I’m sitting in a bar in Managua next to Peter Stanley, the chairman of my board of directors, and we’re drinking cold Toña, the Nicaraguan beer of choice. We’re in the country for our annual meeting, which always involves a site visit to Clinica Verde, our health clinic prototype, along with a long afternoon in a hotel conference room filled with thoughtfully executed PowerPoint presentations. This year, however, we’ve decided to shake things up. The rest of the board is set to arrive within the hour.Read More
It's not every day you get to peek into a designer's notebook -- not to mention one whose personal history is as broad and as deep as Barbara Beskind's. A look through Barbara's notebooks is like exploring a greenhouse of colorful and fast-growing plants. It's little wonder she works at IDEO.
Oh, Barbara is 90 years old.
Her design work started when she was 8 years old, designing toys for friends during the Great Depression. She went on to work with World War II and Vietnam veterans as an occupational therapist, going overseas to Germany for two years. The 1956 Russian invasion of Hungary, she said, was the scariest time of her career. Eventually she founded an independent occupational therapy clinic -- the first in the US. These facts of her life were covered by The Wall Street Journal this past April.Read More
What if high schoolers had access to a graduate-level executive leadership course customized just for them — one that called on them to interact with and lead teams of adults from local businesses? Two members of our d.leadership teaching team, Kathryn Segovia and Jeremy Utley, undertook the challenge of creating such a course this summer, joining with alumni of their graduate-level class and executive training program to instruct students at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto earlier this summer.Read More
Berlin-Tegel Airport is humming at 5:45AM. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong (visit Marché, should you ever find yourself at Gate D72). The rocket fuel helps me to clarify the last 72 hours, which have taken me from San Francisco to Paris, from Paris to Berlin and now back to Paris.
I have a very good reason to be in Paris. The French-American Foundation has a remarkable Young Leaders program, which makes possible a regular cultural exchange between French and American professionals over the course of two years. I was fortunate enough to be named a Young Leader in 2014, making me eligible to take part in this year’s gathering in Paris and Bordeaux.Read More
What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
- Ecclesiastes 1:9
Think back to what you did with your last “ah-ha” moment. Who did you share it with, and where is the record of it now? Do you remember? Odds are, you probably don’t.
Rarely do those breakthrough moments in the shower, over dinner or on the drive home get captured and shared. We may have a process for innovating, but we almost never maintain a process for recording what we learn as we go about that work. Journals can be unreliable and difficult to share. Social media tends to present a version of ourselves, often only what we think is our best possible face. On top of that, the individuals and teams that generate these moments — these insights — don’t think they are valuable outside of their immediate sphere (if even there).Read More
The wallet ain't what it used to be.
This past week I conducted two design thinking workshops. Both were what we call DP0 or "design project: zero" exercises centered around the re-design of the wallet. The wallet project is a 90-minute exercise where participants work in pairs. It is meant to serve as an introduction to design thinking, providing participants with the vocabulary and basic concepts.
The wallet project gives individuals an opportunity to take an otherwise basic and more or less universal object and see it anew -- in light of another person's needs. Unlike the gift-giving or breakfast exercises (both introductory design-thinking exercises that start with a focus on experiences) the wallet project starts with a focus on an object.Read More
I was asked, during one of our weekly #dchat's, to share what I have learned in my time as the editor-in-residence at the d.school. There are far too many lessons for one blog post, but here are the lessons I believe are the most important:Read More
Now that the fellowship and the school year have ended, Stanford has become strangely quiet. The buzz of bicycles and chatter of student's project work has been reduced to a hush. The d.school, while quieter as well, is still open and active. There are a few quiet projects, including early preparation for summer workshops and next year. But, for now, the d.school is in a state of relative rest.Read More
This quarter, I’m teaching a class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business with my friend and colleague, Sarah Soule. We’re collaborating with six pioneers in our local foodshed to design disruptive solutions to strategic business challenges they face. Teaching design thinking to a room full of MBA students can be like teaching a clowder of house cats how to swim. But it has created an opportunity for us to think creatively about how we might frame design thinking in ways that are more intuitive to an audience of generally hyper-analytical, solution-oriented people. Now, I have a Stanford MBA myself. So I understand the irony in revealing that I had previously developed an “equation for innovation”. I use it as a construct for understanding how we might help teams more frequently design solutions with greater disruptive potential (see figure 1, below) through work we are doing at the FEED Collaborative, which I co-founded.
Only until now, having tested its application with some success in our class this quarter, has it occurred to me to share this equation publicly:
This is an equation where,
In = Innovative capacity of people/teams/organizations
pt = practice (cumulative sum of the team)
et = team empathy (as a function of team dynamics and motivation)
es = self empathy (as a function of self awareness and reflection)
eu = user empathy (as a function of engagement, observation and immersion)
tc = team composition (as a function of diversity in experience and personality)
io = number of original ideas generated
id = number of divergent additions on original ideas
pt(ioid) = pt(et+tc)
de = domain expertise
db = domain perceived need/solution bias
dc = domain contribution quotient (de/db)
and assuming the sum of es + et + eu is positively correlated to insightful inference of people’s needs.
Having an equation to work with has allowed us to answer this question: “Given the composition of folks in my classroom, under my mentorship, or in my employ, where might we need to focus our educational or managerial efforts?” Put otherwise, having an equation of this type provides a diagnostic tool for understanding where teams need support in order to maximize their innovative potential.
