Learning Design Thinking By Design Doing

via GIPHY

I was invited by the organising team of the Society for Technical Communication’s India chapter conference to introduce the concepts of Design thinking to the participants.

We did some brainstorming and decided that instead of giving a lecture for an hour about design thinking and walk off, it would be better if we can find some additional time and get the participants to experience Design thinking methodology by using the process to attempt to solve something that everyone of them are currently facing.

I got about 150 mins at the conference to deliver this experience. After a lot of deliberation and ideation, we decided to use the process and explore if we can make documentation fun.

The idea was to get them an experience which is as close to reality as possible of using the Design thinking methodology, in the time and space that we were allotted.

So, there were no post-it notes, no charts, no empathy maps or customer journey maps, yet, the participants were able to experience and learn about Design thinking. This itself was a challenge to deliver a workshop with about 11 teams of 6 people, with no additional facilitators and in a space that i had so far never used for running a Design thinking workshop.

Despite all these limitations, the teams did really well to not only experience and learn but also come up with some fun and interesting ways to make documentation fun (for themselves and also for those who they create the documentation for).

The teams were not only able to understand the problem better and come up with some ideas but were also able to create and share prototypes for feedback. With more time and iterations, I am confident that the teams would have been able to come up with some very convincing and potentially great ideas to make documentation fun.

Here is the recording of the experience we delivered for the participants.

The second part of the session is here:

If you are new to Design thinking and would like to get to know about the process, these videos can prove to be a good starting place.

How to Run a Good Brainstorming Session

 

Last week I was invited to run a Design thinking experiential workshop for the STC conference in Bangalore. We had about 70 people in the room. All of them experienced technical content writers.

As I always believe, learning happens best when people have a lot of fun while learning. We then retain a lot of what we learn in that setting.  I am getting beside the point.

I am sure that everyone of us, me included, have at one point or other, been invited to join  in a brainstorm to come up with ideas to solve a given problem. As a design thinking coach, I end up facilitating a lot of such brainstorms as it is one of the core steps in the problem solving approach.

Irrespective of the cohort that I am working with, there are a few questions that typically come up every time I facilitate a brainstorming session. They came up last week in the workshop as well.

I will try and share my insights and answers to these most commonly asked questions  on brainstorming sessions.

Generate as many ideas as possible

The first instruction I give to participants is to come up with as many ideas as possible. I might even suggest an insanely high number of ideas that i would expect them to come up with.  The reason behind this is two fold:

Novelty:

Typically, when we ask someone to come up with ideas, there are some common ideas that everyone will come up with. These are the typical ideas, that almost anyone who is asked to come up and typically lack any novelty or creativity.

In order to reach the creative and novel ideas, we need to push through our comfort level of coming with the easiest & the simplest idea.

Ideas come in waves:

If you notice closely, we get ideas in waves. Once you are able to come up with some creative idea, it is much easier to modify, add/subtract something to/from that idea and come up with a lot more ideas. By asking people to go for quantity, we are trying to get them to experience as many such waves of ideas as possible.

Every wave that you experience beyond the 2nd or 3rd wave, you will see that you are moving beyond the typical solutions into the realm of truly unique, creative & novel ideas.

Crazy ideas

Why do we need crazy ideas? I believe that it is easier to make crazy ideas interesting, actionable and a little more sensible than to make a boring regular idea interesting. Think about it. Even better would be for you to try this.

Take a crazy idea to solve any given problem and try to make it more practical. Then take a boring average idea and try to make it interesting and creative.

You will realise that it is much easier to make a crazy idea practical and still retain a large dose of craziness (creative spirit).

Delay judgements

Why do we need to delay judgements? According to me, brainstorming is a two step process:  Generate Ideas, Select ideas and it is important to keep them as two separate steps in the process to get good results.

The most  important reason, why I always recommend that we need to defer judgements, is because it kills creativity faster than you can say “No”.  The moment someone starts judging ideas as good or bad, our minds start applying filters to our creative thinking (no one likes being rejected or ridiculed in front of others, even if it is only perceived and not real). This means, that nothing truly creative can come out of the brainstorm where ideas are judged right at the idea generation part of the discussion. 

