Applications for the d.school fellowship program for the academic year 2015-16 closed on May 10. This year, we were looking for restless experts in the fields of K12 education and civic innovation.Read More
What if, instead of waiting until the end of your design work, you intentionally captured your story throughout? How do you go beyond daily journaling or the occasional photograph? The d.school fellows are here, and Wednesday afternoon we presented them with some methods they can use to capture their stories. The "we" in question is made up of Seamus Harte and me.Read More
“Go forward not back.”
That’s what d.school co-founder George Kembel told me when we discussed my imminent return to Fidelity this past June. The conversation came after my memorable 10-month-long experience as a d.school fellow. During that time, I both took and taught classes, worked on a Fidelity project and collaborated actively with members of my fellows cohort.
Shortly after our fellows launch day, I returned to Fidelity and re-assumed my role leading design thinking in Fidelity Labs. Since my return, I’ve taken time to reflect on what I’ve brought back to my team and, of that, what has had the biggest impact.Read More
Have you ever been asked to tell a story in six words? It’s an extremely powerful exercise. Go ahead, try it. While you’re working on that, here’s mine:
Three weeks here. Countless epiphany moments.
You probably have your own story by now. If you do, share it in the comments, and then allow me to get into my longer story. It starts with being committed, and the initial quote comes from everyone’s favorite green Jedi sage:
“Do or do not, there is no try.”
Bernie Roth, the d.school’s academic director and Rodney H. Adams professor of engineering, surfaced the relevance of Yoda's quote to the design thinking process for me.
Okay, let's move on. Next comes:
“Going all in.”
Before coming to the d.school, I had serious doubts about whether or not I belonged to this place.
On day two, we sat with David Kelley, IDEO founder and Donald W. Whittier professor in mechanical engineering, for two hours. It became extremely clear to me, as he spoke, that I do indeed belong to this place. I was relieved. The d.school is about people who are going all in. In short: it's about people like me.
Now, what about being comfortable. The d.school, at first sight, looks like a happy family living in the best possible house. Still, there is tension. Everything here seems to be set up to make you feel comfortable being uncomfortable.
Just look where people sit:
“Bong” goes the gong.
The gong, for me, works like this: Inevitably, it’s going to sound. We all know it. That knowledge drives us to create something we can show to the world when it is inevitably slapped. Even if our prototype isn’t perfect, it drives you to do something -- anything. Here’s the best part: We get another chance. We always get another chance.
Now, the most important question: Who am I designing for? I keep hearing the idea that having a deep understanding of your users leads to new perspectives. It’s a very powerful concept that sounds simple, but it takes time to get used to it and to fully embrace it.
If you ask me, an education entrepreneur, who I am designing for, the answer is easy: meet my son.
Heavy rains along the Front Range in Colo. produced "unprecedented" flooding that left at least eight people dead earlier this month. The damage is expected to cost about $2 billion, according to some estimates. While the headlines are dominated with news of the government shutdown, the recovery in Colorado continues although the Associated Press reports that the shutdown could hurt those efforts.
Recovers.org CEO Caitria O'Neill started orientation as a Stanford d.school fellow on Sept. 3. After news of the floods broke, she split her time between orientation and the Recovers site dedicated to the devastating floods. She and her team have been posting regularly on recovery updates, flood victims' needs and available resources. I asked Caitria how, if at all, her introduction to design thinking changed her approach to managing Recovers's Colorado disaster response. Here's what she had to say:
During the fellowship orientation we participated in a day-long design prototyping project. This was the first project I have worked on in over two years that wasn't 'mine'. I found I had enough distance from the subject matter to explore more innovative solutions to the problem at hand (designing a 'new city' experience for visitors).
Juxtapose this experience with our team launching software for Colorado flood response. We've invested in tools, a deployment plan, even the language we use to describe our service. I'm close to the subject matter - obviously. But even one day of structure, language, and permission to explore made a difference.
Instead of seeing friction as a barrier or mistake, it can be a road sign. My team is working on asking deeper questions during this deployment than we have been previously. Not, "how can we make this software easier for you to use?". Rather, "how do you organize, and what's missing?".