In the case of our MBAs, for example, we’ve focused more heavily on their domain contribution quotient, dc, assuming many of them will continue to be leaders, experts, and problem solvers in their respective fields after graduation. This led us to demonstrate, in ways that we never have before as a teaching team, that the relationship between building empathy for users and building context around their problems through the collection of data is two things simultaneously: it is synergistic and a valuable management tool for deriving important insights. These insights can be around anything from products and customers to company culture and the competitive landscape.
We have, in this way, opened the door to an intriguing exploration of what can happen at the intersection of big data and design thinking, or, as we’ve been thinking about it, “when 'Big D' meets 'little d'”. Having an equation for innovation, it turns out, allows us to not only build the innovative capacity of teams, but our own innovative capacity as teachers and managers as well.
This is the beauty of qualitative math: good answers always lead to better questions.
How do you apply design thinking? It's a question I am often asked as editor-in-residence at the d.school. Recently, I helped read applications for the Knight News Challenge, which addressed this important question: How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation? Shortly after, I wrote my take on the applications and design thinking. Here's part of what I had to say:
If I were to offer any advice to those seeking to apply design thinking to their work, it would be this: Don’t wait for your users to come to you; go find them. Make them your addiction and the source of the energy behind your work.
I saw the power of exactly this principle last week in "Stanford 2025," the public presentation of the @Stanford project. The immersive experience was the result of a year-long effort of a multidisciplinary design team of students, faculty and staff. Their challenge was to design potential futures for the undergraduate, on-campus experience. The project was hyper-focused on its users, which allowed the designers to produce an outcome so creative it took me days of reflection to peel back the layers and see just how deep they'd gone.
The final presentation included an interactive journey to the far future -- the year 2100 -- to look back on a potential near future -- the period around 2025 -- to see how Stanford might evolve the undergraduate experience. It was an incredible piece of work that stayed true to the principles inherent in design thinking. Rather than just predicting possible changes, the end result provokes people to design their own futures of higher education.
The "Stanford 2025" presentation is a clear marker that the academic year is coming quickly to a close. Applications for next year's fellows program are due in a little over a week (May 16). I now have a few projects that are beginning to produce that familiar churn in my stomach, one fueled by nervousness, fear of failure, regret for time spent other than working and an insecurity about what to do next.
This is "the uncomfortable" we so often mention at the d.school, the chaotic emotions that you learn to embrace. It's a time to turn back to your users -- in my case, the fellows -- and dig deep to discover them again and again.
"How can we work in chaos in a way that feels secure," Stine Degnegaard asked the fellows during a studio session this week. Stine, a Copenhagen-based visual strategist, is visiting the d.school to collaborate with the fellows and help visually capture their work. On Wednesday, she offered them an introduction to co-creation methodology in multi-stakeholder initiatives.
Stine, also a partner and co-founder of the advisory firm INITIATIVES, has developed visual guides to help identify opportunities for strategic co-creation. She offered these resources to the fellows, helping them map their projects' journeys. The tools aid in breaking down complex problems into smaller, actionable initiatives, as the process identifies previously unknown users or collaborators in a project space. Stine's methods were especially useful for the fellows, who seek to affect large, complex arenas such as the federal government, K12 education and the law.
Strategic visualization is a fluid process, one organizations can flow into and out of throughout a project's lifespan, as it evolves. The visual representation of complex systems helps identify unforeseen problems and clarify existing tensions. It also ensures an iterative process that allows teams to go backwards and forwards in time, providing a spatial representation of their challenge to enable dynamic perspectives, as opposed to linear ones.
On Thursday, I sat in on a session Stine had with Kim Jacobson on her project, the iZone. Kim's challenge has a number of facets, but among the most challenging has been to visualize and conceptualize the iZone itself.
When asked how it felt to talk about the iZone and see it manifest visually, a huge smile broke across Kim's face.
"I need to tell lots of different pieces of this story to different people, and I am hoping this will help clarify the different aspects of it," Kim said. The process, she continued, has helped her break down the complexity of the work that she and her team are doing into something they and others can understand. She's been trying to articulate to people that, when it comes to the iZone, they are on a journey together, as opposed to joining something that already exists. The visualizations made that make sense, she said.
Stine also worked with Melissa Pelochino on her project, #2minPD -- a short-form video method for teachers to record and share professional development training. Melissa's goal is to transform teachers' professional development into a generative and community-building endeavor. When reviewing Stine's visualizations, she, too, was pleased to see her process -- and her challenges -- mapped out.
As for Stine, the work has been an opportunity to test her own methods and work. "I am very humbled in having met with the fellows," she said. "I haven't seen a hub for potential like this before."
She has found that the fellows, in diving into their process over the past nine months, have learned an immense amount about the ecosystems they seek to change. Rather than their own heads, Stine said, the fellows have "globes full of so much knowledge" to draw from. This means they are quick with answers to her questions -- answers she was able to use to visualize the nature of the fellows' strategy and challenges today.
The next step, Stine says, is "to focus -- and if not to kill your darlings, to prioritize them."
"What is the one message you want each person to take away," she challenged the fellows to ask themselves. "What is it you want to communicate?"