Equal Opportunity & Diversity

How can we ensure that everyone gets a chance to share their ideas? As I have indicated above, ideation is a two step process. The first step is to generate ideas. I always suggest to do this in three distinct steps:

Brain Dump:

The first step is to ask every individual to come up with ideas individually. I ask them to come up with as many ideas as possible as individuals, without discussion or sharing their ideas.

Share It:

The second step is to ask every to share their ideas with the team. Others who have the same or similar ideas can cluster their ideas around the idea first proposed. Everyone shares their ideas one-after the other until all ideas are shared.

Build upon it:

The last step in this process is for people to come up with newer ideas (combining, editing, replacing or subtracting from the ideas that have already been shared by someone in the team. This is again done individually first and shared with the team later. The team can then discuss among itself to explore if they can come up with more creative ideas as a team, building upon the ideas that they already have.

Prioritize:

While there are many ways to prioritise ideas once you have a set of them, I prefer to use a simple framework. If I am doing the brainstorming as part of a design thinking workshop, I prefer to pick ideas which are at the intersection of Desirablity, Feasibility and viability and in that order.

We could also use the red dots framework (each person on the team get 10 red dots and they can decide to use all of them in a single idea or spread them out on various ideas).

If brainstorm was a standalone one, which someone called for to solve a specific problem that they are trying to solve, i leave it up to this person to decide which of the ideas he/she would like to explore further.

In conclusion:

Brainstorming is an important activity that has the potential to help stimulate our creativity and solve some of the most pressing challenges. However, if not taken seriously and done rigorously, it is also a great waste of time as nothing of value ever comes out of it. Now, the question we need to ask ourselves is which side of the coin do we want to see.

7 Practices of Highly Inspired People

I have been writing every for this blog for the past 20 days and every time I open up my laptop to write, I don’t necessarily have an idea that I want to write about. I need some kind of an inspiration, some seed of a thought which can then go on to become a blog post. This is what writers call inspiration. As entrepreneurs, we our productivity and effectiveness is at its highest when we are inspired. So it is with our team mates.

All creative ideas have an inspiration as their seed. Someone somewhere was inspired by someone/something that led him/her to come up and express their creativity. As entrepreneurs, we know the importance of creativity in our pursuit. We are constantly facing challenging situations that need to be solved. The more creative and practical our solutions, the more success we can see in our enterprise. This is as much true for us as leaders as much it is for our teams.

All kinds of artists and entrepreneurs are always looking for inspiration or as they call it – their muse. There are times when something comes together in our minds rather suddenly and strangely.

The question then to ask ourselves is the following:

Is it possible for us to find inspiration & thereafter stay inspired? Can we do it on-demand?

Can we create an environment where not just us, but everyone in the environment can access inspiration on-demand?

I believe that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes”. I can tell this with some authority as I have been able to find inspiration to create something every single day for the past 30 days as a result of some practices that I have put in place in my live. I can tell this with authority as I know of a lot of artists and entrepreneurs have done this in their lives from which I have learnt a lot. I can tell this with authority as there is a lot of scientific research that has show that this is possible. 

Before we start talking about practices to find inspiration on-demand, lets first try to understand what inspiration actually is. Every time we come across a new set of information or a fresh idea, the way our brains process them is that it creates a new neural pathway that corresponds to this idea. Now, almost all neural pathway is connected to all other pathways. The question is for us to find some of these interesting connection.

We say we are inspired by something, when unwittingly our brain has found a new neural pathway from one known pathway to another known pathway. So, almost all new inspiration is about finding new neural pathways from one existing idea to another. This can happen by connecting one idea with another, combining different ideas, subtracting something from one idea or even a combination of all of these tricks. The most fundamental thing here is that we need to be exposed to a lot of different ideas.

Once when someone asked me about how to get new ideas, I had responded that in order to get new ideas, you need a lot of old ideas. Every idea that we come across is filed away in our brain and is similar to an alphabet in our language. We are able to combine these alphabets to come up with words (first simple, then complex) and build our vocabulary. We can then use these words to come up with sentences and then combine these sentences to come up with paragraphs, stories, poetry and so and so forth. So, the more ideas that we are exposed to, the more chances we have of coming up with an inspired idea.

Being inspired is a state of mind.

