Design thinking: The wisdom of David Kelley

By: Rachel Podnar
Ball State University

Media editors are just as creative as everybody else, according to David Kelley, the founder and director of Stanford’s Institute of Design, also called

Mike Antonucci, the editor of Stanford Magazine, opened the APME/ASNE Editors 3D conference with a conversation with Kelley, who was called “the embodiment of innovation,” by Cincinnati Enquirer editor Peter Bhatia. Kelley shared his insights on design thinking, and how editors can apply it to their newsrooms. 

Here are some key takeaways:

On creativity:  

David Kelley, left, and Mike Antonucci, right.
David Kelley, left, and Mike Antonucci, right.

“You don’t have to teach creativity. Everybody is already wildly creative, they just have these blocks. Editors are just as creative as everybody else. It’s just a matter of unblocking the habits they have.”

And creative confidence:

“Creativity is this way of having a sense of the world and you can accomplish what you set out to do. The way to get to that creative confidence is to have that experience that you are a creative person. People that are secure in their creativity tend to be more inspiring to the people that work for them because it comes from this place of self efficacy, that you really believe you can accomplish what you set out to do. Once you believe that, you are a better leader.”

On $2 billion worth of bad advice:

“Evan comes in my office and he says, ‘I really want to ask you, I’m trying to decide whether to finish my senior year or start this company called SnapChat.’ And I said, ‘Evan you should really stay in school.’ That was like $2 billion worth of bad advice.”

On inventing Snapchat:

“Why aren’t you Evan? You can be Evan. You guys have more knowledge than he does. You should always be doing an experiment or two that will either catch fire or won’t. You try something, you put one toe in the water, you don’t have to commit the whole newspaper, but you have to have a bunch of experiments going on. You have to think of yourself as Evan, you can’t think of yourself as the editor of the existing newspaper. You have to think of yourself as the person who’s going to invent Snapchat.

Everybody’s a journalist, everybody’s taking videos, everybody’s writing stories. But you guys are the pros. I’m reading a bunch of drivel on the web all the time. Lots and lots of stuff that’s terrible. You guys are the pros, how do we get to the point where you have something that is extraordinary, that resonates so I don’t have to wade through all the other stuff?”

On brainstorming:

“Show everybody your story. Let everybody read it. Let them tell you how they would improve it. The No. 1 thing is whatever problem you are given, as you immersed, you become more expert than you were when you started the problem, so the problem is probably antiquated.

Move what the problem is you are working on into the middle of the process. Yes, you have a direction but once you get into the problem you start to have insight and you pivot to a better story, a better product.”


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