I am an architect and designer by training. I am also a parent. Not necessarily in that order though. These worlds collide all the time, often joyously merging and the boundaries blurring. I started seeing links between my design philosophy and thinking and my parenting strategy and realised that there are even more overlaps and links between these two roles. I am trained to be a designer, but I am not trained to be a parent, which is quite a scary prospect. I apply design thinking to develop creatively - inspired products and artwork. It is this creative thinking that has been the best grounding for me as a parent.
Here are the top 5 ways that applying creative thinking principles has helped me as a parent:
1. Empathise: Creative thinking is a human-centered process. In my creative role, I focus on the user and the experience. As a parent, this focus is as critical, if not even more so. Empathy is an innate quality in humans, but it is so difficult to apply it to our day to day decision-making. We are trained subconsciously to apply judgements and form opinions based on our own values and experiences. The empathetic approach requires me to abandon my ego, be humble, listen and try and view the world from my child’s perspective, and understand it by letting go of my preconceived notions of how things are or ought to be.
2. Imagine: This approach has also required me to expand my imagination, and have a heightened awareness of my children’s goals and motivations that are sometimes only obvious through a subtle nuance of tone or facial expression. It is about seeing as much with my mind, as with my eyes. As a designer and an artist, we are taught to observe and notice detail, and this often comes in quite handy when it comes to my children, at times to their despair!
3. Iterate: Creative thinking is fundamentally a cyclical, non-linear process. Iterative design accounts for unpredictable user behaviour and patterns, by adapting the approach at any stage of the process, and again the focus has to be on the user. Much like the design process, that involves various stages to make the design better and more refined, and more suitable to the audience and the user, I have come to the conclusion that parenting is an iterative process too. There is no hard and fast rule, and one shoe does not fit all, and so I have decided to ditch the textbooks, and instead focus on the process itself.
4. Be Flexible: The key is to be flexible, and adapt the solution to the problem, so to speak, rather than force a solution. I have made peace with parenting being a completely unpredictable process too, with no fixed set of rules, and no textbook able to tell me what would suit my child. I see parenting as an incremental process, where progress can be made in tiny steps every day, and continuous evaluation helps me refine my parenting strategies and change them to suit the needs of the child and my own, finding a solution that fits us as a family. Each child is unique, each parent is unique too, and so there is no blueprint for what should, or would work.
5. Experience: As a parent, it is so easy to be focussed on the schedules and chores, while juggling work and life, that we often forget to experience. We do not sit back and watch, we do not have time reflect, or to enjoy the process. Design thinking taught me to focus on the process and on the experience of the user. But it took me a long time to extend this to my experience as a parent. Do we reflect on our experience as a parent, and what we are gaining from it? Or, even consider the experience of the child, and how they perceive the reality? I asked my eldest about this one day, and her response really put it into focus that the most she remembers from growing up was the fun, crazy things that we did together, while what I recalled and remembered (and perhaps felt guilty about the most) was the untidy living room, the piles of books on the dining table, and the unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink, as I struggled to cope with work and life as a single parent. It put into perspective for me that it is imperative to take time out to play, and to reflect on the level of engagement because that is so completely different from our level of commitment.
Childhood is shaped by rich experiences, and memory is shaped by these experiences too. Psychologists have termed this a state of ‘flow’ where we are engaged and concentrated on the process itself. How we achieve this, is again an iterative process in itself.
Creative thinking encourages innovation and flexibility, as well as focus on human knowledge and perspective. It makes complete sense to me to apply these principles to parenting, with the focus on collective knowledge and expertise in the family, making parenting a collaborative process between the parent and the child, and solving problems through positive reinforcement, collaboration, risk taking and innovation.