Could design thinking unlock Washington's gridlock?

(Photo by Flickr user Ron Cogswell) It is nearly impossible for Congress to become less popular, with progress on policy difficult-to-impossible. Just ask members of Congress.

Oh, wait, Esquire's Mark Warren did that. Sadly, it seems members are about as fed up with congressional gridlock as the people they are charged with serving. Now, what if design thinking were applied to this particularly thorny set of challenges? Does capitalist democracy need design thinking?

That's what IDEO's Tim Brown and the University of Toronto's Roger Martin tackled in a conversation moderated by IDEO Editorial Director Shoshana Berger. Tim is IDEO'S CEO and President, while Roger is the Academic Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. An excerpt of the conversation was posted by the Harvard Business Review earlier today.

At one point, when asked about the role design thinking could play in assessing the infrastructure of the democratic capitalism system, Tim replied:

"The underlying pieces of infrastructure — the education system, the health system, the way we design and build our cities, and even our financial system — rarely get looked at from a design perspective. What happens if you radically redesign this system, or what happens if we radically evolve this system over time in order to meet some purpose that we’re clear about and in order to meet the needs of the participants in this system in a better way than we’ve being doing it?

These are design problems. We need to use the techniques and methodologies of design to bring hypotheses and proposals out into the world much more rapidly and try them out and evolve them in real life, rather than spending months, years, or even decades writing hypothetical reports in policy think tanks where they doesn’t actually have much of an impact in the end. We also need the skills of storytelling that come along with design to helps describe new possibilities in ways that can create some action."

As I mentioned, the rest of the conversation is available via the Harvard Business Review and the full transcript is available via The Martin Prosperity Institute. What do you think? What (if any) role can or should design thinking play in bringing an end to Washington gridlock, and reviving the democratic capitalism system?

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

Can you become a chef without being a cook?

(Photo via Flickr user ollesvensson) The fellows were back for fellows studio last week - a period of time set aside for them to discuss their findings from empathy work they've done over the previous two weeks. They have conducted numerous interviews among potential user groups, held workshops, and met with professionals in the field related to their projects.

The week was dedicated to presenting and synthesizing that work, defining a need, brainstorming and then creating a prototype to present during a design review held on Friday.

Fellow Guido Kovalskys has centered his project around the question of how and why teachers share, specifically what they think about the sharing economy and what, ultimately, is in it for them. The central question is, as he put it, "What's the what behind sharing" when it comes to the nation's teachers? As the founder of the education technology company Nearpod, the question cuts to the heart of Guido's professional work.

Guido presented his key findings using the empathy map framework (below), outlining what interviewees said, did, thought and felt.

An empathy map in which design thinkers can outline what interviewees say, do, think and feel in quadrants going counterclockwise from the top left quadrant.

If you're a teacher or work in education, some of the sentiments Guido collected may be familiar. There were teachers who told him that seniority matters almost more than anything else in their schools. There were those who only wanted to share with teachers with whom they had problems in common. Some teachers exhibited a keen awareness of time, being quick to refer to specific time increments ("57 minutes") rather than make generalizations.

Guido gathered that teachers felt they lacked support in the creation of lesson plans or that innovation would get them in trouble. There were also those teachers who seemed to feel more encouraged to share online than in their schools and who felt the value they provided was impersonal. But there were other teachers who seemed to feel big change was coming to the teaching profession and those who found  stories of their peers' successes compelling.

The conversation among the fellows and program leaders cartwheeled through a number of different ideas and questions. Melissa Pelochino, a fellow and veteran teacher, recounted how she had once heard that a cook, after preparing a meal a certain number of times, could begin to modify the recipe, making it their own and eventually becoming a chef.

What if it was possible to skip the recipe and go straight for creative modification? In other words, can you be a chef without being a cook?

This would mean, for teachers and/or students, that they could take on learning something new outside of the given recipe. In essence, says Melissa, Bloom's Taxonomy (as revised) -- a classification system for education-based learning -- would be flipped on its head. The taxonomy, shaped like a pyramid, is comprised of six stages, with "remembering" at the base and goes up through "understanding", "applying", "analyzing", evaluating" and ending at the top with "creating". Flipping it would mean students would start at "create" rather than "remembering".

So, is that possible? Can teachers and/or students cast aside the recipe, as it were, and become chefs without being cooks? What's your answer? Share it with us in the comments, and if you have questions or suggestions for Guido's project, feel free to leave them in the comments as well. You can follow Guido on Twitter at @GuidoNearpod and Melissa at @mpelochino.

What is design to you?

I noticed this Tweet from The Fox Is Black while wading back into the Twitter river after more than a few days away from the platform:

It got me thinking about the question: What is design to you?

The fellows are called on to take a 10-month break from their careers to pursue an intensive immersion in design thinking. They're often asked what it means to go to design school and what kind of design they are studying. It's a challenging question to answer while you are wading into a pool of new (or new-ish) knowledge.

But context is everything and "design" can mean different things to different people. So, what is "design" to you? How does it make you feel? What comes to mind when you say the word? Let us know in the comments, and know that there are no right or wrong answers -- at least not here.

Update: 2:27 p.m. -

We've received quite a few responses to this question. Thanks to everyone who shared with us. We have a few comments and here are some responses we received over Twitter.

Thanks to everyone who shared their comments!

Is growing the number of women in leadership a question of design?

pantene-ad General Motors and The Kennedy Center have made history this week.

Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors, making her the first female CEO not only at GM but in the entire industry. The Kennedy Center announced the same day that Deborah Rutter would step in as president -- the first woman to hold the position. But a report by the non-profit research firm Catalyst finds that, while the number of women in chief executive roles continues to grow, they still continue to trail their male counterparts.

As The Washington Post's Lillian Cunningham reports, Catalyst found that "women currently hold less than 15 percent of senior positions among the Fortune 500, a number that hasn’t significantly changed over the past four years."

Meanwhile, an ad from Pantene Philippines could be seen as outlining the story behind those numbers. An ad for the company made by Manila-based BBDO Guerrero features numerous stereotypes women face in the workplace relative to men. Where a man may be seen as the "boss", a woman may be seen as "bossy" or where a man is seen as "persuasive" a woman is perceived as "pushy", and so on. Here's the ad, which was published to YouTube in early November:

The video is striking in that it uses relatively subtle shifts to highlight very stark contrasts between how men and women are perceived both inside and outside of the workplace. Perhaps there are other ways to design messaging around gender and leadership that could grow the number of women in leadership positions. Then again, it may be worth going outside of the ad framework entirely.

So, here's the question: If you were to take on the challenge of growing the number of women in leadership roles, how would you go about it? Where would you start in the design thinking process? Which industry would you take on? Would you take on the challenge industry-by-industry or go another way?