This post first appeared on LinkedIn.
Sticks of spaghetti. Post-it notes. Sunshine. And ideas. Lots of ideas. This month I took part in a free Crash Course at Stanford’s d.school. The d stands for design. At Stanford the d.school is a hub for innovation, collaboration and creativity. Think human-centered solutions to real-world-challenges. With lots of rapid fire results.
About 120 of us took part in this morning crash session. We took part in a jump in, get your hands dirty, build a prototype way. We also served as groups for the executive boot-campers to facilitate. The model is smart.
By the way, design thinking is hot right now. Very hot. Six learnings struck me most:
1. Think less. Do more.
There were two main group challenges. One to build the highest tower using string, spaghetti, tape and a marshmallow. The other to improve the experience of waiting in a restaurant line. In both, our group waited until the last minute to test our ideas. This meant 30 seconds to test our tower and a dry run of our line idea with customers instead of us.
We didn’t fail fast enough or practice early enough. And it showed. Kindergarteners build taller spaghetti towers than CEOs for this reason (it’s tracked and proven). Kids fail five times in the building process vs. once. We were CEOs.Time constraints drive action. Think less. Do more.
2. Problem framing is foundational
Our challenge was to make the waiting experience for a restaurant better. Ever stood in line for brunch in Brooklyn? Or in line at Disney World? That’s the idea. We got swept up in clowns, pirates, wish granters, mobile apps, roaming story tellers and food samples. Then we applied them to the eating experience to make the wait seem worthwhile. Which backfired and benefited the people already eating vs. the people in line.
People in line felt left out. Which was our fault. Our idea improves by staying true to the problem and focusing our solutions on the pain of waiting.
3. Differences fuel ideas
There were five of us in my group. A teacher at an all-boys high school. A business executive from India. Two leaders from a biotech company. And me, a digital commerce strategist. We had diversity of perspectives covered.
One of my favorite moments came when a language difference led to a misunderstanding. Fish tank was said. Wish tank was heard. Wish tank got us off to the races. It opened up a whole new realm of weird and wonderful ideas.
The power of group dynamics, as always, struck me – they impact whether ideas sing or whether they sink in a sea of frustration (or frankly niceness). Openness is essential.
4. Roshambo as an ice breaker is not awkward
Here was the opening exercise: Everyone find a partner. On the count of three, roshambo. Whomever loses becomes the biggest fan of the winner. You literally stand next to them and cheer them on. They then move on the the next match. The pattern repeats until you have two roshambo’ers left with 60+ people cheering each of them on. It is loud. And fun.
Yes you feel odd at the outset. Yes explaining how roshambo works to a roshambo rookie makes you an expert in something silly. But it gives the group an immediate common experience that feels good. Duly noted that the leaders set the tone for success.
5. Debriefing should happen daily
Our restaurant line prototype was a hot mess. Our customers (another group at the session) came through and it was clear that each of us on the team had been picturing the scenario differently.
At the end we debriefed – as a team and collectively. It made us, and our idea, better. Better the way savvy athletes hunger for feedback and then decide how to best apply it. Common patterns, unique approaches and personal reactions added to the learning.
Simply put: Why doesn’t this happen more often in work places? It needs to.
6. The parking lot needs new pay machines
Human-centered design relies on actual interactions and real experiences. Imagination is important but observations and questions bring insights. I’ve always loved how thinking this way changes what stands out in the world.
For instance, the pay machine in the Stanford parking lot. A line six people deep. Each new user gets to the machine and has to ask how to use it (or sweat it out while the line waits). Hello design flaw. Anyone who’s ever tried to buy a ticket to ride BART in the Bay Area knows what I’m talking about.
Those are my six. 6 x the 120 people who attended makes for a great morning. Thank you to Stanford d.school and to my Crash Course team there. What went wrong taught me more than what went right. What went right fired me up.
Onward to the next challenge…