"You have so much to offer, and you are so needed. So how do you break all of this information into something that is digestible and gets [your stakeholders] longing for more?"
The strategic visualizations are a stage in that process, a map from their challenge cartographer to help navigate complex worlds.
Alarms that yank you out of peaceful slumber. Power outages that plunge dinner-party plans into chaos. Traffic jams that sweep away your best-laid plans. Disruptions are often thought of in negative terms -- except in Silicon Valley. Here, disruption is a positive outcome and the goal of nearly every organization. In the Silicon Valley sense of the word, disruption is a path to improving the way we live on a daily basis. If only this were the case throughout K12 education.
Disruptions in K12 education are often perceived as negative. They range from small annoyances to sweeping policy mandates. These negative disruptions can take the form of behavior management issues that prevent teachers from teaching or mandated testing that prevents students from learning. There are fire drills, boring assemblies, irrelevant professional development sessions, snow days -- all things that prevent individuals from getting down to the business of teaching and learning. Then there are the massive disruptors -- those attempts at silver-bullet solutions to education reform. In either form, large or small, these disruptions are widely seen as negative in education.
I am learning from my time at the d.school that disruption in K12 education can be positive. The truly inspiring and inspired learning experiences we design for students here are evidence of this. We package a syllabus as a glossy trifold. We pass out project assignments in wrapped packages. We play music, share food and start classes with improv exercises. All of these choices are designed as small, surprising, mindset- and posture-shifting, positive disruptions. Do we want to change the world and disrupt the status quo? Of course we do. We've chosen, however, to do so by creating these small, positive disruptions in a consistent way and on a persistent basis. We also have a strong point of view that students are a force for positive disruption. We believe that learning experiences are best when students are engaged in charting a new, unexpected course for the class or for their own learning. When we allow students to ask "disruptive" questions and engage in new ideas, we relinquish control of their learning and empower them to get to places none of us could have anticipated.
I would argue that the design thinking methodology overall revolves around this notion of positive disruption. Take what you know and how you work, then flip it on its head. Start with people and their emotions. Fail often. Create small, half-baked prototypes and put them in front of users immediately.
I have been working on the SparkTruck, a project housed in the K12 Lab Network, while observing and absorbing these carefully crafted pedagogical design choices. The SparkTruck is an educational build-mobile: a converted delivery truck that now houses a laser cutter and other maker tools. SparkTruck travels to schools with hands-on activities and guided curriculum development. Mulling over the public's seemingly endless excitement over the truck helped me realize the potential power of "positive disruptions" to change the way we think about designing educational experiences for students.
The SparkTruck is the ultimate symbol of a positive disruption -- its presence on school campuses screams, "I wasn't here, now I am, what am I all about?" Students, family members, educators -- they are all drawn to the truck. Many of these folks want to participate in a SparkTruck activity before they even understand what we do. The power of the SparkTruck to upend a typical day and get students and teachers to take a different posture has taught me a lot about how we might change education for the better.
In light of this, I'd like to pose an open question: How might we design small, positive disruptions in our day-to-day lives? Whether it is surprising your partner with a fancy dessert tomorrow evening, taking a new route home on your commute, or passing out homework sealed in an envelope -- how could you shake up your routine and compel others around you to sit up and take notice of what you are all about?
We have seen educators in our network do it with great success -- from having students build their own desks during the first week of class to facilitating young people adopting a maker/inventor mindset after just one afternoon of tinkering.
So, the ask from me is simple: find a routine, break it and then tell us about it. Post your thoughts in this form or drop me a line on Twitter at @kkrummeck. We will compile the ideas we gather and share them out to the community.
Try something new. Design a surprise. And, if you do, tell us what happens. Here's to changing the world one positive disruption at a time.
If you love physics as much as I do, you can’t help but see connections between physical phenomena and your everyday experience. There are times when I find myself visualizing free body diagrams when walking on boats or riding my bike. Lately, I’ve been noticing a remarkable amount of overlap between two things that appear to have nothing in common: quantum mechanics and design thinking. More specifically, I’ve noted parallels between the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics and the latter steps of design thinking.
The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics tells us that before we conduct a measurement to determine the location of a particle (say, an electron) in a quantum mechanical system, any location is possible. The particle could be anywhere. In essence, the particle simultaneously exists everywhere and nowhere. It exists everywhere in the sense that there is theoretically a nonzero probability that it could be anywhere in the universe (physicists say the particle exists in a superposition of all possible states), and it exists nowhere in the sense that, until we make a measurement, we are unable to say it actually exists in any one place.
All we can state beforehand is the probability of it being recorded in any location when we actually do measure the particle (this probability can be calculated using the particle’s wave function, a mathematical tool used to describe particles in these circumstances of uncertainty). When we take the measurement, we collapse the wave function of the particle, causing it to appear in one physical place.
Here’s another way to say this: before the “measurement” is made to determine where the particle is, all possible locations of the particle – and therefore all possible futures – are options for us. Anything is possible (no matter how improbable) in this pre-measurement phase. When the measurement is taken and the wavefunction of all possible futures is collapsed, we end up with one world in which we’re moving forward.
A key point about the Copenhagen Interpretation is that, as far as we can tell, the world that ends up becoming our reality does so completely by chance. In other words, we have no power over which possible future becomes our actual future (aside from whatever accidental or unintended effect our measurement has on the system).
