The architect of the unknown

What are the sources of creative ideas? Can creative process be structured? Connect, listen, entice, and architect are 4 actions to unleash creativity, leading to a new managerial role: the architect of the unknown


“Where good ideas come from?” asked Steven Johnson in his 2010’s book, highlighting that creativity emerges in a culture of diversity. Steven presents Internet as a window to the world that helps us to “connect with the world of diversity, reaching out and exchanging ideas, borrowing and combining other people inches”. Creativity smiles to the connected ones!

“Connecting the dots” is one advice stressed by Steve Jobs in his famous speech at Stanford. By linking different parts of your experience, you can create new concepts: it’s like assembling Lego building blocks to raise a tower, allowing a current of information to pass through, combining and interfacing skills modules: innovation is about knowledge circulation and this is the “reason why” of my ‘modular design’ approach and Rapid Innovation model. Moreover, as experience dots are intrinsic parts of your life, you’re the only one who can make the relevant connections.


Connections clearly rely on your ability to listen. Regularly one has to recharge its ‘listening’ battery. “Present things openly, make them fairly questionable” used to say my HEC teacher. This brings two benefits: open presentations are more convincing as they are available for approriation, and they open the door to contribution.

Good ideas can happen by surprise: you must stay aware. Recent consumer observation about the use of Facebook for sharing views about TV or movies raised unexpected comment: “Well, we don’t use Facebook for this, we prefer to meet and have face to face conversations; one problem is that we forget afterwards: why don’t you set something up for my smartphone that would remind me of the movie I must see?” Capturing people’s context leads you to brief encounter with shooting stars of innovation.


Creativity can be triggered as well. Creativity sesssion, problem solving approach, innovation tournaments, ideas contests: there are many ways to harness people’s creativity. ‘Desin Thinking’ promotes the use of Persona, putting yourself  in the shoes of customers archetypes, and going through your problems, needs, expectations toward product evolution.

Back to the days of strategic and innovation consulting, I partnered with a Synectics team, and I keep a strong memory of the use of Excursion, restating problem in a different ‘world’ according to the following steps:

  1. State and restate the problem – e.g improve customer relationship on a specific line of service
  2. Choose a keyword.
  3. Take the keyword on an excursion into a different world – e.g. Hospital – asking for examples of the keyword in that world.

When you think you have expressed all kinds of ideas, excursion in a different world brings an additonal layer of creativity.

Once all sorts of ideas are expressed, comes usually the time for funneling and selection. One thing I like in the C-K design methodology is the ability to preserve all this fertile ground, and handle it in parallel streams of innovation, not closing gates or killing ideas, but expanding a portfolio of innovative projects. It’s about “clarifying a design strategy, presenting and keeping alive multiple alternatives, identifying actions to go on”.


C-K means structuring creativity, creating continuous innovation process, and generating new ideas in a systematic way: “expanding ideas, giving a different meaning to an object or creating a new object with design properties”.

If innovation involves changing perspective, should we structure as well our innovation team with ‘non-conformists fellows’ and ‘positive deviants’? Is there a role for an ‘architect of the unknown’, someone who would unleash imaginaries, challenging the team along the process with excursive questions starting with “what if ?”.

This personality is “curious, open minded, even different, non conforming, with shifted lens, and using the “Parallax View” – a viewpoint from which you can observe and study something or somebody from a new angle, gaining insights unavailable before” observes Deborah Miss Scofiled (@dscofield).

“Stimulating by provocating” is the mantra of the architect of the unknown as spotted by Martine Agogué in her thesis “Orphan Innovation”.

“The architect of the unknown is a new managerial actor to overcome collective fixation situations of orphan innovation” she states.

The question is: shall we have this skill at early-stage only, during the creativity phase, to unlock “fixation situations”? Or shall we make it a permanent role, as the many obstacles the innovation project will face down the road, will require perpetual creativity, and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking?

My guess is that it is worth exploring the second path, planning timely ‘creative rendez-vous’ during the entire process: sucessful innovation is to melt differentiation and integration.

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