Ivy Ross is the Head of Design for Hardware at Google and has innovated team experiences and products across her ventures in fashion, jewelry, hardware, and user experience design. I sat down with her to explore the creative process, the role of intuition in business processes and innovation, and how human connection builds the landscape for collective creativity.
Growing up in her industrial designer father’s home, Ross had no idea that her life would consist of being one of the leading executives at Google, Mattel, and Gap, ultimately revolutionizing the way we design and develop product. Ross’ work bridges the gap for how human connection can amplify business objectives. The recipe for her success: developing a keen sense of intuition and deep trust among her colleagues.
While leading a team of approximately 300 people at Mattel, spearheading an “underground project” nicknamed Project Platypus, Ross ran an experiment with the goal of putting hard numbers against the measurement for creativity. She sought to prove that creativity can be increased given the right tools and that the interaction and connection of teams has a direct correlation to that metric. “The best way to create is where people are not in fight-or-flight zone, but in a relaxed state allowing for creativity. For me, this meant I had to set up an environment where people trusted each other,” said Ross.
If environment is a factor, what can be done to design for connection? Ross was curious to explore the potential of sound vibration to bring about cohesion, collaboration, and trust. Her team utilized chairs designed to enable and enhance individual creativity by playing music encoded with binaural beats, the aural equivalent of an optical illusion, in an effort to affect an individual’s central nervous system. “I knew that the times when I have my best ideas, the left and right half of my brain were working together, and so I thought, If the brain is a muscle, could we create an exercise to bring both halves of their brain together to increase creativity?” said Ross.
For 20 minutes a day, during a six-week period, Ross’ team members listened to sounds that affected them physically and emotionally, and utilized a neurophysiologic mechanism that enables a deep state of relaxation and meditation. The technology consists of amplified, layered music that generates sound and vibration, as well as a synchronized electro-magnetic field that affects the central nervous system. This seemingly simple form of engagement led to an 18% increase in creativity.
In another exploration under Project Platypus, Ross wanted her colleagues to be able to connect to one another on a deeper level so they could better understand the people they would be creating with. “There is something about starting on the same wavelength that enables you to get to new places together, to brainstorm creatively and truly innovate,” said Ross. “I thought, I wonder if I could force that.” Over the course of 12 weeks, Ross was able to establish deep trust among 12 colleagues by embedding sounds with a frequency that resonated with all 12 team members. After listening to these sounds together each morning, the team would engage in a brainstorm. Ross proved that “If you get people to trust, connect and understand their individual talents, working together is going to be that much more powerful.” Once trust is developed, collective curiosity soars.
Ross acknowledges the challenges many businesses face in developing the free thinking that catalyzes groundbreaking innovation, and continues to experiment both in and outside corporate structure. “We often put people in organizational chart boxes, and we keep them there because they become an expert in the box we put them in. But we’re all a product of our experiences, so as our experiences change, we change. The connection and relationships between people are what makes things spiral into a new place.” Tapping into this connection is ultimately moves the needle that contributes to the bottom line.
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