I don't have time to do laps in the local recreational pool here at Stanford. It's heated, cleaned, chlorinated, and generally safe for me -- a new design thinker -- to wade in and rhapsodize over the joys of collaboration and low-res prototyping.
My failure to jump into this actual pool helped me realize that it's time I waded into my own proverbial mud pool. In this pool, you can't see the bottom, though the view across the water looks fairly green and inviting. There's also no way to navigate the real world of problem solving if you don't jump in.
Roughly two weeks ago, I built my first design/systems dynamics workshop in an effort to bring design thinking into the military. I've been wanting to play with the intersection of complex systems, such as the military relationship between China and the U.S., and the human-centered problems that design thinking can address.
I started with two hypotheses and flipped each into a "how might we" statement, or HMW. I used the HMW to build the exercises for my workshop.
- The US military fails to understand the reverberations of their actions on their relationship with the Chinese military because they plan using scenarios that are days long instead of simulating decades of interactions. HMW look at a timeline of engagement on a certain issue (South China Sea territorial claims) that goes back decades and use it to generate points of view?
- When we're designing for a system, we need to gather a diverse set of users, hypothesize their points of view, and then prototype only to generate deeper empathy. HMW ideate to cause a change in a system? Can you use the relationships between users to inform ideation?
The day went something like this:
- Develop points of view and need statements for five different user groups. Do this in groups of three and rotate every ten minutes.
- Share the timeline of events going back two decades for South China Sea tensions. Ask participants to brainstorm what needs the different users had at different periods in the scenario.
- Ideate tools that users might need at those different periods.
- Develop ideas for prototypes that could be implemented by different users and possible testing scenarios.
To be honest, I felt very frustrated with the day's experience. The following points are where I felt I failed, and what I learned to do better next time.
- Transitioning straight from building user points of view to a scenario timeline didn't give the participants enough of a bridge to stay connected to the workshop.
- A list of dates and events was not enough to establish an understanding of the complicated evolution of relationships as they relate to the South China Sea territorial claims.
- Instead of providing a timeline, I would have asked the participants to brainstorm the variables endogenous and exogenous to the system.
- Then, I would have asked them to brainstorm the challenges in the system from the points of view of each of the five user groups we focused on during the workshop.
There are no swim lanes when it comes to this work. Learning how to navigate across the muddy puddle requires wading through it.
Check out my tumblr, alcinoesea.tumblr.com, for more details on the exercises I'm generating and the system dynamics, cognitive neuroscience, and other big academic theories that inform my work.