3 Questions: Denise Jacobs Discusses Creativity in Software Development


Denise Jacobs, who will deliver the keynote address at next week’s EclipseCon in San Francisco, believes software developers are “some of the most creative people around.”  Jacobs should know: She began working as web front-end designer in 1997, is author of several books on coding and web design, and is now founder and Chief Creativity Evangelist at The Creative Dose, a creativity and innovation collective whose clients range from startups to the Fortune 100.

“I was invited to give the opening keynote at EclipseCon because I’m familiar with the unique culture of the industry and challenges to productive creativity that people in tech experience,” she says. Jacobs gave OpenText a preview of some points she wants to make in her talk, titled Infinite Possibilities.

OpenText:  You describe yourself as a creativity evangelist. Talk about the role of creativity in software development and some simple – but perhaps surprising – ways developers can inject creativity into their work and careers.

Jacobs:  Yes, I do describe myself as a creativity evangelist! By that I mean I spread the good word on creativity and help people reconnect with their inner creative spark. I actually love speaking to developers about creativity because I feel that developers are some of the most creative people out there – but they have been brainwashed into thinking that they are only logical and analytical. To be able to take what one person describes that they want to happen on a computer or through a device, then visualize how that would work, and then write code to make it actually happen – if that isn’t creative, I don’t know what is!

I think the main problem that most people – not just developers – have with creativity is that they are not familiar with their own creative arc. In other words, when they do get into the creative zone, they often don’t know why it happened or how they did it. So I give people tools to become more aware of their process and suggest a methodology to help them get them back into the zone.

Being aware of the neuroscience of creativity is key to this methodology. Knowing that your brain will be more creative when it is in a certain state is a great way to start to actively put yourself in a more creative state. Alpha brainwave mode has been shown to be a place where thoughts connect more easily and ideas come together. Easy ways to get into alpha are walking, laying down, taking showers and deep breathing.

OpenText: Talk about the intersection of data and creativity. How can data – about ourselves, our work, our environment, and so on – support creativity? Also, can creativity help us better analyze, understand, and interpret data?

Jacobs: Gathering data on ourselves is really about raising self-awareness. Being aware of when we’re stuck and getting to why, as well as when we’re in flow and why, supports creativity tremendously. As you suggested, a large part of the full picture is the work that we’re doing and where we are when being in either of these states. The more you understand your own creativity arc and all of the elements that either contribute to or detract from it, the better you’ll be able to leverage that data to be in better control of your creative process and output.

Creativity is invaluable for analyzing, understand, and interpreting data because making connections between things that are seemingly unrelated is where profound insights lie. Changing perspective, using divergent thinking, and asking “What if … ?” all are the parts of the creative process and are the foundations for innovation.

OpenText: Open source software is inherently a collaborative endeavor. How can we all be better collaborators  – particularly when we work in virtual groups and may never meet in person?

Jacobs:  Ironically, studies have shown that virtual teams generate roughly twice as many ideas working separately than teams who meet face to face. Regardless, one of the most critical aspects of creative collaboration is the structure of the interaction when people suggest or share their ideas. An easy way to provide an encouraging environment is through using an improv technique called “plussing.” With plussing, you have the following objectives:

  • Start where you are
  • Always accept what is given
  • Build upon someone else’s idea using the phrase “Yes, and …”
  • Always strive to make your team members look good

Using these methods will contribute greatly towards helping a team improve their collaboration and cohesion.



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