By Katie Tagye, Director, Organizational Design and Development
With the recent news that we should expect to work from home until at least the end of April and that our children will be home as well, I’m guessing I’m not alone in thinking “We’ve got to figure this thing out.”
As director of organizational design and development, I support creative thinking and facilitation of creative problem-solving and design thinking with faculty, staff and administrators at the College. As such, I wanted to deliberately use some of the creative thinking tools with my 10-year-old, Isaiah, to manage the exciting world of #WFHWK (working from home with kids), and to help us to think more creatively together. I hope that some of these ideas will be helpful for those of you #WFHWK too.
Guidelines for creative thinking
A few guidelines can help you understand the benefits of creative thinking. Separating your thinking into generative thinking (diverging) and evaluative thinking (converging) will help you get to creative ideas while making the process enjoyable.
Here are some tips to help with your divergent, generative thinking:
- Suspend judgment;
- Combine and build (Yes, and…);
- See the novel and unusual (creativity requires a new approach);
- Aim for quantity (quantity first, quality later).
“How might we” brainstorming
One of the most powerful tools we can use to brainstorm is to consider how we phrase our challenges in order to inspire creative thinking. Take your stress point and turn it into a problem to be solved, using “How might we…?” “How to…?” or “What are all the ways…?” Then, apply generative thinking to come up with all of the ideas that might help provide a solution to that question.
Here are some questions generated in our house (feel free to add more “How might…?” questions in the comments below and play along at home):
- How might we stay connected with family and friends?
- How to help others while we cannot be physically close?
- What are all the activities we can do when we’re bored?
- How do we make good choices when we start to feel annoyed with each other?
- What are all the ways we can make sure we stay healthy?
- What are all the activities you (meaning my child) might do without my help and without asking permission?
- What are all the things I can do to feel happy?
Make a choice, prototype and test
Creativity isn’t just about coming up with crazy ideas, it’s also about figuring out how to make them work. So, after you’ve generated a bunch of ideas, you have to figure out how to best use them to come up with a prototype so that you can see what works, learn more about the situation and adjust further.
Keep in mind the whole purpose of prototyping is to learn more. So, don’t forget to capture what you are learning.
Here are five lessons we’ve learned so far:
1. Create structure. Not only is it really easy to forget about things like bedtime, screen time or eating fruits or vegetables when everyone is home for an extended period of time, but these are often the things we abandon when we feel anxious in stressful times. However, structure is exactly what we found we needed.
We’re prototyping a daily schedule. Today, it includes meal times, educational engagement, work needs, physical activity, reading and quiet time, family time, and bedtime. Our prototype is not ready for full publication, but we’re learning and working on getting a little better with each day.
A quick note about “educational engagement.” Isaiah’s school has shared some resources, and more will come as teachers move their lessons online. In the meantime, I’ve curated a bunch of free resources from podcasts and audio books to virtual exercise activities and virtual field tips. I’ve put them all on a Pinterest board. There are a ton of resources out there. Choose something, prototype it and please share how it went and what you learned.
2. Communicate with your team. It’s been helpful for me to let my colleagues know when Isaiah is with me. At first, it felt disconcerting or embarrassing to have to say “Excuse me for a minute; I need to help my child with something,” but it’s going to be a necessary balance. My experience is that my work colleagues are also doing their best to balance kids, pets, significant others and the occasional loud bird in the background. So, we’re taking this time to share more of our personal lives with our work colleagues and to laugh together about the interruptions.
In addition to your work team, remember that if you are working from home with kids, you have a home team as well. It’s been helpful to me to signal to Isaiah that I’m about to start a call or a project that is time-bound and to let him know what I need from him. A tip I saw today was to post a sign (we’re using a thumbs up) that will let your home team know whether or not you can be interrupted. Those of you with little kids might need some different tips and tricks. What are you learning from this as you prototype? Please, make sure to share it in the comments below this article.
3. Allow for autonomy. We all need to feel like we have some choice in what we do and how we do it, and our children are no different. With a little guidance (i.e. good convergent thinking), we can help our children identify where they have choice.
The question that helped us the most here was “What are all the activities you can do without my help and without asking permission?” On a call today, I was able to remind my son about this list, and he picked something he could do until I could turn my attention to him.
We also prototyped a new approach to eating during the day after a colleague offered a tip from a friend. In our prototype, I put the foods that could be eaten between breakfast and dinner in one place. Isaiah could choose which foods he wanted to eat and when. This broke from our usual lunchtime schedule, but it has been working really well for us.
4. Take Breaks. Not only can I not sit at my computer for eight hours straight (I couldn’t do that when I went to work on campus), but Isaiah cannot go all day without engaging with me. And I don’t want him to. So, each day, we make a plan for how we will take breaks together. Some days, we take a bike ride together or walk the dog. Today, we played “Just Dance,” a motion-based dancing video game for multiple players. We laughed at each other as we tried some new dance moves, and I got an opportunity to beat Isaiah at one activity (he’s quite the athlete).
In addition to taking breaks together, I’ve learned that I need time on my own. So, each day, I read a non-work, non-outbreak-related article or book. Some days it’s only 10 minutes after Isaiah has gone to bed and before I go to sleep. But I’m learning how helpful it is for my energy level, anxiety level and my brain.
5. Be generous. In a moment of frustration, I turned to my son with imagined steam coming out of my ears. “Are you trying to get my attention in the worst way?” I asked. Then my heart fell. I did exactly what I hadn’t wanted to do. I led with the stress I was feeling.
Brene Brown talks about giving others the “most generous assumption” we can. This practice of cognitive complexity pushes us to be able to imagine the most generous reason or experience of another person. In this moment, I needed to not only be more generous about Isaiah’s behaviors, but mine as well.
So, my last lesson, one which I’ll keep prototyping, is to be generous. Generous with myself, generous with my child and generous with my thinking about this time together. I’m practicing this by doing my best to take a break before I react and to teach Isaiah how to do the same.
For those of you who also live with your significant other, I hope these tips will work in that scenario and that, where they don’t, that you will prototype creative thinking, structure, communication, autonomy, breaks, and generous perspectives to find those that do work for you.
The other day, I heard someone say something about how these moments may be the ones that our children most remember from this part of their lives. And that’s really got me thinking about my attention, where I’m spending it and where I want to be more deliberate in giving it. In the end, we’ll all be able to account for the time we spent at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. What will you have learned about yourself and your family? What will you most remember?
I hope that these tips will help you find things that make sense for you and your family and to remember that we’re #ITT (in this together).