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Don't Force It: Roam Before You Pave

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I have a story for you...
An architect built a cluster of office buildings around a central green. When construction was completed, the landscape crew asked him where he wanted the sidewalks.
"Just plant the grass solidly between the buildings," was his reply.



By late summer, the new lawn was laced with paths of trodden grass between the buildings. These paths turned in easy curves and were sized according to traffic flow.
In the fall, the architect simply paved the paths. Not only were the paths beautiful, they responded directly to user needs.
I love this story.
I am certain this unconventional approach caused the building owners to think the architect was crazy. Nevertheless, with patience they came to see the brilliance of his approach.
Think about it, are there things you are forcing? Places where you should ease up?

Roam Before You Pave


The lesson for me is "roam before you pave." If sidewalks were immediately installed, they would have had sharp, rigid angles and uniform width similar to every other sidewalk. However, by allowing them to form organically, it put the right-sized path in the right place.
Applying this lessons to business, why not let customers test your prototype product, service, or program before it is fully baked? See how they use it, then modify to best meet their needs.
How about allowing employees to pick the shifts they want to work? Define their job responsibilities? Or create the scope of their benefits plan? Instead of forcing, ask how they would roam, then pave.
As a parent, instead of pushing your kids into a certain career, can you let them first find their own interests? Once they've made "tracks in the grass," then pave with support where it is most needed?
This article is based on an idea from Roger von Oech's Creative Whack Pack. A deck of creative strategy cards "to provoke and inspire your thinking."
The cards are actually chunks Roger has extracted from his book, A Whack On The Side Of The Head: How You Can Be More Creative. I highly recommend the Whack Pack and the book!
Finally, for those of you with iPhones, Roger has just released his "Creative Whack Pack" in iPhone format. (Link opens in iTunes) When you need creative inspiration, power-up your iPhone (or iTouch) and let the ideas flow. It's an excellent application!
I'm sure there are many more ways to apply this lesson. Be aware of when you may be forcing, and see if you can ease up and see what develops.
Image Source: Phil Gyford, Flickr


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Hi there!

I'm Paul Williams... guest writer on Daily Fix and founder of Idea Sandbox.

I'm a professional problem solver. Through brainstorm facilitation I help people create remarkable ideas to grow their business. As one client put it, “Idea Sandbox turns brains into idea machines.”

Prior to launching Idea Sandbox in 2005, I spent 15 years building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company.

I founded Idea Sandbox driven by my passion to help others create remarkable ideas. I blend the skills and lessons I have learned to build a sandbox---an idea sandbox.

You can reach me on Twitter via @IdeaSandbox.

Through Idea Sandbox, I have helped solve challenges, grow brands, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation for companies including: Starbucks Coffee Company, Starbucks Coffee International, Panera Bread Company, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Woodhouse Day Spas, The Microsoft Corporation, and Wells Fargo Mortgage.

I am a writer, speaker, columnist, and brainstormer living just outside Washington DC, in Alexandria, Virginia.

If you like what you've read here, you can find more of my thoughts at my Idea Sandbox blog.

I always welcome comments and reactions to what I've written. I'm on Twitter: @IdeaSandbox

Nice to meet you,


Paul

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Comments

  • by Gareth Cutter Fri Apr 3, 2009 via blog

    I like this philosophy a lot, and the example you've picked out is superb! It's especially apt for territories unknown to businesses. For example, I'm currently trying to find a way to use social media (Twitter in particular) that benefits both our readers by imparting useful information, and our company by generating new visitors. Rather than go in with any preconceptions, and given that I don't know much about how people search and interact on the Twitter platform, I'm just going to try and see how I can contribute by doing what comes naturally. Once again, great post Paul - a good note to end the week on.

  • by Gareth Cutter Fri Apr 3, 2009 via blog

    I like this philosophy a lot, and the example you've picked out is superb! It's especially apt for territories unknown to businesses. For example, I'm currently trying to find a way to use social media (Twitter in particular) that benefits both our readers by imparting useful information, and our company by generating new visitors. Rather than go in with any preconceptions, and given that I don't know much about how people search and interact on the Twitter platform, I'm just going to try and see how I can contribute by doing what comes naturally. Once again, great post Paul - a nice note to end the week on.

  • by Stephen Denny Fri Apr 3, 2009 via blog

    I think this vignette was in Paco Underhill's "Why We Buy," as well.

  • by Jan Richards Fri Apr 3, 2009 via blog

    Excellent post. I love this philosophy and recommendation. It's a compelling way to help people understand quickly about customer- or user-focused design. Here was the opposite circumstance at UC Santa Barbara one day: a rigorous "Don't Walk on the Grass" sign and a walker using his own natural instincts...all in front of the College of Creative Studies: http://budurl.com/3edd

  • by KJ Rodgers Fri Apr 3, 2009 via blog

    I loved the descriptions in the story and its hidden message.

  • by Michael Goodman Fri Apr 3, 2009 via blog

    Neat metaphor. I like it. And I'm sitting here thinking about how it applies to a number of new product concepts being considered by my clients. Thanks.

  • by Paul Williams Sat Apr 4, 2009 via blog

    Gareth - Thanks for your reaction and thoughts. Best wishes on your Twitter strategy! - Paul

  • by Paul Williams Sat Apr 4, 2009 via blog

    Stephen - I'm trying to find the original story, location, and actual architect. It was suggested to me that this story was Frank Gehry... but I haven't been able to find more detail. Also reminds me... I loaned my copy of "Why We Buy" and need to get a new one! Thank you for your comment. - Paul

  • by Paul Williams Sat Apr 4, 2009 via blog

    Jan, Now if that person had found a creative way to take a short-cut across the grass - that would be a different story. Thanks for adding to the conversation. - Paul

  • by Paul Williams Sat Apr 4, 2009 via blog

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, KJ! - Paul

  • by Paul Williams Sat Apr 4, 2009 via blog

    Michael, Thanks for your comments. Sounds like the post sparked additional thought, that's cool. I wish you the best with your product concepts! - Paul

  • by Barbara Phillips Long Sun Apr 5, 2009 via blog

    Colleges have been using the practice of paving (and sometimes removing) paths on quads based on where the foot traffic patterns for some time, perhaps more than a century. I'd say the practice definitely predates Frank Gehry.

  • by Gareth Cutter Mon Apr 6, 2009 via blog

    Thanks, Paul! Actually, I mentioned this post to a landscape architect friend of mine on the weekend and he said these natural paths are called 'Lines of Desire'. It's not the first time he's come across this kind of planning and design process apparently. The more I thought about the name 'Line of Desire', the more appropriate it became for a business setting: how prospective customers want to interact with a company / brand. And it raises an interesting question: what deadweight can companies remove from their advertising and selling processes to make the path to a purchase easier for customers? A bit of a tangent, I know but I thought I'd throw it in here!

  • by Susan Epperson Mon Apr 6, 2009 via blog

    Thank you Paul! I have the Creative Whack Pack at home (at least I think it's at home...haven't peeked at it for years), and I've used that story over and over. And it's a nice reminder for me to find that deck of cards. I think we can get so crazed to check items off of our "to do" list that we don't slow down enough to pay attention to an easy and appropriate alternative. You and Denise Wymore might be sharing some brain waves on your recent postings. http://denisewymore.wordpress.com/2009/04/02/be-here-now-day/ There's something in the air.

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