Creating conditions for inspiration is about finding and accessing the states of mind that works best for us. Knowing this, here are some practices that I have put in place in my life to find inspiration on-demand.

Practice 1: The Practice Intentionality:

The first practice is all about noticing thing all around us. There are ideas all around us. The way someone is dressed, the advertisement that we saw on TV, the way something is on display in a shop, the way a speaker presented his idea, the story your child told you about her school, the way a dancer moved on stage, the way a musician composed his song, etc.. The list goes on and on. There are ideas all around us. What we need to do is be intentional about noticing these ideas.

Practice 2: The Practice of Diversity:

As i have already indicated, in order to be inspired, we need to allow our brains to connect disparate information together, which means that we need to expose ourselves to diverse and disparate information from different sources. If we only read the same stuff everyday, watch the same shows on TV, take the same route to office everyday, see the same friends, work in the same industry, we are ensuring that we will not have the diverse inputs needed for us to be and stay inspired.

So, we need to read different kinds of stuff, watch different kinds of shows, visit new places, take different routes to office, work in different industries or at least meet with people who are not very similar to us and our appraoch to life. We need to mix things up intentionally.

I know people who pick up magazines specifically not targetted for them, attend conferences which have nothing to do with their industry or the kind of work they do. I myself have a reading list that is varied and consists of material and topics that is no way connected to the work that i do. Yet, my brain always finds a connection between what I do and what i read. That is the job of my brain that it does really well.

Practice 3: The Practice of Reflection:

Once we notice things around us, we then need to find a way to capture and reflect on these ideas. We could capture them by clicking a picture, taking a video, making a note (audio or text), connecting this idea with something that we already deeply care about. I use all of these methods to capture ideas – click pictures/videos, make notes (text or audio), save something on my Evernote (stuff that I find interesting online), etc.

The key here is that we need to go back to these ideas on a regular basis so that we are able to create neural pathways to these ideas and can retrieve them on-demand when needed.

Practice 4: The Practice of Brahmanian Thinking:

In Hindu mythology, there are three gods who are the “Trinity”. One of them, Brahma, the creator, is supposed to have 4 heads, one in each direction. I consider that as an analogy for us to learn to see and think from different perspectives before creating anything new. This holds true for all creative ideas.

The practice of looking at the same thing from different angles and perspectives offers us a great deal of more information that can then trigger new ideas. It is important for us to build this habit intentionally. This is the key practice if we are to be able to make unusual connection. If we see the same thing that everyone else sees, we will come to the same conclusion that everyone else is coming to and thereby we will come up the same kinds of ideas that everyone else is coming up with.

Practice 5: The Practice of Reframing:

Another way to ensure that we are able to speed up the ability to connect disparate ideas and inputs to form new, creative and inspired stuff is by practicing the art of reframing. Our brain functions in a way that it frames everything that it encounters in one way or another. Add to this that the way our brain functions is that if we pose a question, it is conditioned to work towards finding an answer.

So, If we can find a way to frame the question or the problem differently than what was originally posed, we are able to solve it differently as well. There are different ways to reframe any challenge or issues or problems.

We can reframe by changing the context in which the problem is being faced, by changing the person whose point of view is being used to solve the problem and similar.

Practice 6: The Practice of  Constraints:

One of the ways that we can force ourselves to come up with interesting and unique ideas or feel inspired is when we introduce new constraints. This again is how our brains function. If i were to ask you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your home, you might take longer to answer if I just asked you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your kitchen. This is just how our brains work.

So, if we are looking for an inspiration for something, we will do better if we introduce new constraints in our thinking. This could come in many forms – we need ideas that use sound/music, will use comedy, will make use of children, needs to cost us under a certain cost or needs to use a specific color even. The idea is to move between different constraints to see if any of them inspire us to come up with something really unique and inspired.

Practice 7: The Practice of Practice:

The last but the most important practice to getting and staying inspired is to practice being inspired. We need to constantly work our muscles of creativity and inspiration. As most inspired creators will tell you, they need to build in rituals and habits of getting and staying inspired. This is also like a muscle. The more we practice, the stronger it gets.

In short, we need to practice getting inspired on a daily basis. We can’t do the work every single day by practicing all these practices and expect to get inspired on-demand. This is the work-ethic that is needed to get and stay inspired.

