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Problem Solved: How The Garden Reignited Creativity with Training Programme ThinkShop


Shelby Walsh, managing director of ThinkShop by The Garden, on how the programme aims to arm more people with the creative confidence and skills to solve the wicked problems that organisations (and the world at large) are facing

Problem Solved: How The Garden Reignited Creativity with Training Programme ThinkShop

Shelby Walsh is a business strategist with over a decade of experience leading teams and driving results. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Financial Post and TIME as a trend and consumer insights expert, sharing data-driven insights that showcase retail, lifestyle, tech and marketing trends. As an entrepreneurial spirit, she has helped to grow a burgeoning start-up of four employees into a successful brand with 80 employees that’s helped 700+ blue chip clients such as Google, Adidas and Nestle.

She’s currently the managing director of ThinkShop by The Garden, aiming to solve the wicked problems that organisations are facing.


The Garden is one of Canada's top independent creative and brand strategy agencies, working with many recognisable brands like Sodastream, Samsung, Roots, Kobo and Wattpad, getting them noticed both locally and globally.

After running our unique workshops over the last eight years, many of those same clients have asked us to teach their teams to think and act more creatively. This was the lightbulb moment that inspired us to create ThinkShop: a three-day training programme designed to reignite creativity by drawing on the techniques The Garden uses every day to get to breakthrough ideas.

In a fresh shift from typical training programmes, ThinkShop leverages a real-world business challenge that an organisation is facing (rather than a hypothetical case study) as the canvas for teaching 20 tools and repeatable processes that will equip their teams to tackle the day-to-day challenges they face. ThinkShop aims to arm more people with the creative confidence and skills to solve the wicked problems that organisations (and the world at large) are facing.


From our own clients, we repeatedly heard a desire to upskill their people so they would feel more creatively confident and equipped to tackle the challenges they are increasingly facing in the workplace. Challenges with no clear solution or formula for success. While we answered these requests with ad hoc half-day workshops, we could feel that participants were craving a more robust process and set of tools for problem solving.

It’s no surprise. With the rise of artificial intelligence permeating every aspect of our lives; TikTok as a primary source of news and information for millions of people; needing to do more with shrinking budgets; being thoughtful around the impact of products and services on the earth… and, of course, customers with higher expectations and far less loyalty. 

All of this spells uncertainty which can be very intimidating. However, uncertainty also points toward opportunity. And opportunity requires fresh thinking. Yet, talk to most adults and they’ll describe themselves as ‘not a creative thinker’ or ‘hardly creative at all’.

Proving out this point, in a longitudinal test of creative potential, a NASA study found that of 1,600 four and five-year-olds, 98% scored at "creative genius" level. Five years later, only 30% of the same group of children scored at the same level, and again, five years later, only 12%. When the same test was administered to adults, it was found that only 2% scored at this genius level. (Source, Inc Magazine).

While there are professional training options out there today that address creative thinking, we knew that The Garden had something unique to provide to organisations and their people beyond the typical management consultancies or training companies: we’ve spent the last eight years living and breathing creative problem solving for our clients across dozens of different industries. We’re not just teachers, we’re actual doers who have experienced the power of a process to tap into creativity. This, combined with the fact that The Garden’s co-founder Shari Walczak has an MS Degree in creativity and change leadership, gave us the confidence to start developing the professional development programme that we now call ThinkShop.


Step one was to look at the positive client feedback and results from our own three-phased creative problem-solving process at The Garden:

i) DIG



We broke down our creative approach into a structure and framework that was more methodical (and teachable!) and began to flesh out a number of frameworks that would capture our unique approach to exploring and understanding a problem, ideating and developing breakthrough solutions; and then transforming ideas into executable action plans. Combined with Shari’s own training in CPS, we were able to start imagining a curriculum that could be applied broadly to a variety of different problem contexts that teams across any organisation may be facing.

We knew that in order to stand out and be talked about amongst the sea of sameness when it comes to a lot of corporate training, our programme needed to feel different than other programmes. How could we create a memorable experience that is delivered in an environment and atmosphere as creative as the ideas we’re looking to inspire?

This led us to ideate on not only content, but on everything from location, to food, to materials and even table set up. We looked to a variety of other places for inspiration – we like to call this “stealing with pride.” Amazing events we’ve attended, memorable conferences, drool-worthy dinners, and even entertainment venues. We considered every detail in order to imagine a three-day experience that participants would look forward to, and one that they couldn’t stop talking about after the training was complete. 


Rather than beginning with any novel technologies or innovations, we stripped everything back to begin with, and focused our prototyping on the most important part of the training: the curriculum itself.