So how does this relate to design thinking?
Think about those moments when you’re being generative in design thinking; namely, ideation and prototyping. The primary goal of these steps is to imagine as many solutions to whatever problem you’re tackling – in other words, to imagine as many potential future worlds as you possibly can. In the language of physics, you could say that during these steps you are establishing the wavefunction of the possible solutions to your design challenge.
When you move on to testing, iteration, and implementation, you begin to “collapse the wavefunction.” You move from the realm of infinite possibility of future world paths to a single future created by you in concert with those who give you feedback. When you finalize your product, you have collapsed its wavefunction and committed to one of the many possible futures you had been exploring.
The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics asserts that one future world is chosen purely by chance from an infinite set of options, prohibiting us from knowing anything about alternatives. This is what separates design thinking from quantum mechanics. Allow me to introduce the Copenhagen Interpretation of design thinking, in which design thinking is viewed not just as a method for innovating our future, but as one that enables us to step into a number of possible futures, compare our options, and commit to the best path forward.
Computer science pioneer Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Quantum mechanics prohibits accomplishing the former with complete certainty. Design thinking gives us an opportunity to all but circumvent the fundamental laws of our universe by allowing us to do the latter. This means we can optimize our collective path through the infinity of possible worlds by peeking into them before we are called on to choose one.
A popular piece recently published by The Atlantic explores the confidence gap between men and women, offering a stack of evidence that shows the price women pay for their lack of confidence relative to their male counterparts. It is a phenomenon that further pushed me to think not only about my own confidence and ability to lead, but about the role design thinking could stand to play in helping realize change.
My thought process on this topic began months ago, when our editor (and, in the interest of full disclosure, my roommate), Emi Kolawole, posed a question here on the whiteboard:
If you were to take on the challenge of growing the number of women in leadership roles, how would you go about it?
Investment in women pays dividends, and study after study bears this out. A report by the National Council for Research on Women (now known as re:Gender) offers a collection of research that shows women fund managers outperform their male counterparts. Meanwhile, the non-profit research and analysis organization, Catalyst, found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of women board directors significantly outperformed those with the lowest percentage.
This means the cost of the confidence gap is high -- very high. And here is where I believe design thinking can come into play.
As a graduate of the Naval Academy where I pursued rowing and boxing at elite levels, I am passionate about helping women, especially athletes, rise to leadership roles impacting our society. But there is a lot of talk in this space and, to my mind, far too little action. I am actively tracking the movement underway to support women on this path, including an initiative by Ernst & Young, which created a network for elite women athletes. But more can be done.
The design thinking process all but forces you to stop talking about doing something and start doing it. So, rather than wait 10 years to take on a leadership role, it helps you discover options for acting on your intention immediately. Sometimes that means starting small -- very, very small.
Recently, I have been frustrated with my ability to get bogged down in theoretical questions and set aside tasks that need to be done. I needed guidance and leadership, so I applied the design thinking process to help me realize my own personal leadership and self-improvement goals. Rather than outline a multi-year plan I was not likely to follow or seek the guidance of someone else, I resolved to immediately begin occupying a discreet leadership role. I, in essence, developed a prototype.
I spent 10 minutes coaching myself.
Granted, the impact one can make in 10 years of strong organizational leadership is orders of magnitude greater than the impact you can have in 10 minutes by yourself. But if it's between starting down the path to leadership and not starting at all -- why not start with 10 minutes? Eventually, a series of 10-minute sessions can help you develop a program for a full day's workshop, and then that one day can turn into a three-day conference, which can turn into ten months of leadership coaching and eventually ten years of running your own firm. But you have to start.
In my 10 minutes, I used some of my earliest athletic memories, trying to remember how I learned sports as a child. I focused on taking back that sense of curiosity and play and applying it to my process of learning as I transition from 14 years in the military to a new life as a civilian and design thinker.
My 10 minutes of self-coaching ended up turning into a few hours. I practiced mindfulness and applied what I learned as an athlete: the primacy of taking care of my body (sleep, eat, stretch, address my stress). I then established a concrete design challenge for myself: How might I connect the design thinkers I most admire with the projects I'm most passionate about? I brainstormed potential solutions. Then, I focused my intention on one of my ideas and established a commitment to act.
Amber Schleuning, at the VA Center for Innovation, you'll be hearing from me very soon.
Will a process like the one I engaged in magically bridge the confidence gap? Perhaps not. But design thinking is turning my experiences from years of military training and high-performance athletics into action. So, design thinking may not be the only place for women to turn, but it's at least a place to start -- and we must start somewhere now.
See where 10 minutes takes you.
“Yes, and” generates while “no, but” stifles. This is a fundamental principle of improv and of design thinking here at the d.school. But it raises a question: Does critique have a role in design thinking?
I say, “yes … and.”
In my time as a fellow, I’ve learned critique has a unique and valuable role in design-thinking work. But sometimes -- especially when negatively delivered -- it can be hard to accept and process. To that end, I have put together some processes of my own to make seeking, accepting and processing critique a bit easier.
First, it’s important to show your work to people even when you are relatively sure that they don’t know anything about the topic around which you are working. It’s also valuable -- even before you’re ready -- to practice your presentations in front of these people, and test your ideas out on them.
