Having worked in the corporate space for a few years, Neelacantan B, or Neel as he is more popularly known, discovered that creative problem solving was his calling. His start-up, Coolture Designs which he co-founded with Charusmitha Rao, combines his expertise in problem-solving with his passion for games. Neel feels that ‘Indian culture and heritage is ripe for a rich reinterpretation in order to make it relevant in the current context’. This led him to conceptualize a creative toolkit – 108%Indian.
Neel was joined by Tapan Mittal Deshpande, the co-founder of Thotpot designs who shared similar passions as Neel. A Conservation Architect by profession, Tapan decided to expand her horizons from ruins to living traditions and cultures which led her to design programmes for alternate livelihoods, working with the hand-made and sustainability and setting up the Thotpot studio – an incubation space driving any idea from its imagination to its reality.
Working with a mixed set of people, passionate about different aspects of India – from handmade and skill development to art and architecture – '108% Indian is a creative, visioning, thinking tool based on Indian cultural elements.’ In this interview, Neel and Tapan share their experience of designing 108% Indian and taking their venture forward.
What led to the conceptualization and designing of 108% Indian?
The idea first struck three years back, when I was working with a client on a Design Thinking project. Ideation is one of the most important phases of design thinking and in one of our workshops we realised that people found it difficult to “ideate” beyond obvious and adjacent themes. This realization drew upon my client as well, and he asked me to create a new brainstorming tool. During my preliminary research, I realised that the only creativity tools available were American and European. That led me to think, why not create an Indian creativity tool. After all, there is so much richness in Indian thoughts, approaches and culture so why not tap into it?
Serendipity brought me to meet Tapan and Niket who run Thotpot Designs, and at that time were involved in the process of creating a portal of 108 unique elements of India for the international airport in Mumbai. While I started with an excel sheet and a set of sketches as the basic idea of how 108% would be, Tapan and Niket brought an approach of redesigning traditional art and reimagining spaces. We also onboarded Harsh, a fantastic illustrator, who gave a unique and divergent viewpoint to each card. Our different backgrounds and experiences came in handy. All of us read up, researched through oral and written histories, spoke to a few experts and in this process our own creativity and knowledge have increased. This would possibly lead us to think of the next few projects as well.
During the process of designing the creative tool we gave one of the cards the number – 108, which is associated with spiritual growth in India. The name originally started with a discussion on how the product is 100% Indian and that led us to a brainwave on “why not 108% Indian” and we settled in on it. So, this has been a very “Indian” collaborative approach with each person putting in their work into this passion that is, 108% Indian.
What is 108% Indian essentially?
108%Indian is a set of 108 cards that enable divergent thinking. Each card has an abstract image of either a concept, construct, philosophy or culture, all of which are rooted in Indian ideas. Each card contains a hand-drawn illustration of an Indian quirk accompanied by a short description and a thought-provoking question on the reverse serving a probe.
We feel that India is an amalgamation of various cultures. It has captivated and fascinated many individuals and communities, from travelers to invaders, who have made it their home. 108% Indian is our attempt to capture the diversity of India to power an individual’s creativity.
Apart from its rootedness in Indian thought, what makes 108% Indian different from other brainstorming tools? Who is your primary audience who can benefit the most from it?
Creativity tools are meant to truly stretch the mind beyond one’s comfort zone and trigger thoughts and directions which sometimes need probing. We felt that even while people brainstorm, they find it difficult to go beyond a typical gamut of methods.
108% is a tool for brainstorming, visioning, problem-solving, creativity, divergent thinking in an individual or group setting. We mapped popular innovation approaches such as SCAMPER to the range of divergent thinking in our approach and we can say with confidence that our toolkit goes far beyond typical approaches. We tested the cards for 6 months with a range of audiences and we found that this works in practice as well. I must add here that we do not have a creativity framework - this idea of the cards is to spark a whole new set of connections, ideas and it does that job well through simple Indian concepts
The creativity tool is meant for anyone who is working on a passion or a challenge and on the lookout for ideas. We have tested with founders of companies, senior managers who run teams, teachers, children (14+), individuals who run strategic consulting teams, senior management teams - any group of people individually or collectively working on a passion or a problem - and we have got good results. Every single time people have said, “Yes, it really did stretch my thinking” and we have seen it in action during our live tests as well.
Apart from the creative edge, the deck is an ensemble and celebrates Indian-ness in a way that tells us much more about the layers of history, art, architecture, traditions and what we stand for. It has proved to be a unique culture gift a well. One of the things we see is that people who visit India see many of these aspects and elements around and yet we fail to enable them to make a deeper connection with “India”. A side value addition of 108% is exactly this - to enable visitors to make a deeper connection with India.
How can traditional learning methods and creativity be mainstreamed as a means of strengthening India’s creative and knowledge economy?
Indic learning and Knowledge systems have always existed. However, we feel that there are two major setbacks. First, knowing that it exists and is usable and second is the way in which it is presented. To give you a simple example, almost all of Human Resources and Psychology tools are centred on western knowledge systems and methodology. Till date, we don’t have credible tools created out of Indic knowledge systems. We need to harness traditional knowledge and take it through the prevalent system of “validation” and present it to the world so that is seen as credible. If these two challenges are addressed, we see many avenues opening up.
The aim should be to first bring forth these knowledge systems to the forefront and not as solutions and answers to problems - but to present different ways of seeing and converting them to tangible possibilities of change. Our Creativity cards are the first of its kind in India which caters to infinite possibilities to kickstart your imagination and hopefully will inform many more to come.
What are some of the other projects that you have worked upon and do you plan to expand globally?
At Coolture Designs, Charu and I aim to rethink Indian culture and present it back to the world and in contemporary contexts. We have taken up various projects like Bangalore-in-a-box, a postcard set on the old temples of Bengaluru called Temple Trails and an antakshari based card game. And we keep working on such ideas. Some of our projects are also an offshoot of 108% Indian. All of them may not be creative probes, but they are all connected to elements and aspects of Indic culture.
In our tests with non-Indians, we found immense value in the cards as culture probes. People who are new to India, curious about India, want to know more - can take a “pack of India” back with them and harness a wee bit of India’s culture. And even though they may be “new” to India - they found the cards useful. So, yes, we are interested in spreading the word. In the current digitally connected world, the product has already developed an audience and we are looking forward for building on the scope of the cards through creativity workshops and engagement programs.
More details about 108% Indian can be found here