Melissa Kline Lee cannot go to class.
The House and Senate have failed to agree on a measure to fund the federal government. It is now illegal for some federal workers to engage in any activity for which they would otherwise be compensated by Uncle Sam. Not all workers will be asked to stop working: The Washington Post's Brad Plumer has a breakdown of who can continue working (granted, without pay) and who can't. But some will.
Much of the discussion around the shutdown is happening in Washington D.C. In fact, take a seat at one of the coffee shops here in Palo Alto, and you're probably not going to hear a word about federal government closures. But that's not the case at the d.school.
Melissa is a strategist and project manager for the Office of Personnel Management. She is also a d.school fellow. She is working on re-designing talent management in an effort to build a culture of collaboration and innovation across government. We're in our second week of class and the fourth week of the program. But the government shutdown has hit the pause button on her fellowship, placing her behind her classmates and her cohort and effectively unplugging her from the source of knowledge she came here to access.
Granted, this sacrifice is not on par with federal employees who watch over the nation's nuclear stockpile. But it could have a ripple effect on determining how those people or their colleagues are hired in the future and the nature of their jobs. So, as the clock on the shutdown continues to tick, we wait. Perhaps it's not how government hires and manages its talent that's in need of some design thinking, but how it funds that work in the first place.
Here are the initial reactions of my friends and family when I told them I was named a Stanford d.school fellow:
- Concern: "Did you quit your job to become an interior designer?"
- Shock: "Are you getting another degree?"
- Confusion: "Isn't that out of your field?"
It was easy to answer those questions:
- Not really.
- Not sure.
But there was one more reaction -- confusion -- expressed in the following question: "What is the d.school and what will you learn there?" That’s the question I struggled to answer.
I’m a social worker by training and a human resources strategist in the federal government by practice. So it was difficult to tell people how I ended up at the d.school. I tried many times to explain it to others and, in the process, to myself. Most of the time the explanations looked like this:
- "The d. school is an innovator incubator. They focus on innovators not just their innovations." (This usually prompted the follow-up question: "Okay, but what does that mean?")
- "I'm going to learn about the design process from a human-centered approach. Check out their Web site." (I admit, that one’s an easy cop-out.)
- "I'm going to work with other fellows from very different backgrounds and disciplines on projects that will make people's lives better." (Here’s the question I kept asking myself after saying this: "Doesn't that happen in lots of places?")
In short, I was not completely confident I knew what the d.school was or what I would learn there. I felt like an impostor. Did anyone at Stanford read my essays? Did they review my resume? Did they understand the ridiculously large scope of my project?
My palms were sweating when I arrived on the first day of orientation. But as each day unfolded, and I met with d.school faculty, staff and alumni, it became evident that fear wasn’t in their vocabulary. Instead I found a boundless sense of intellectual curiosity, of "what if," of "how might we." One day, during the frenzy of a group activity, I looked up and saw these words hanging from the ceiling in the d. school lobby:
"There are no mistakes. There is no win and there is no fail. There is only make."
Then it all clicked: No fear.
On day 11 of orientation, I met an incoming freshman -- or “frosh,” as they’re known here. It was his first day at Stanford. I started asking him questions as part of a day-long d.bootcamp assignment, which was to develop a social strategy for students who are new to campus. What was the experience like for him? What was his favorite part of the day so far? What was easiest for him about the day? What was most difficult? In the process of asking these questions, I experienced the first aspect of the design cycle: empathy. I also discovered that what this frosh needed, above all else, was a friend.
Eventually I realized there was little separating me -- a social worker and government employee -- from this teenage freshman. We came from different worlds, but we shared the same basic reaction on our first day at Stanford. I also recognized that it’s practically impossible to hold open the space for empathy with another person while full of fear myself.
The interaction taught me that I needed to make sure the design cycle wasn't about my "stuff" -- my sweaty palms, my anxiety over the concern, shock and confusion of friends and family, my desire for approval or my fear of failure. It would have to be driven by an authentic and unyielding focus on the user and their needs -- in this case, the incoming freshman I was interviewing.