Then, when you’re done, accept their feedback no matter how it is given. It may help to prime both the person you are receiving the feedback from and yourself for this part of the process. You can do this by reviewing “yes and” with them before you begin. It can also be helpful to frame their feedback as a gift, thanking them for it before they begin. Both of these methods help to start the feedback process with an eye towards being generative and thankful.
We regularly go through this process as a fellows cohort. Each of us practice presentations, pitches and designs with one another, and then we give and get feedback from everyone in the group. Doing this has helped me discover that feedback has multiple layers, and that it’s important to get beyond the surface level of “I liked it, nice work”. Equally important is going beyond any initial defensiveness on the part of the presenter. Both layers must be drilled through in order to get to deep insights. Here’s a tool I have used to achieve this:
Give everyone a pad of Post-it notes and ask them to answer just three questions:
What stood out? What surprised you? What didn’t you get?
The next step is up to you, the one receiving feedback. I like to set aside time to take a hard look at the feedback I’ve received. How does it map to your communication goal, and what did you communicate that you may not have intended? Did different things stand out for different listeners? Did the point you intended come through? Was there an even more profound point that you did not realize you communicated?
As for surprise, this is the key to making your design or presentation memorable. A presentation without a surprise fails to be memorable. And, if you confused people or they did not make a connection, you’ve got the clear message to simplify and tighten things up.
You may find that, in your work, with a little bit of discipline and focus, receiving critique just might be the best part of the process.
I published a blog post here on the whiteboard a few days ago in which I shared a new concept I had developed for teacher professional development (PD) called “two-minute PD”. A two-minute PD is a video created by educators for educators. Each video features an exciting teaching strategy, classroom activity or teaching concept worth sharing.
My goal was to transform what is considered a time-consuming yet necessary practice into something that is a welcome part of a teacher’s everyday life. Shortly after I published my blog post, my #2minPD idea acquired some early adopters. Now, it's quickly forming into a movement, with people contributing from around the world.
These early adopters have been reaching out to express their excitement and support around #2minPD, and many have started filming and sharing their own videos. I’m currently working on creating a distribution system where selected videos are pushed out to teachers who subscribe to receive them via mobile. The best part: all of this content is free.
I believe this is an opportunity for teachers to effectively take on the world as their classroom.
In Derek Sivers’s popular 2010 TED Talk titled, "How to Start a Movement", he highlights the "first follower" as being critical to the success of any movement. He says that "the first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader." If you haven't seen it, I definitely recommend watching.
In that vein, #2minPD’s early adopters are proving Sivers' theory true. I received this video from Australia of a #2minPD. Seeing an idea take root and travel around the world is a humbling and inspiring experience. I shed a tear watching this video on the couch with my husband. It was a realization of everything for which I had worked so hard.
Then, this video came in from Ben Wilkoff, the director of personalized professional learning in Denver Public Schools. He decided to capture his support of this idea in a car ride. He frames this concept in some new ways that make me extremely excited about what is yet to come. He has since helped grow the #2minPD movement by creating a presence for it on Facebook, Google+ and YouTube. He even created the graphic featured in this piece.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKFKy5cPHv0 Most excitingly is the impact this concept is already having in the classroom. After posting her #2minPD, Lisa Abel-Palmieri's teaching strategy, Rose-Bud-Thorn, was used in two classrooms to help students reflect on their learning in different ways. This blog post includes Lisa's #2minPD video, shares how the activity went and even builds on the concept with some additional questions.
I am working now on getting as many #2minPD videos made as possible. I will curate a series from those submissions to create a daily PD offering for educators in the fall of 2015.
I have an ambitious goal: I want to reach 1 million educators daily for 30 days!
Stay tuned for a link to sign up for the #2minPD series in the fall of 2015. In the meantime, get details about how to create your own #2minPD. And, of course, thank you to everyone who has made #2minPD more than I could have imagined.
It's a common nightmare. You stand in front of a class or you take an exam -- and you draw a blank. You haven't studied; you never learned the lines. Your mind is a tabula rasa of the first order, and you're stuck. You break into a cold sweat before you rattle yourself back to consciousness.
It wasn't real, you tell yourself in the dead of night. It's okay. Eventually, you fall back asleep.
But sometimes this moment slips out of your nightmares into reality. You're flying by the seat of your pants. Now, mix in design work, and you're suddenly designing by the seat of your pants. So, how do you do it?
Let me tell you a story.
The schedule for the fellows program hit a speed bump over a week ago. It hit that speed bump at full tilt and flew through the air with, it seemed, no one to catch it. While Mondays are dedicated to fellows' presentations, Wednesdays have been reserved for guest lectures as determined by the cohort, and no one had been scheduled. In all, the fellows have a fast-dwindling number of opportunities to formally gather. This means every moment to share and leverage one another's expertise is precious.
So, I sent the following e-mail to the group in a last-ditch effort to create meaning out of the meeting time:
Hi all - For those interested, I am happy to hold a storytelling workshop if you are interested. This may be a nice opportunity to hear each other's challenges and ask questions on this front.
Just an idea.
I had nothing planned when I sent that e-mail, and to make matters worse, I had no idea of what I could plan. Other than a determination to lean into the challenge and the moment, I had no idea what I was doing.
