Designer Marijn van der Poll and organisational consultant Roel Wessels are initiating a new course in innovative project management at Holland Innovative. The course is targeted towards organisations wishing to elevate a project to the next level.

One is a designer operating at the heart of the high-tech industry, the other is a physicist who likes to think creatively. Taken together Marijn van der Poll and Roel Wessels somewhat resemble a Chinese yin-yang sign. Both unite within themselves the two extremes of creativity and structure, heart and intellect, the left and the right brain hemisphere. They’ve decided to join forces in order to help companies and organisations improve their innovative projects.

At Holland Innovative, a project management consultancy firm, Van der Poll and Wessels are launching the course Challenged Based Learning in Structured Creative Development, using their shared expertise for innovative project development. The aim of the course is to teach companies and organisations how to be both creative and effective, to diverge and converge, to sprout ideas and take decisions with the goal of elevating their projects to the next level.

Instructors

Marijn van der Poll is partner at design firm vanderPolloffice, strategic advisor at the Dutch Department of Waterworks and Public Works and teaches at the Design Academy Eindhoven.

Roel Wessels is organisational consultant at Holland Innovative, offers training in project management and Agile leadership and coaches specialists mostly at companies in the high-tech industry.

Diverging and converging

“Because changes in society are so constant nowadays processes and methods are very quickly outdated,” says designer Marijn van der Poll. “We’re not going to teach people how to replicate, but we teach them to master a skill so that they can apply it themselves.”

According to Wessels and Van der Poll diverging, or creative thinking and sprouting ideas, fits hand in glove with converging, or taking decisions. Wessels: “In a traditional brainstorm you’re often spending months jotting down ideas on white papers before you start making decisions. But it’s not a matter of which comes first. We try to teach professionals that every day has its moments of divergence and convergence. All these small individual moments put together will help you reach a higher level.”

Based on that philosophy Wessels mentors student teams at the Technical University of Eindhoven and helps them develop their innovative ideas, whether it’s a car built from waste materials or an innovative house driven entirely by renewable energy. “Innovation means taking decisions every millisecond,” Wessels says. “When hosting a brainstorm, for instance, you’ll have to make choices about who you’re going to invite. You’ll want a large scope, but if you invite everybody you’ll probably ruin many great ideas since some people will not see that tiny seed in the ground as something valuable. Therefore personal leadership is crucial, and sometimes you have to dare to eliminate possibilities in order for other opportunities to blossom. When our gardener trims our garden I’m always afraid nothing will ever grow there again. But two months later the garden looks beautiful. So by minimising you create space to make things grow.”

Structure in creativity

Van der Poll does not believe there is any hard border between structure and creativity. Besides having a teaching post at the Design Academy Eindhoven, he also gives workshops to teach people the soft skills of what he calls ‘ideation’, generating and developing ideas. He’s also writing a book about the subject. “Creative thinking is not a talent that only some people have,” he says. “From my workshops, I’ve seen that anybody can do it. I teach people about the workings of their own unique thinking process and how to apply it.”

By adding structure to creativity ideas achieve a trajectory and become effective. Van der Poll: “We have to stop thinking in terms of problem-solving because then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Often you’ll find that you’ve solved the wrong problem. We’re trying to look beyond solutions and aim for results. What does a project require? That’s the perspective an idea offers and that’s how ideas become part of a company process. Projects improve by the constant intermingling of those worlds.” Wessels: “In the end, it’s about getting ideas and achieving results.”

Recycling disposable cups

A term Wessels and Van der Poll often use to describe their way of working is challenged based learning, a method where theories are directly applied to practical reality. Organisations applying for the course will need to bring an existing company project that will be worked on during the course. Through the combined fresh eyes of Wessels and Van der Poll new insights will emerge, that can directly be applied to the project.

Asked for a practical example Van der Poll mentions a project to recycle disposable cups at a festival. “To achieve the recycling end goal you could think of ten different solution trajectories. On a systems level, you could think about how to better separate the cups. On a behavioural level, you want to make sure people don’t throw away the cups. On a product level, you can design the cups so they are less polluting by using different materials or adding a deposit. Those solution trajectories are all separate routes in the prototyping and launching phases of a product, service or campaign. In the end, the question you started with – how to handle the waste stream of disposable cups – has to achieve a result. In other words, the waste stream has to have been diminished. The entire process in between is fluid. Our goal is to help organisations based on this way of thinking and working.

Decisions are not sacred, says Wessels. “In traditional decision-making methods, it is often thought that you cannot recall a decision. But why not? If you get a better idea tomorrow, it would be foolish to ignore it. Say you’re running to the North today, but tomorrow you suddenly realise that it’s much better to run to the South. You’ve really gained something because you received that insight only by first running to the North. So innovation means experimenting and learning, but also daring to fail!”

Discriminate, but not separate

Whereas Van der Poll’s strength lies in the creative thinking process, Wessels has specialised himself in structural and organisational aspects. As the author of the book ‘The Complete Project Manager’ he knows his way around all project management and leadership methods, such as scrum, agile, time management and team management. Wessels: “I don’t really offer a new method, but instead show how all methods coincide, how you can adjust them to your own style and apply them collectively in multidisciplinary teams.”

They supplement each other well. Wessels: “What is unique about Marijn and myself is that we combine those two extremes. We’re great at diverging, but we’re also constantly working on the end result.” The extremes are not in conflict, Wessels says, but in harmony with one another. “You can discriminate the structural aspect from the creative aspect, but you cannot separate them. They’re both parts of the game, every minute.”

More information?

The course Challenged Based Learning in Structured Creative Development will starts mid 2021. For more information or to apply your organisation for the course, please contact Hans Meeske.

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