Bringing the Invention Cycle to Design Thinking

Imagination leads to creativity.
Creativity leads to innovation.
Innovation leads to entrepreneurship.
~ Tina Seelig

Engaging in the Design Thinking process is a human-centered approach to creative problem solving. Regardless of what you call the stages of the process, or how you draw the progression, at its core is a belief that people can make the(ir) world a better place by engaging in divergent thinking practices. What is sometimes missing in the implementation of design thinking, especially in the classroom, is an understanding of how ideas develop and take shape. Enter Stanford University Professor Tina Seelig, who teaches a creativity course at Stanford, and her book Creativity Rules. 

1_pVd4Ieg64ETU6a_xzR5lNASeelig’s book focuses on the four components of the Invention Cycle: imagination, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Imagination is envisioning things that do not exist. It requires engagement and the ability to envision alternatives. Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge. Creativity requires motivation and experimentation to address a challenge. Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions through focusing and reframing to generate unique solutions. And Entrepreneurship, which requires persistence and the ability to inspire others, is applying innovation, scaling ideas, and thereby inspiring others’ imagination.

When considering the Invention Cycle, it’s important to understand how the four components build upon each other. As Seelig explains, imagination requires curiosity, engagement, and the ability to conceive of ideas in your mind. Creativity then fills a specific need and are manifest in the world. With creativity, new ideas only need to be new to the creator, and not the world. However, with innovation, the ideas are new to the world, not just the inventor. Therefore, the world must be looked at from a fresh perspective by challenging assumptions, reframing situations, and connecting ideas from disparate disciplines. Once the innovative idea is developed, it is entrepreneurship that brings the unique ideas to scale.

Because Design Thinking is focused on problem solving, and not selling a new product, entrepreneurship is not called out as part of the process, although it does fit in the test/feedback stage. Spencer and Juliani noted in Launch that marketing skills help students learn how to share their work with an authentic audience. Building on that principle. then, entrepreneurial skills teach students how to go beyond simply sharing the work and actually bring an idea to fruition. Seelig explains:

It’s a crime not to teach people to be entrepreneurial. We’re each responsible for building our own lives and for repairing the broader problems of the world. Skills related to innovation and entrepreneurship are the keys to seeing and seizing those opportunities. People should emerge from school with agency, feeling empowered to address the opportunities and challenges that await them.

According to thought leaders, the advances in technology are moving us towards an  imagination economy. This economy is defined as one in which “intuitive and creative thinking create economic value, after logical and rational thinking has been outsourced to other economies.” Looking at the Invention Cycle as a transparent layer atop the Design Thinking process, it becomes even more evident that we do our students a huge disservice if we do not provide meaningful ways for them to develop their imaginative, creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial skills. Like all soft (but critical!) skills, these can be developed and are critical to students (and their teachers), regardless of their career paths.

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