The appointed hour arrived, and five of nine fellows showed up for the workshop. In a show of respect to the fellows who turned up, I did my best to start on time. I asked each fellow to outline their main concerns around their projects, particularly as it related to their storytelling. There were a few common themes:
- What would their final presentations look like at graduation? What was required? Did they need to start preparing now?
- How do they tell the story of their projects? What consistent narrative or script could they have to begin expressing the work they've done at the d.school to the wider world?
- What is their personal story? Now that they are nearing the end of their time as fellows, how do they express to others the new professional -- the designer -- they've become and the value of what they've learned?
Well, at least we had plenty of work to do.
Based on what I learned in the initial check-in, I determined that I needed to better define the fellows' common challenges. So, I grabbed a whiteboard marker and started writing questions on the board. The questions came organically from what I believed to be a latent need to distill large concerns and observations around their storytelling work into bite-sized chunks. Here are the questions I scrawled on the board (they have been modified to reflect some clarifying questions the fellows posed during the exercise):
- What do you need to be able to tell your story this week?
- Who were you when the fellowship started?
- Who are you now?
- Who do you want to be when the fellowship ends?
I then instructed them to answer each question with a Post-it. The magic of the Post-it note is that it forces one to headline ideas. Whereas a discussion, a paper or a blog post can allow one to ramble (yes, I know), a post-it cuts you off, forcing you to focus.
Two of the fellows, in reviewing this piece, asked me how I came to these questions. What went through my mind at the time? Now, d.leadership had taught me to dive in confidently, to acknowledge and embrace the moment and to dedicate myself fully to changing my method at any and every opportunity. My d.bootcamp experience, which had taught me the raw process, was the foundation on which my empathy and definition work rested. Here, though, is the most honest answer: I asked these questions because I was constantly asking them of myself. How does nearly eight months of learning and applying design thinking change your perception of yourself?
Now, did every fellow adhere to the one-Post-it rule? No, and it was a battle worth losing since, I was still able to see ideas that were a bit more distilled than during our check-in conversation. I reviewed their work, looking for the common themes I had heard hints of in that discussion.
In retrospect, the exercise served as my empathy work.
Based on that, I defined the challenge, establishing two stages for the rest of my workshop: give every fellow a concrete assignment to be completed during that session and make sure that I convey one, key skill. In essence, I was pushing them to prototype.
I decided that the skill would be to make sure that each fellow could easily audio record their thoughts, observations and conversations with their phone. They each had a general idea of how to pull up an audio recorder, but there were some last-mile challenges that they were able to navigate through collaborative learning.
Why this skill? I have a few reasons:
- I've found that, when it comes to design work, taking pen-and-paper notes can be disruptive -- especially when you're in a one-on-one situation. Those notes can often fail to capture important details such as tone and character.
- The audio recordings can serve as content for the fellows' final presentations as well as a springboard for their storytelling going forward, addressing two key concerns that surfaced during our work.
- It's more likely that the fellows will have their smartphone in their back pocket than a notebook.
- Audio is a nice middle ground between paper and video. It is easily transferrable, with generally small file sizes.
- I firmly believe that smartphones are one of the most powerful tools in the modern storytelling arsenal, and a familiarity with the tools specific to storytelling (audio, video, sketch & prototyping apps) is essential.
Once each fellow provided proof of capability with their recording devices, we began unpacking their answers to the questions on the board. In doing so, I was able to refine my earlier discoveries into two key themes:
- Branding is an essential part of each fellows' desired experience. Whether it was establishing themselves in a new role within their organization or strategizing an approach to social media, each fellow wanted to at least begin the work of establishing a brand for themselves before the fellowship was over.
- A new frame for expertise. Each fellow arrived at the d.school an expert in their own right, but the frame on that expertise has changed since they arrived. For some it centered around the incorporation of design thinking into their daily work, while for others it centered more specifically around their projects. They each wanted to know how to express that change in a clear way.
To that end, and taking into account that four fellows were not present, I made the following assignments, custom-fitting them to each fellow:
Make a listicle: Kim Jacobson's project is the iZone, which presents not only a large-scale design challenge but a complex storytelling one as well. With this exercise, I wanted to create an opportunity for her to drill down and express that story succinctly. The listicle may be mocked by the journalism cognoscenti, but it is, nonetheless, an effective storytelling tool. Tying the popular culture to a theme particular to an interest group is a way to grow and strengthen a community culture. I assigned Kim the task of making a listicle for the iZone. This gave both of us an opportunity to see another layer of her storytelling challenge and her project overall.
Draft your TED talk: If you're an educator and you haven't heard of two-minute PDs (#2minPD), you will. This is Melissa Pelochino's project -- one she wrote about here on the whiteboard late last month. Since then, the idea has spread internationally, with educators celebrating the opportunity to transform an otherwise arduous and poorly-tailored part of their professional experience into an empowering and community-building exercise. So, how could Melissa capture the story of the idea and its impact? A TED talk. These short-form, highly curated presentations have been critiqued for, on occasion, their oversimplification of complex topics. But they remain a strong model for expressing a narrative in an attractive and engaging way.
