Knowledge of human-centered design can prove helpful at the most unexpected times.
That observation comes with a story. I am writing this from the lobby of a very nice hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. I have no room booked in this hotel. In fact, I have no room booked anywhere. My flight, which was rescheduled due to a connection failure between Philadelphia and San Francisco, is not scheduled until around 5 a.m. the next day. The next day arrived six minutes ago.
I know this feeling, I thought before starting to write. This is how you feel at the d.school sometimes. I was entirely uncomfortable.
Then, much like a reflex, everything I had learned kicked in. I began to see my situation as an opportunity for a change in mindset and immersion. What would it be like to be a truly stranded passenger? What would I do? Where would I go, and what would I hope to find?
I told a cab driver to take me to a hotel that I knew had no available rooms. I made a last-ditch inquiry at the front desk, but their situation hadn't changed. So, I stayed in the hotel lobby, reading articles and writing. I came to learn my discomfort was negligible-to-non-existent in light of the EF2 tornado that struck in the Boston suburbs. I pondered the very disturbing and sad life story of my cab driver, stayed in touch with generous friends and had a late dinner.
Then, I waited for that moment when I would be truly alone and at what was likely to be my most uncomfortable.
That moment arrived sooner than I thought. Cold and tired in the hotel lobby, I began to ache and my dinner started to pull at my eyelids. There were few things in the world I wanted more than a warm bed, and I was still among the luckiest people in the city. So many people in need of shelter would never be granted entree to this hotel lobby or have access to the Internet and a cellphone lit up with messages from concerned friends.
Even in light of my relative comfort, the experience reminded me how important it is to always be prepared to embrace the unexpected and retain perspective. No matter where you are, your experience can be profoundly affected by the mindset you choose. Once I changed my mindset from fear and resentment to one of exploration and curiosity, I started smiling more -- to the nice people behind the counter at the airport who told me there were no available rooms for the night, to my cab driver and to the young woman at the hotel front desk. Being kind to people is always a good idea, but it can be difficult when you're under duress. Making a conscious decision to change your mindset can help mitigate stress.
The last few months have really forced me to challenge myself in this regard. I am not used to such a slow summer pace with so much promise for long-term projects, nor am I accustomed to the opportunity for extended vacations. Ill-prepared to balance my time in this way, I am, perhaps, over-indulging in my vacation time. But I have been trying to focus on spending this summer on a hunt for that profound idea, vision or even a person I could bring back to the d.school. I have, frankly, struggled to find the right mindset for this type of undertaking. Is it curiosity, focus, generative or panic?
I've decided it's none of the above, instead I've settled on openness.
During my trip to Philadelphia, for example, in addition to my attendance at the inaugural convening of SRCCON where very smart people filled my head with very new and interesting ideas, I also spent three hours at The Barnes Foundation. A very kind and generous colleague suggested I visit. It was a fantastic trip to see some of the most remarkable pieces of art ever created in human history. The most artistic work, as I came to learn, was the arrangement of the individual pieces themselves. The entire museum was an experience in masterful design -- from the positioning of the works and the frames that contained them to the iron work and chests arranged around the paintings.
Now, in light of everything I have experienced, here are my insights:
Pause. Reflect. Smile. Taking a moment to pause and reflect when you are at your most stressed isn't easy. I relied on friends in my close and extended network to help me. But, ultimately, the choice rested with me as to whether I would embrace the adventure or fight the discomfort. Choosing the latter made for a much better and enriching experience overall. I learned that, thanks to having an understanding of the power of mindset, I was capable of mastering my situation from within.
Zoom out. Much as visitors are called to do at the Barnes, zooming out can be an incredibly enriching exercise. The discomfort I experienced during my layover is nothing compared to so many other people in Boston and the surrounding area. My experience was, by far, a luxury. Sometimes, the most important challenge is zooming out and embracing a broader perspective -- seeing the arrangement rather than focusing on one piece of art.
Neither of these insights are particularly profound, but I think they are important to pull out and focus on in terms of how knowledge of design thinking can affect more than just your work. Is it a method for producing unforeseen outcomes? Sure. But if you're open, it can also offer an opportunity to change (and hopefully improve) the way you live your life.