I learned a valuable lesson about going it alone this week — yet another where I had the chance to facilitate two workshops.
On Tuesday, I joined a team of coaches to facilitate a workshop with Stanford fellows from four separate cohorts around campus. The d.school, Knight, Biodesign and Clinical Excellence Research Center (CERC) fellows all gathered in the atrium (the large auditorium-style space in the d.school) to do a workshop introducing them to the basic elements of design thinking. This was the schedule for the day:
- Draw-your-neighbor activity
- Form a line by date of birth without speaking
- Re-design the carry-on bag experience
- Mini prototyping activity: Design the travel experience on the moon
- An activity to design four types of prototypes
- Empathy mapping the Freshman experience
- "release, reveal, reframe, renew" - An introduction to design thinking and project framing
- Q&A and Feedback
That was the plan with lunch sandwiched somewhere in between. My primary responsibility was designing the worksheet for the last exercise before Q&A. I spent most of the weekend refining and tuning the document, taking the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Adobe InDesign — a powerful tool for layout formatting and design. If you're wondering how it turned out, I'll share the worksheet in a later post.
My main challenge was translating the ideas and feedback generated in a three-person meeting that happened the Friday evening before the workshop, which was scheduled for the coming Tuesday. The meeting was generative but was also, at least for me, frustrating. As much as I appreciate an opportunity to think broadly and put forth new ideas while withholding judgment, I found it difficult to stay in that mode while feeling the time pressure to begin making the worksheet itself.
The clock was ticking and there were laptops already in the room. So, I thought, why not begin crafting the worksheet (i.e. prototyping) as we’re putting out ideas given how easy it was to start?
Bias towards action, right? Well, a strange thing happened. I found myself getting further and further away from contributing and sharing my ideas. I became so focused on incorporating the ideas flying around the room into a draft worksheet, that I wasn’t contributing. I started to disappear behind the computer screen, and my role went from that of contributor to note-taker.
I was biasing towards acting on makeshift stenography while my two collaborators were tossing around new ideas.
Group note-taker isn’t a role I like to play — and it’s not one conducive to good team design work. That’s why the whiteboards and sticky notes exist, so that, at the end of a brainstorm or other gathering, the notes are all there for everyone to see. I’ll hazard to say good design thinking work needs a team — not a designated stenographer.
If I had it to do over again, I would have stayed in the flare with my colleagues and saved the prototyping work/worksheet crafting to the weekend. It even turned out that my early prototyping work didn’t help me as much as photographs of the whiteboards we worked on.
The insight: Traditionally, we think of teamwork as everyone working towards the same stated goal. People peel off and work independently, bringing their components together towards the end. In good design work, the focus is on collaboration — not goals or outcomes. That means staying with your team and contributing collaboratively. If your team is flaring, flare with them. If they are in a state of focus, take the time to focus. Make sure the team is with you and clearly communicate your desire to transition should you feel the need to. Going it alone is like marooning your ideas. You rob yourself of the opportunity to contribute fully and you rob your team members of the value of your ideas built on top of their own.