Draft 10 tweets that you wish to send over the course of the day: Social media is a critical branding tool, and two fellows, Melissa (@mpelochino) and Melissa "Mel" Kline-Lee (@MelissaKlinLee), expressed a desire to have a stronger voice over social media. A powerful tool for establishing a brand (and one I know I don't use often enough), is the scheduled tweet. This allows you to maintain a constant presence on the medium, which is important for building audience.
Record, write & repeat: Fred Leichter is among the most experienced design thinkers in the fellows cohort. Having attended workshops in the early days of the d.school and bringing design thinking back to Fidelity, Fred brings a nuanced understanding of the process to his work. He has used the fellowship to, in part, further refine his understanding of the underlying design thinking principles to begin to create his own design-thinking process and tools. The knowledge he has about the process, however, is often shared in conversations around the d.school. During our workshop, I noticed he was processing and delivering a key insight about design thinking to the group. I stopped him, asked him to turn on his phone's recording device, repeat what he had said and, before he left the session that day, use it as the backbone for a piece we could share on the whiteboard. Before the end of the program, I hope to have a series of these insights from Fred, giving him (and you) the value of a repository of knowledge on design thinking from an experienced, real-world practitioner.
I concluded the fellows' session with heads-down time, giving each one an opportunity to generate a piece of concrete work based on their insights. My final goal was to give each of them something I have found lacking in many of the workshops I have attended and hosted: a tangible springboard. That, in turn, gave me plenty more work to do in terms of editing and iterating. So, without further ado, I'm going to get back to it.
Do you have an experience designing by the seat of your pants? Share it in the comments, or tweet it to me at @emikolawole.
- In-house PD: This type of PD is offered at school sites -- often weekly. It is usually run by someone on staff and on the school site exclusively. It is common for different staff members to run different sessions throughout the year. In some cases, the principal runs the majority of these sessions.
- District–wide or organizational-wide PD: This is often scheduled in advance and requires multiple sites to co-locate for long periods of time (half day, full day or multiple day PD). These create an opportunity for school sites within a district or organization to collaborate, learn something in common, and meet and greet other people who teach their same subject area or grade. These larger efforts will often warrant guest speakers from the “outside” to present or lead.
- Institution-based PD: This is usually long-term professional development around a common theme or content area. These PDs are often tied to a university, nonprofit organization or research institution. These experiences are often funded, so teachers may receive a stipend for their time and participation.
- Professional Inquiry Group: In this form of PD, a cohort of teachers will come together to learn about something of interest to the group. These are often site-based but they don’t have to be. There are many formats and protocols for such groups but these groups often meet regularly for extended periods of time as they work collaboratively to learn and share new teaching practices.
- Coaching: Many sites have on-site coaches as well as district coaches for their teachers. These coaches often support teachers in different goals in distinctly different ways. Principals will often play the coach role for teachers as well. New teachers also tend to have a “new teacher coach” who is assigned to help new teachers acquire the necessary credentials.
Most teachers participate in all of these types of professional development concurrently. The result is confused, overwhelmed teachers who find it difficult to know what to focus on first and who have a hard time remembering what they are working on and for whom. I have seen many teachers develop “cheat sheets” to help them keep track of all of the professional development they are participating in. Often, the PD calendar is set at the beginning of the year and is not responsive to the immediate and changing needs of the students and staff.
PD is still being delivered in a 20th-century lecture style, and most of it looks the same: teachers sitting in rows, staring at computers or cellphones while a person at the front of the room talks at them and refers to a computer screen from time to time.
I was recently at an “innovation conference” where someone taught a lecture called “tyranny of the lecture” -- in a lecture format. Uhhhhh. So, when I tell teachers I am working on redesigning professional development, they often cheer and say, “thank you.”
Here, as I see it, are the main issues facing professional development for teachers:
- There is an over-saturation of information.
- We are not teaching teachers in ways that we want them to teach kids.
- Learning is not differentiated in any way.
- Rather than sticking with what works and building on it, PD tends to go in the direction of the latest fad.
I began thinking about how to change teacher practice through transformative, memorable deep-dive experiences. The prototypes were more workshop-like but more experiential and radical than traditional workshops offered for teacher PD. I thought about American Idol-style conferences where teachers team up and work with coaches to improve their practice over a week’s time, or how horse therapy and liquid-flow dance could lend itself to classroom practice.
What I learned from these prototypes is that, while the experience was often exciting, memorable and transformative for the moment, true sustained change was difficult to achieve using this model. I started looking at some of the newer models for student education. At the SXSWedu conference in Austin this year, I talked to many educational technology companies creating and delivering micro content to students online. I learned there is a lot of research to support this new style of learning.
I started wondering why we aren't using this same model for teachers, and I began building prototypes around micro content that could be delivered daily to teachers around important ideas in education. Here's an example:
The feedback from my prototypes was extremely positive. These prototypes led me to think about how to make professional development part of teachers’ everyday lives. What if PD became routine, just like brushing our teeth or checking your Facebook page? This is the question guiding my current work.
I am currently developing several new prototypes designed to make professional development part of teachers’ everyday lives. I am working on creating meaningful content in an engaging format that can be applied in the classroom immediately. My goal is to make it concrete, applicable and short.
I hope that this new format for teacher learning will be so profound and have such an impact on instruction that they will begin to demand more from their day-long and week-long professional development experiences. When you have to concentrate the idea into a 2-minute snippet, for example, it requires you to think, weed, filter and, I believe, create the best learning experience possible.
