Dubbed ‘the people’s engineer’ who helps us finish ambitiously fun projects, Lindsey Nelson is onto something.
If you’re like me, you do your work thing, then you take some time out, then when you’re refreshed your mind starts spitting out ideas faster than my mom’s efforts at making popcorn without the lid properly on. So, I tell myself how great it’s going to be and make a start. Oh, and I’m an excellent scheduler so outlining how I’m going to get my neat idea done is a no-brainer. Vision boards, desk diary, we’ll-save-the-day productivity apps, the lot.
Except then I don’t get it done.
Lindsey has done quite a stack of research into how adults learn and has spent years looking at how creativity can be fuelled while fighting for air in the scrum of adult responsibilities. In response, Lindsey has developed a “5F Flight Plan” to help people “unleash their creative superpowers and conquer their creative kryptonite”.
“Most project management concepts are linear,” says Nelson. “They tell you to sit down and answer all the hard questions about how and when at the start, and then you’re supposed to just step it out. But creative projects don’t unfold that way.
“Real life creative work jumps around. You start with an idea, throw things around, refine it, expand it, grow it, test it, then go refine it again. It takes on a life of its own.”
And that’s the exciting thing that happens when imagination knocks. You never quite know what you’re gonna get.
I asked Lindsey what on earth would make an engineer – who has not one, but two Masters’ Degrees – want to work with creatives. That’s got to be messy, after all.
Lindsey breaks out in an enormous grin and this engineer’s eyes start to glint with mischief.
“When you ask, ‘What would happen if I did X?’ You need the engineering design process to work for you. These ideas are often a lot of fun and they can be hugely transformative.
“One of the people I mentored was an Indian American who wanted to design a cooler that could be pulled along behind a bicycle to help health workers in India deliver vaccines.
“And that’s an ambitiously fun project because it’s outside of the scope of what a lot of corporations are thinking about; it’s hugely important and it has a lot of meaning.”
“And a lot of it is just fun, right? I have a friend who’s an author. She was having difficulty getting people to sign up for her course, having a hard time convincing people that this was a good idea.
“So, we broke it down and tried to figure out what was going on. I helped her design a 16-part series about fixing ‘plot holes’ in your work. And here’s the thing about being an engineer: I know nothing about writing. Like, literally, nothing – at my school, Boston University, the school of engineering is known as ENG and it stands for ‘English no good’!
“But as an engineer, I can see all of the moving parts of this project. And she went on and had, I think, over 400 people sign up to do that course with her.”
“People can come to me and say, ‘Hey, Lindsey, I want to do …’ and the more whacky, ambitious and crazy it seems, the more likely it is to be addressed by engineering design processes and by engineering design thinking.
“And the Flight Plan that I work with is about making those engineering design processes so much more accessible to people.”
Because when you know the underlying process of creative design, anything’s possible.
I’m thinking I need to try this one out. My partner’s going to be a little surprised when that swing I want to keep gets painted. It’s been sitting in the workshop for, oh, a few weeks now. But he might not be so happy with Lindsey when I build the ambitiously fun chook dome I’ve read about, and learn to keep bees.
If you suspect you might be working on an ambitiously fun project, you can download Lindsey’s free 5F Flight Plan here.