divisions of the fictional company, Crazy Corporation. Each team was provided a file box full of arbitrary items — a paintbrush, toy army men and a plastic funnel in one; neoprene tubing, cheap sunglasses, and soda straws in another — but that didn’t matter. Neither did it matter that half way into the game, Crazy Corp’s engineering team insisted that their shiny new high-tech material (aka aluminum foil) be incorporated into the design or, that their marketing team introduced a specific market segment to focus on in the eleventh hour.

What mattered is that over the course of two hours, each team enthusiastically tackled the challenge of creating a prototype.

They felt how inspiration comes from unlikely sources when biases are checked at the door, how progress comes in fits and spurts, and the challenge of concisely representing their creation to company decision makers — in this case, a panel of judges. They did this with limited resources, a tight timeline and last-minute pivots.

Sound familiar?

This is the reality of today’s hyper-active business environment where a bias toward action is favored over perfection. Refinement is always possible, but rapid-prototyping increases the number of options to consider. And options make it possible to focus; to choose what to refine further through testing and vetting.  

Three products were judged to be the best but, in the end, all participants were winners. They left the event with a new-found confidence in their ability to tackle seemingly intractable problems.    

Whether they realized it or not, those NASA scientists and engineers used the same design-thinking principles to solve the CO2 problem that the participants used in the game and we employ at Openfield Creative. While not life-threatening, we deal with challenges that do affect company bottom lines.

Our team of strategists and designers embrace “Box of Crazy” every day. We get our clients engaged with their organizational knowledge through Design Thinking. We do conventional and unconventional exercises from customer journey mapping to LEGO Serious Play to weeklong curated learning journeys where we take a group of clients to another city to have firsthand experiences and discussions with leading thinkers and practitioners.

 

Design Thinking is our superpower.

Design Thinking is our superpower. We exercise it regularly by applying Agile UX principles. This enables us to unbox and sort through client challenges to first prototype and test, and then refine to deliver exceptional digital products and user experiences that are both pragmatic and elegant.