I'm smack in the middle of process - or, at least, I think I am. It's hard to tell sometimes. This past week, I was able to find a little clarity and a few, fascinating insights.
Co-creation expert and INITIATIVES co-founder and partner Stine Degnegaard visited the d.school this week. Stine, like Aaron Huey, is a Global Ambassador for the d.school fellows program. She is also a PhD Fellow at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design.
Now, if you remember last year’s fellows, you know this isn’t the first time Stine has been to the d.school. She spent days working with last year's cohort to help them bring clarity to their projects through the process of co-creation.
Now, what is co-creation? Here is how I have come to understand it, having seen a few of these sessions in action: It’s a method of expressing an idea, project or concept, drawing out the key insights and making it translatable to a wider audience. The process includes empathy interviewing and illustration to help identify and clarify multi-stakeholder initiatives and strategies.
Well, one of the core challenges we’re taking on at the d.school is finding ways to capture insights and learning from innovators as they are in process. Now, even writing that feels a bit exhausting and the phrasing itself stale. I have been spouting this in nearly the same incarnation for nearly five months. It was time to really dive into what I actually mean and clarify the challenge.
Well, Stine worked with me to pull a number of ideas out of my head, and in so doing, helped me arrive at a few insights of my own:
Breaking through fear of judgment: Getting people to share their process is difficult, since people use their process to get to a final result. They rarely see their process as valuable to anyone else, not to mention between the time they start and the time they finish they are vulnerable. So, accessing them in those moments means breaking through fear -- fear of judgment, fear of being misunderstood and fear of being dismissed. So, how do you break through that to get to the learning on the other side? Here's how Stine represented that:
The power of the throwback: Asking someone to write a blog post about their process can be like asking someone to yank out their own teeth. The blank page is intimidating to many people, and the value of a blog post can be seen as relatively low. It's hard to make the case for contributing to a medium that is already crowded with ideas and voices when you can spend that time searching for a way to stand out by creating something new. So, perhaps, the way in -- the way to impart value to sharing of process is by asking them to contribute to an analog record -- a coffee-table book, a deck of cards or a physical canvas. In other words, perhaps the throwback is the way to move forward.
From hagiography to empathy: This was a big insight for me. When I described to Stine the underlying challenge I am taking on, I realized that the "why" of my challenge was weak. In other words, why was I trying to capture insights and learnings from innovators in process? Why did it matter? What was in it for the innovator? Stine kept asking me questions and I kept pulling at threads. I eventually had to leave, and when I came back, she had drawn this:
The image shows the innovator sharing the finished product (there are bumps and bruises hidden behind a locked door, represented by "oinks" and "moos" before the final "tweet".)
Stine drew another image on the other side of the long sheet of paper. That image showed the innovator sharing the bumps and ups and downs with others. That's when it dawned on me, this was an opportunity for empathy -- a chance for an innovator to place themselves in the shoes of the person sharing. So, Stine added the red "empathy" text and markings to create this:
I often say that, in this project, I am trying to move away from what I call "the hagiography of the inventor/innovator" and towards a new paradigm in innovation -- one where sharing process and mistakes isn't a source of fear. But it wasn't until I was able to see these two drawings juxtaposed that I realized I really wanted to break through fear of judgment and misunderstanding to empathy.
Now, there are still a host of assumptions baked into this, and a number of other aspects to the illustration that are important. It's still messy, but that's my process. I'm, in fact, feeling the vulnerability and fear that I described above even in writing this. But in order to realize this project, I have to start with myself.
So, oink, moo, ouch.