If you have an idea for a 2-minute PD, would like to film one yourself, or would like to nominate someone else to film one, please drop me a line in the comments, on Twitter at @mpelochino or on email at melissa[at]dschool[dot]stanford[dot]edu.
It's very hard to find words to describe something that has yet to exist. I know this because, for months now, I have been called on to do exactly that. I am working on a project that is part connective tissue, part neural network, part playground, part bridge. But none of those words capture the full extent of the Innovation Zone (iZone) in San Mateo County, the project I am working on during my time as a fellow here at the d.school.
So, what is the iZone? At its essence, it is "a partnership between schools and our community to accelerate the transformation of public schools for the digital age." There are three central parts so far:
- A network of innovators who collaborate and share learning – we both “build” and “partner” across our ecosystem
- Facilitation of a continuous process of innovation – “Education by Design”
- An organized set of partnerships supporting innovations in the network
That is how my team and I are formally defining it, at least for now. But there is so much behind that definition -- stories of students, teachers, parents and administrators. There is the story of my team's work and my personal story (which you can read more about). There's the web of rules and regulations that govern school districts, and then there's our vision for San Mateo County schools once the iZone vision is realized.
It's a lot of story to tell, and the act of doing so is proving difficult. Part of that has to do with the fact we're still in the process of creating the iZone. But another part has to do with the fact that the system we are working in and around – public education -- is actually really complex.
I worked with d.school fellow Matt Haney and editor-in-residence Emi Kolawole around this storytelling design challenge. I explained the vision of the iZone over and over again. We filled up the whiteboards here at the d.school with ideas -- dancing between nouns, verbs and adjectives -- until I eventually said:
"It's easy. Classrooms have to have adequate bandwidth to connect to the world around them. Students have to have devices to learn about the evolving world and communicate with each other. Teachers have to be comfortable with computers, the Internet, and instructional software and collaborating. So they need training. They need time. The devices have to work. We need a network of support. We need monitoring – “mission critical” infrastructure in every classroom. These are all steps that we've done in industry. It's not anything new. We just have to do this with our schools, right? Ok, so if we address the connectivity gap, we still have a lot of teachers who have been asked to teach in a very rigid format for a long time, and we also have this twenty-first century world that needs a lot more problem solvers, coders and engineers. And we don't have many teachers who know coding and engineering, so we have huge challenges to solve there. The Internet affords so many new, rich ways of learning. We need to explore what those are and get our educators, parents and students good at them. We need radical collaboration amongst parents, teachers and students around student success. We need to design for self-paced learning and creativity. So there's just a lot of experimentation that has to go on right now. The iZone is creating ways for that to happen in – rather than just around - our schools."
"I'm going to send that to you," Emi said, snatching her phone up from the bench in front of me. She had secretly been recording me.
"It's good," said Matt quietly.
"Send it to me," I said, "because I don't think I can say it again."
What I said that day is certainly not the complete story of the iZone or a complete definition, but it's a start -- an honest expression of my vision born of well over an hour of generative collaboration. I'm not new to working at a point of future convergence, which is where the iZone project firmly rests. But I've found it difficult to find words to describe the future, because my team and I are building something for the unknown.
Have you worked on storytelling around complex-system design? Are you interested in learning more about the iZone? Let me know in the comments.
Very few organizations welcome "weird" into their cultures. Some start that way (when there's nothing to lose), but few stay the crazy course. Think about it: has your employer ever encouraged you to be weird? There are few things people fear more than the unpredictable.
We crave predictability because our most basic needs are predictable. We know that we get hungry and need shelter. It makes sense on the surface to calm our crazy and smooth out our weirdness if we want to satisfy those predictable needs. But when was the last time you found a solution to a truly difficult problem while plodding a predictable path?
Worse yet, our predictable notions can lead to irrational actions. They can lead a senior executive to measure employees by the share of revenue they bring to the company rather than the rate of customer satisfaction and return engagement. They can lead a middle manager to spend more time prioritizing their higher-ups's whims than their customers' needs. They can prompt a veteran employee to spend hours studying how best to navigate the org chart rather than developing a creative product.
When seen through the lens of predictable needs, these are perfectly rational behaviors. Revenue and senior manager satisfaction have a natural correlation to compensation. The more money a company makes, the easier it is to pay your employees. If your senior managers like you, it's more likely they'll remember you when they're handing out bonuses. But these behaviors are often at odds with discovering solutions to difficult problems, which can do far more to help the bottom line.
This dynamic is fueled by fear. There are the softer fears of being perceived as weak, slow or stupid. There are the more gut-wrenching fears of being suspended or fired. Then there are the primal fears of being hungry or exposed. These fears leave little room for weird, crazy behaviors. But they must.
The greatest triumphs I've witnessed at the d.school have come when people push through their fear, embrace the weird and place their users' needs before their own. Do the prototypes always work? Of course not. Are some of the ideas downright ridiculous? Yes. But the crazier they are, the more inspiring the feedback and the greater the opportunity for high-value solutions.
The next time you find yourself protecting the predictable at the expense of embracing the weird, pause for a moment. Perhaps the fastest way to satisfy your most predictable personal needs is by embracing the unpredictable in your work.