This process was months in the making, as a team made up of Shari Walczak (CSO and co-founder of The Garden), and Jennifer Kittmer (strategy director and facilitator) created, iterated, revised and worked through several versions of the course content. This also involved consultations with learning and development experts who provided input into designing content for teaching and learning outcomes, versus just presenting.

With a prototyped version complete, a team of employees from The Garden and a volunteer “client” from Harmon’s Craft Brewing agreed to be the beta testers for the programme. This was followed by an in depth feedback session and online survey to identify what components were working well and what parts needed improvement or complete redevelopment. This iterative process continued for another few months as we worked to get to a more “final” version of the content and curriculum. During this time, one of the decisions that we solidified was ensuring that the training could be tailored around a real-world challenge faced by the ThinkShop client and their team, rather than relying on a hypothetical case study or scenario.

Next, we realised that to productise our training content, we needed an expert with unique skills in B2B sales, strategic workshop delivery, and stand-out event creation. As a business strategist and former president of Trend Hunter, the world's largest and most popular trend platform and innovation accelerator, I joined our team as managing director for ThinkShop to help build prospect archetypes, enhance our programming, and connect us to the right business leaders for this world-class training experience.

Alongside the talented in-house creative and design teams at The Garden, we enhanced our core learning content with beautiful, immersive video and imagery that could be projected on 16ft walls in a standout space that couldn’t feel further from the bland world of corporate conference rooms and beige hotel meeting spaces. 

We ideated a variety of prospective names for the programme before landing on ThinkShop. From there, a brand identity for ThinkShop was created, informing the development of all branded materials surrounding the programme including a website, sales materials, a desktop Reference Guide and full set of ThinkShop ideation cards for every participant.


One of the issues we encountered with launching ThinkShop is best described as a “chicken and egg” scenario around securing our first client for the full programme. Most organisations focus on risk management, which is why very few wanted to be the first to raise a hand and commit to testing out a unique new offering like ThinkShop, especially without the help of any live materials or footage to capture the true experience. 

We were fortunate to have a pioneering client who already had built a trusted relationship with The Garden to step up as our first: Kobo. They provided an incredibly juicy problem to work on and, while it’s top secret at the moment, we can confirm that the challenge allowed us to involve and train a cross-functional team on the tools and methods for creative problem solving while also generating some exciting potential solutions against the problem. 

With a full team of 16 individual people from the Kobo team completing the ThinkShop curriculum, we received overwhelmingly positive feedback:

“ThinkShop showed us how to pull out different ideas and gain new perspectives.”

"Very impressed, and I leave hopeful that our organisation will adopt this into our creative process instead of a one-off campaign." 

"Incredibly fun, energising and useful. Fantastic facilitators and space. What a wonderful and engaging experience to reinvigorate our team, shake up the process and provoke creative thinking."

Based on completed surveys, 94% of attendees would recommend this programme to their personal and professional networks.

And, with their engagement and participation, we have also been able to capture live footage and produce a highlight video to make the experience much more tangible to those new to this offering.

As we reflected on the completion of our first ThinkShop engagement, the creator and lead facilitator, Shari Walczak, had this to say:

“I love the start of day one, standing in front of a group of eager participants who are excited about the idea of ThinkShop, but unsure of the personal impact it will have on them. Over our time together, there is nothing more fulfilling for me than seeing the energy and confidence in the room grow as people watch ideas that started out as an abstract or small thought begin to take shape as practical (and in many cases breakthrough) solutions against a formidable starting challenge that initially overwhelmed them. Unleashing the potential for human creativity is why I’m so passionate about this programme.”

According to Psychology Today, “Creative problem solving sessions with groups generated 350% more ideas than groups without training […and] these ideas were 415% more original.” Not only did the Kobo team come up with three incredible and very distinctive ideas against their original challenge, but, more importantly, each person walked away having learned a repeatable process and toolkit of exercises to help them solve their next challenge using a creative, and methodical approach.

What does the future hold? There’s a lot of interest in ThinkShop and we’re continuing to tweak the programme including consideration of a virtual format - although we definitely prefer the in-person experience. We’re also looking at hosting the next ThinkShop in the bright, open and creative environment of The Garden’s own offices. This iteration will provide us with even more flexibility to enhance the immersive experience by giving us full control over the space and how we’d like to best use it.

We’ve always operated at The Garden with the belief that we’d like to leave the world just a little bit better than we found it. And, by helping more people realise and unlock their creative potential through ThinkShop, we think we can do just that. 

Because we truly believe that the world needs more creativity.

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The Garden, Tue, 11 Apr 2023 09:18:00 GMT