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Dr. David Ricketts, back, a Harvard Fellow, listens as Carlsbad City Manager Scott Chadwick and City Attorney Celia Brewer discuss their idea for a resident gathering place on Jan. 16 at the Faraday Center. Ricketts presented to the city leadership team methods on city innovation and creative thinking. Photo by Steve Puterski
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City pushes forward with creativity, innovation

CARLSBAD — Innovation and creative thinking are becoming the new norm for the city of Carlsbad.

As such, the city’s leadership, made up of department heads and other top officials, hosted Dr. David Ricketts, an innovation fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, on Jan. 16 at the Faraday Center.

Ricketts dove into how some cities and their leaders are becoming the innovators in their own right, along with putting the staff through several exercises in creative thinking and problem solving. In addition, he touched on how cities are incorporating those concepts into become smart and connected entities.

Carlsbad Chief Innovation Officer David Graham, who is one of 10 to 15 city CIOs in the country according to Ricketts, invited Ricketts to give staff the presentation. Graham is a huge proponent of smart cities, as he previous worked for the city of San Diego in a similar capacity.

“This is really about civic innovation,” Graham said. “As cities we have to think differently in how we address problems because of what technology has done to how we experience the world. We have to figure out how to provide that Amazon quality of experience. Business as usual is dead. We need to use innovation principles to address the issues residents have.”

He said in this age of technology, dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, cities’ leaders must learn how to think differently and look at assets, such as streetlights, roads and open spaces, as multifunctional opportunities to maximize service.

“Two things have happened — one is historically cities are providing services,” Ricketts said. “Then we started getting new technology in our lives and the question was does technology make things better? What’s happening is the cities are starting to realize it’s their job to create something new for their citizens.”

Ricketts said looking to the science-fiction genre is a great starting point. The genre uses imagination and creativity to create possibilities that may have been dismissed.

He said innovation is the marriage of insight and value, which leads to vision and drive. However, those ideas best come from the individual, rather than groupthink, but department leaders must not be so quick to dismiss ideas and unconventional thinking.

Ricketts said there are simple projects or “low-hanging fruit,” such as installing LED lights to quickly incorporate newer tech. But now, there are different options to consider such as installing a censor on light pole to alert city personnel of an incident to increase public safety.

“It’s all these pieces of the new stuff that’s possible that I think is really exciting,” Ricketts explained.

Another challenge is to break old thinking habits by showing city leaders they can be more creative.

For example, Carlsbad leaders broke into groups and used Play-Doh to create a city space out of an empty lot. Play-Doh was intentional, as projects don’t have to be to scale and it brings a more youthful mindset to the groups.

The second exercise was different ways of brainstorming, Ricketts said. Each leader was asked to write the answers to a question about a product name and then in a group.

All agreed the individual answers were better, supporting Ricketts’ position.

“That was an experience for them to see how making and touching things is a way to pilot and model feedback,” Rickets said of the Play-Doh. “The (brainstorm) group was more about us trying to decide whether I thought your idea was good or bad. That really showed them there is a method to change how they operate.”