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Chicago Ideas Week 2012: A Tale of 4 Labs and Your Creative Muse

I spent much of my CIW 2012 Week right in the lab – no, these were not the terrible 4-hour chem labs that cloaked entire Tuesday afternoons over my first-year at UVa – instead, I spent 90-minute power brainstorm sessions sans white coat with a lot of markers, post-its, legos and play dough. Not a Bunsen burner in sight.

Each of the labs I attended had the following elements: a brief tour of the agency brainstorm space, a 4-step brainstorming process, user-based storytelling with hands-on prototyping and a team challenge for the day.  Below is a mini round-up of my experiences from each stop:

Comparing winter commute journeys on the inspiration wall at gravitytank


Team Challenge – Improve the morning commute

Ideation Principles – Creating things at the right fidelity helps to visualize the right experiences in real life – stories start to come alive when you can put them into someone’s hand. You want to facilitate a conversation on how something is constructed, held and utilized to maximize people’s ability to relate to the concept.

Brainstorm Technique Takeaway – Use white models to talk through initial user journeys and storyboards.

Farmhouse by Leo Burnette 

Team Challenge – Re-invent the humble rolling pin

Ideation Principles – Look at things from the product, strategy and story you want to create.  Each of these elements informs the other, while being initially chaotic and messy.  Lines should start to blur as you move through the elements.  Make sure to focus on a specific audience and a core problem that needs to be solved.

Brainstorm Technique Takeaway – Rotate teams through the three stations in 20-minute increments to quickly capture initial concepts.

The ‘Exact Dough’ brainstorm team (L-R): Christina Gace, Michelle Batten, Amanda Britt, Connor Cole, Diane and Daniel Jacobsen show their reinvention of the rolling pin for the perfectionist baker.


#IDEOMake Learn challenge netted scores of ideas to reinvent indoor recess for CPS


Team Challenge – Re-invent indoor recess for Chicago Public Schools

Ideation Principles – Be inspired by many sources, start to make/build ideas, share with others and iterate.  Encourage wild thoughts and go for quantity during the early stages of the ideation process.

Brainstorm Technique Takeaway – Organize sub-components of the challenge topic for teams to brainstorm against, categorize the ideas and cross-share amongst teams. Filter out the top ones and go into a make-a-thon.


Plotting the user experience map for Chicagoans winter transit commute.

Draft fcb

Team Challenge – Improve the winter commute via Chicago Public Transit

Ideation Principles – Combine insights through experiential mapping with game-storming thinking to solve problems creatively.  Then make it – must be simple, universal, engaging and testable.

Brainstorm Technique Takeaway – Source user insights across people, places, things and emotions.



Big thanks to each of these agencies for opening up their pads and providing the inspiration, materials and time along with opportunity to solve meaningful problems affecting Chicagoans.

I ended my week at the talk sponsored by Starcom MediaVest on the Creative Process: Stop Waiting for the Muse, which featured a mix of artists and entrepreneurs across acting, development, photography and music all discussing the organic process behind each of their creative experiences.  A few bits that jumped out from the afternoon conversation:

Dexter Bullard, DePaul Graduate Acting – Ideas often start as a physical impulse – being in the senses can lead to a proliferation of ideas that blend well together.

Karen Tekhoff, Disney and Kiel Murray, Pixar – Good storytelling means making a believable world for your characters to live out their experiences in a way that is relatable.  Generally, best to have and pitch three ideas – don’t get married to your ‘idea baby’.

Brian Bowen Smith – You have five minutes to get into someone’s head and communicate – simple objects you can riff on are often the best starting point.

Brandon Boyd, Incubus – Everyone gets a voice and a chance to express their perspective – leading the creative process well means recognizing talent outside yourself.

Scott Belsky, Behance – Creativity x Organization leads to Impact.  Overcoming the reactionary workflow so people can go after what matters proactively is essential.  Don’t become burdened by consensus – be careful of whittling concepts down to the unremarkable, lowest common denominator.

The common theme for the afternoon: Gain confidence from doubt.  As more people tell you that you are crazy, either you are or you’re really on to something – so keep going with your gut and press on.

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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