Roughly 100 people converged on the d.school for an introductory workshop in design thinking on Oct. 30. I co-instructed a group of six as they re-designed the breakfast experience. Going into the exercise, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on design. I was blindsided by how different it is to stand on the outside of the process and look in.
It was my responsibility to start off the session and introduce the group to the first activity of the design challenge (interviewing their partner for a few minutes). I joked, I gave examples, I encouraged, I made earnest, if slightly too intense, eye contact. I urged them to follow stories with significance rather than collect facts. I thought I rocked it. The first person in each pair started asking their partner questions.
But I forgot to mention to them that the topic of their interview was supposed to be breakfast. I panicked when someone informed me of my omission midway through the first round of interviews. I spent the next few minutes in instructor purgatory, trying to figure out how to seamlessly incorporate the topic overview into the pause between the first and second rounds of interviews -- all without derailing the first group.
This was the beginning of a series of lessons I learned while I tried to teach design thinking.
Lesson #1: Your pupils are not idiots. It turns out our students had read the massive text on the front page “Re-designing the Breakfast Experience”. The only person lost at this point was me. Listening in on the conversations around the table, I realized my panic was unwarranted, and frankly, insulting to the amazing people who joined my group.
I chilled out.
Then, a few minutes later, I started to feel useless. When I gave new instructions or offered an opportunity to ask questions, the attendees would briefly glance at me before they dove right back into conversation with their partners. No one had questions, and everyone seemed a little impatient to turn back to their work.
My immediate, self-conscious thought was that I must not be teaching well enough, or I was not engaging enough to hold their attention. The whole group was hunched, heads-together with their partners talking about community gardens and interracial cookbooks (one of the participants came up with the concept). They were incredibly dialed into and excited about the task at hand (draw 5-plus harebrained solutions for the problems you identified).
Lesson #2: If no one is paying attention to you, you’re doing something right. It took me a good ten minutes to crawl out of my own head and realize that my goal as an instructor was to get people to listen to each other’s stories and let that -- not my fun anecdotes -- guide their design. I relaxed. I observed. I started to enjoy the long pauses I experienced as an instructor between steps.
I have been learning design as a practitioner for the past few months. It was only when I stepped into the deep end of instruction that I started to consider it from the perspective of a teacher. You know what? As much as I enjoy sharing my ideas and being part of the process, it was so much more powerful to stand in a circle at the end of the design challenge and hear my group present solutions I would not have come up with to solve problems I did not know existed.
I’ve shared two lessons I learned as part of the teaching process. What else have you observed? What else do you wonder?