The creative power of being a nub

Drawing of Nubcake, who is excited to be a nub

A big thing with my daughters and their friends recently is calling themselves and others a “nub”, (rhymes with “tub”). This is their own version of being a “noob” or “n00b” or newbie. Except for these 8-10 year old girls, being a nub isn’t a bad thing. It’s usually just a thing. It’s neutral. Being a nub just means you’re new at something. Sure, you might not be very good at it, and you might need help, but hey, you’re trying something new. Good for you. Continuing on that line, sometimes being a nub, like in the drawing above, is something to celebrate.

This idea that being a nub could not only be a neutral thing, but could actually be a positive, really resonated with me. It reminded me of some of the powerful benefits of being a nub. In the UX field, we know how important it is to have people who haven’t used or been biased by the system you’re designing. New testing subjects let you see how a new user handles your design. And having a designer new to the system can give you a fresh, unbiased perspective.

Beyond that, there are a range of creative benefits for you, yourself, to being new at one thing or another. This is especially true for generating ideas. You want to come up with a wider variety of ideas? You want to come up with that next idea, big or small, that changes paradigms and leaves others wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” You want to “think outside the box”? A nub doesn’t even know there’s a box.

You want to “think outside the box”? A nub doesn’t even know there’s a box.

I’ll focus here on two ways of bringing out the creative power of being a nub:

  1. Seek new ways to be a nub
  2. Foster your inner nub

Seek new ways to be a nub

If you’re a nub at something, it means you’re trying something new. You’re expanding. You’re growing. You’re putting yourself in a position to gain additional knowledge and skills and perspectives. As a creative problem solver, this is gold.

“Research shows that creative thinking involves making new connections between different regions of the brain, which is accomplished by cultivating divergent thinking skills and deliberately exposing ourselves to new experiences and to learning.”

So what should you try? Most anything. Let’s look at a few different types of topics, based on how directly applicable they are to UX. (And keep in mind that my suggestions, below, are in no way exhaustive.)

Expand your breadth of UX knowledge by studying other methods or other aspects of UX you haven’t dealt with before. Learn about information architecture, card sorting, and types of information seeking behavior. Look into accessibility needs that real people have. Get involved in user research and usability testing. Read UX articles and books and go to UX conferences.

Look into other, related fields for information that’s relevant to UX. Study behavioral economics, organizational psychology, or the psychology of persuasion. Look into fields that have been tackling a lot of the same issues for much longer than UX has been around, such as architecture, information (library) science, or industrial design. Look for examples of how information is presented and organized in other media you come across that doesn’t involve screens.

Anything else. Meet new people. Visit another city or country. Start a new hobby. Watch educational YouTube videos. Read non-fiction books. Read fiction books. Just stay actively learning and trying new things. Not only will this help your creative thinking, but you’ll likely become a more interesting person in doing so.

Okay, so this may have felt a bit overwhelming. There are certainly many more things to learn and experience than a person can do in many lifetimes. Just find some that interest you and take a look, big or small. Every little bit can help.

But what else can a real-life, busy person do to tap the power of being a nub?

Foster your inner nub

In the end, they realized the real nub was inside them all along.

Even the most experienced person can look at something in their field with eyes approaching those of a nub. It’s not easy, though. Every single one of us have assumptions, preconceptions, and biases that we’re not aware of. We even have knowledge that we’re not consciously aware of, (the unknown knowns?) especially in a given moment while considering a question or problem. You have to work to identify this cognitive baggage you’re bringing with you and move past it. Or just barrel through and break past whatever’s there.

Fortunately, people have been working on how to do this for a long time. Formal approaches to this go back at least to Productive Thinking in the 1940s, as well as divergent thinking and the Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS) in the 1950s, and Design Thinking in the 1960s and beyond. People continued to build on these over the years. More recently, you’ll commonly hear about ideation methods or something similar.

Whatever you call them, these are all ways to get yourself or your team to look at a question or problem differently and break through your cognitive baggage. They’re all, at least in part, ways to make yourself look at things with a more nubbish perspective.

Example: Reverse Thinking

Reverse Thinking (or opposite thinking) helps you overcome assumptions and preconceptions by taking an opposite viewpoint from what you currently hold. Pick some aspect of the problem and turn it around, and then come up with solutions for that reversed scenario.

For instance, if your goal is for your app to be extremely easy to use, look at the reverse goal of making your app extremely difficult to use. Come up with ways to achieve this ridiculous goal, such as using a lot of technical terminology or burying popular features deep in a menu system.

Or take an assumption such as your product should be an app. If you assumed that your product should not be an app, what solutions could you come up with? A website, a chatbot, a service where users trade cards in person in local parks?

The goal is not to pull a George Costanza and do the opposite of what you think you should. But in looking at the problem through these often ridiculous reversed perspectives, new ideas may be sparked for your real goal, or you may realize that one of your assumptions was limiting you too much.

You can find more information on this method and a printable worksheet from Board of Innovation’s opposite thinking. They talk about using the exercise just to look at assumptions, but you can use it for looking at any aspect of the problem. If your product is targeted to men, think about how you would target it to women. If you’ll release your product worldwide, think about what you would do it it was just for one city.

Resources for ideation methods

Here are some additional resources on ideation methods:

Be the best nub you can be

If you’re looking for role models for being a nub, look to the ultimate nubs: kids. Watching young children approach new things, which is what most of their lives have been, can be as fascinating as it is hilarious. They don’t have the mass of cognitive baggage that adults carry, and they have a thirst for knowledge—soaking things up like a sponge. Children will come up with the most creative and unexpected ideas and thoughts, (even if they have little connection to reality.)

Like a child, it’s important to have an open, playful mind to get in order to maximize your creative potential. There’s a lot of ridiculousness between where you’re at now and some great ideas out there. If someone going through an ideation exercise feels the methods or ideas are a waste of time, or they’re constantly interjecting why each idea wouldn’t work, things aren’t going to go well.

Research has shown that divergent thinking and creativity are found most among people with personality traits like nonconformity, curiosity, persistence, and a willingness to take risks. In addition, your mood and sleep habits affect your creativity. People in positive mods or who are well rested perform better in tests of divergent thinking and creativity. Many of the connections the brain makes between various experiences, it makes while you’re sleeping. So get a good night’s sleep, be open-minded, get excited, and go be a nub.

Bonus content

For an eye-opening example of how many assumptions we make around even the simplest of things, watch this video of a dad being the ultimate nub while having his kids tell him how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s well worth the time.

Nubcake drawing courtesy of Kate deStwolinski.

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