Through a hands-on workshop with adidas’ MakerLab, we – the Digital Analytics team at adidas – experienced how disrupting our normal brainstorming routine opened doors to exciting new ways to visualize data, taking from the principles of design.

If you’re like me, you grew up thinking that you were more right- or left-brained and thus more prone to creativity or logical thinking; but the study of the brain has come a long way, poking and prodding most literally into the puzzle of the mind.

We now know that the right and left hemispheres are not separate organs working in isolation, with each only controlling certain capabilities. In fact, creativity and rational thinking are whole-brained activities and the left brain is far from uncreative.

It can be counter-intuitive when you’re in need of a good solution, but sometimes you need to take a break, open up and do something completely different. This then fuels the right inspiration and motivation to solve the problem. Even the great Albert Einstein frequently interrupted his brainstorming sessions on his theories to play a few chords on the piano before jumping back into his thinking with fresh motivation and energy.

Decoding data into stories

I started taking stock of our own practices in the Analytics department with this in mind. Our team is responsible for visualizing and communicating data and our end goal is to make data extremely relatable and compelling so our colleagues can action on it.

Like in many other departments, our daily focus is usually on what we work on, but not enough on how we work.
My colleague Chris Lewis and I started to plan how we could step away, prime our minds, stop thinking in the same ways… and start enlisting our whole brain, left and right side, and everything in-between.

What if, instead of putting on our analytics caps, we became storytellers, with learnings take from the principles of design? How could we break out of the four corners of the PowerPoint slide and capitalize on physical objects and intense brainstorming?

Group of adidas employees in the Makerlab | Principles of Design
Bring in the support of creative outsiders to explore new opportunities

We decided to partner up with the MakerLab crew, as we knew they would help us turn our routine on its head. Over the course of multiple meetings, we created a fresh workshop format using design thinking principles, tailored to analysts or anyone with the role of reporting and generating data-driven insights.

Our entire team had a lot of fun and gained some important learnings about increasing creativity through the sometimes-daunting process of being faced with questions and scenarios we’re not used to dealing with:

1. Obsess over your audience

We split the workshop participants into two groups, and the challenge for each of these groups was to create a story from randomly chosen data sets in a limited amount of time.

To spice it up and further incentivize the creativity, we set up a “Shark Tank” scenario in which the participants were informed that three wealthy investors (who were actually other MakerLab colleagues) would visit us in the last phase and decide which option they’d like to invest in.

Our team members became hungry for information: Who are these investors? What do they like and dislike? What did they invest in already? While asking these questions in the workshop, we realized that in our day-to-day work we rarely ask these questions about our own stakeholders. Instead we go directly into report creation mode based on our own assumptions.

We realized that when creating a report, presentation or visualization it’s key to understand the audience. Think of yourself as a problem solver, understand what is important to them and use their desires to refine your content.

2. Build your story arc

With PowerPoint banned, we were supplied with a variety of physical materials such as Lego, Play-Doh and other crafty trinkets living in the MakerLab.

adidas employees crafting in the adidas Markelab | Principles of Design
Get your hands dirty. You don’t have to stick to PowerPoint to visual your goals.

Every shape and object we wanted to use for storytelling cost us time. Without the possibility of “copy-pasting” or creating infinite options from the same PowerPoint slide, we realized quickly that we needed to think the story through early on to efficiently create the visualization with the given tools.

A lot of the time, we provide facts and data without any narrative, which makes our content easily forgettable. This exercise gave us an understanding that the story is the most important element. We can then use visuals and design to enhance the story and make it impactful.

Beginning – Set Up
A scenario between the status quo and your audience goal.

Middle – Build
What happened? What is the problem? And finally – the solution?

End – Pay Off
Actions on the decision you are trying to influence.

Find out how to be more creative with our guide to creativity

click here

3. Expand the collaboration zone

These workshops brought team members together who would not normally work together. After reviewing our audience and creating the storyline, we were all surprised with each other’s knowledge and ideas, which wasn’t just good for team-building, it also inspired future cross-team collaborations that are still happening to this day.

People crafting in the adidas Makerlab in Herzogenaurach | Principles of Design
Creative spaces can help you bring new ideas to life

Integrating a fresh point of view into your report creation process should happen at the very beginning to help you understand your stakeholder and successfully set up the main story/structure of the insights you want to share.

The way we see the world now

People came into the workshop with the idea that creativity is only for design teams. They walked out energized by design process knowledge, brains fully exercised on both sides of the hemisphere and confident they could provide creative solutions.

Following the success of our workshop with the MakerLab, we’ve hosted further data-storytelling and design-thinking trainings and we continue to foster a culture of curiosity.

If you’re interested in doing something similar, I’d encourage you to consider the following:

  • Reflect frequently – question yourself: Is this the best way of doing this, why am I doing this and who am I doing this for?
  • Be confident in your ability to create. Creativity is like a muscle! Everybody has it. The more you use it, the better you become at it.
  • Seek inspiration. Be open-minded, and don’t shy away from learning from different people and situations unfamiliar to you. We can attest – this is the secret to cooking up those amazing and unexpected creative collaborative collisions!

Have you explored more creative ways of tackling your day-to-day work? Feel free to share more details in the comments below.

4 COMMENTS

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by Nina Weihrauch 12.04.2019
Hi Tiankai,
thanks for sharing your learnings and hands-on tips that everyone can use when brainstorming/ generating ideas to solve a problem.
I recently had the honor to facilitate a 2-day workshop with the ambitious goal to replace a 3-week-long process with two days of focused collaboration, brainstorming and teamwork. We brought all the right people in one room, prepared a thought-through agenda and let them work in the closest way possible. We did not only drive a great outcome, but we also saved 1.000 of e-mails, short meetings and check-ins.
I found a lot of elements from your article in our workshop setup as well. Going out of our normal job routines and trying new and disruptive ways of generating results is really worth it from my POV.

I encourage everyone to think about ways to increase quality and speed of outcomes by bringing all important people in one room and let them work towards a clear goal without any distractions.

Best,

Nina
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by Tiankai Nina Weihrauch 16.04.2019
Hey Nina,

thank you very much for your comment and encouragement! Your workshop sounds like a great exercise and is definitely something I would like to learn more about - maybe you could help us apply this to our Analytics ways of working too!

I think everybody mostly agrees that teamwork could be more efficient or productive, but usually the excuse is that there is just not enough time to think about improvement. I hope this article and your comment encourages people to dedicate time as a team to break their routine and optimise them - the return of investment (of time) is huge!

All the best,
Tiankai
Reply
by Susan Wheeler 14.04.2019
I go hiking a lot and when I do I come up with the craziest ideas! Nature has a way of breaking through road blocks, boosting moods and sparking creativity! Next time your stuck, go for a walk :)
Reply
by Tiankai Feng Susan Wheeler 18.04.2019
Great idea - and the weather is perfect now for it, too! I should connect with our BU Outdoor colleagues more, as well, for inspiration. Enjoy the easter holidays!
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