My team, at the end of the day-long bootcamp, prototyped a social app that would help incoming freshmen identify at least five people they would likely have a connection with. The app would also provide opportunities to meet those five people virtually before their first day and suggest a group activity based on an interest they shared. We designed a prototype that would hopefully ease some of the nervousness and reduce the number of sweaty palms.
So, what is the d.school?
It's a place where people come to redesign themselves and their approach to problem-solving.
It's a place that believes there are no mistakes.
It has a "no fail" attitude that allows people, like me, to let go of whatever is holding them back from being fully in their creativity (and yes, we are all creative!).
I am here to learn to let go of my own fears.
To push on the edges of myself and my project.
To unleash my human creative potential.
To make friends, be a friend, and empower others.
I am here to make something awesome, with a diverse team inside and outside of government, that is useful and gets used by federal employees and managers, to better serve the public.
I am here, and I belong.
“Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life.” - Viktor Frankl
I heart stories. I absolutely love them. You can listen to them one person at a time, or feel them roll over you like the fog coming into San Francisco. They unite us in religion, culture and politics. They are the fairy tales, myths, and archetypes we pack our lives into, often without realizing it.
Our introduction as fellows to the d.school started with stories -- six word stories. Ernest Hemingway is said to have answered a challenge to tell a story in six words that was so good it would make people cry. His story: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
We were invited to craft a story that described our anticipation of the year. We were storytelling immediately. I was in heaven.
In the first weeks of orientation, our class visited the Exploratorium in downtown San Francisco. The d.school’s Director of Community and resident “maker”, Charlotte Burgess-Auburn, led us there to get our hands on science and observe how the museum invited its visitors to play. I, however, was attracted to the one place where I could stand back and read stories.
The Exploratorium is home to an exhibit called "The Changing Face of What is Normal: Mental Health." One of the exhibit elements features the belongings of 14 patients sent to the Willard Psychiatric Center, a mental institution in upstate New York that closed in 1995. The patients' belongings -- over 400 artifacts -- were discovered when the Willard was decommissioned, and range from books of philosophy to hand-sewn baby dresses and photographs. Many of the patients, after they arrived at the institution, never laid eyes on their belongings again. The suitcases and their contents serve as vignettes of their lives.
I stop for stories, and these stories -- these lives -- were no exception. That day, in a sea of living, vibrant people at the Exploratorium, I stood among the belongings of the dead.
Marshall Ganz, a longtime community activist and Harvard professor, asked, “Where do you go for hopefulness? Where do you go for courage? You go to those moral resources that are found within narratives and within identity work and within traditions.” In the first few weeks I have learned enough about design to know that it starts with empathy work. How do we begin to see the world from another person’s perspective and then dive so deep that we take away insights in order to design something that meets their needs as opposed to our own?
We often want to label people or place them in a bin in lieu of taking the time to fully understand them. I have come to see real design work as the ripping off of labels to observe the messiness and beauty of an individual story underneath.
Take the residents of Willard mental hospital -- the books the chose to keep, the notes they made on the pages, the color of a tie they chose to take, or the photographs they wrapped in bits of lace. These objects represent the strength, humor and dreams that connect them back to us. They are what lie underneath the label "mental health patient", illustrating their essential, universal humanity.
Our uniqueness, strangely enough, is what we all share in common.
So, with that, here's my story. I loved the Navy, mostly because I got to lead and mentor sailors and midshipmen who wanted to better themselves and the world around them. Although I loved inspiring them to find their path, I never found my own. After starting four master’s programs that never lasted beyond one semester and taking organic chemistry and the MCAT’s (misplaced medical school dreams), I finally found my calling in design. Here's the problem: I have no clue how to go about pursuing it. That’s where this fellowship comes in. It’s a perfect mix of semi-organized learning and project-based application.
I am jumping into this fellowship as if it were a shit-cold lake. Thankfully, all the laughing kids are in the lake. So, come hell or high, cold water, I will be too.
My six word story: Party Starting: Cliffs Available. Heroes Wanted.