When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it  -Freud

In Conclusion:

There are a lot of things that we can do to get and stay inspired on-demand. There is also a lot that we can do to create an environment that allows us to create a culture where our teams can get and stay inspired on-demand.
I will delve deeper into how to create a culture where teams can get and stay inspired in a separate post shortly.
Btw, this post was also inspired by a post by  on here.

What’s Killing our Creativity?

Scene 1:

I was visiting a hospital today to visit someone who is admitted there to get through a minor surgery. He was supposed to check into the hospital at noon on a given date and check out at about 4:00PM the next day. This means that he had to spend about 28 hours in the hospital. Even for these 28 hours when he was in the hospital, when he was officially on medical leave, he was still working. He was checking his email, responding to his calls and even checking his social media feeds (twitter, Facebook, linked and Instagram).

When probed, he asked me the following question –

“What am I supposed to do if I am not checking my emails or my social media feed? Just sit there and do what?”

At that time, I just let that pass but his question kept coming back to me making me think about what would my behaviour be in such a situation? When I thought about it and if I have to be honest, I would have done a few things differently. Maybe I would have scanned my email once in a while to ensure that there is no fire that needs to be put out. I am fortunate that I don’t necessarily have a lot of fire to put out. So, that would not be an issue with me. I would have picked up a book and read it. Alternately, I would have used the time to catch up on a movie.

What would you do if you were in a such a situation? Are you able to completely disconnect from work or from social media?

If you are like most of us, you would have done something similar.

IF we look at this at a slightly deeper level, we can find that we all want to do something so that we feel busy. We want to feel that we are achieving something.

Scene 2:

Now, lets look at a completely different scene.

We are at work and are in a fix over some issue and need to find a solution to fix it. The issue is not something that has a single right way to solve. And the more creative we are, the better the solution could be. We gather our team around in a room and want to do engage in a brainstorming session. The facilitator sets up the context and wants us to come up with creative ideas that could potentially solve the issue at hand.

We try to come up with some regular ideas, that are neither surprising nor creative. Has this ever happen with you?

I can assure you that most people struggle with coming up with creative ideas. I teach design thinking to experienced executives and as part of the workshop, the participants are required to come up with 25 creative ideas to solve a given challenge. It has never happened in over 100 such cohorts that someone has come up with even 20 ideas (forget creative ideas).

While on the outside, these two scenes may seem to disparate and not connected, research indicates that one is the cause for the other. The fact that we almost always opt to staying busy all the time is probably the cause of the difficulty in coming up with creative ideas. 

Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when we are constantly busy. The ability to switch between a state of focus and daydreaming is an important skill for being creative. Constant busyness has a significant impact on this ability, thereby making it more difficult to be creative.

Stanford’s Emma Seppälä writes

The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.

We now consume up to five times as much information as 25 years prior; outside of work we process roughly 100,000 words every day. This saps us of not only willpower (of which we have a limited store) but diminishes our ability to think creatively as well.

Creativity engages the brain’s daydreaming mode directly and stimulates the free flow and association of ideas, forging links between concepts and neural modes that might not otherwise be made. Creativity is all about making non-obvious connection between disparate and disconnected ideas. So, we will struggle to be creative if we are unable to access the daydreaming mode as and when we need. 

This is impossible when every free moment—at work, in line, at a traffic light—we’re reaching for our phone. Our brain becomes habitual to constant stimulation; we grow antsy and irritable when we don’t get that stimulation. At this time we can be sure that we’re addicted to busyness. 

And that’s not so good for us, specially when if we are required to be creative at a moment’s notice. As Seppälä points out many of the world’s greatest minds made important discoveries while not doing much at all. Nikola Tesla had an insight about rotating magnetic fields on a leisurely walk in Budapest; Albert Einstein liked to chill out and listen to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking sessions and even play his violin.

If being creative is important for us, we might have to engineer scarcity in our communications, in our interactions, and in the things we consume so that we have time to allow boredom and allow our minds to wander. Otherwise we run the risk of our lives becoming like a Morse code transmission that’s lacking breaks — a swarm of noise blanketing the valuable data beneath. 

So, the question that we need to ponder is the following:

How to disconnect in a time when connection is demanded by bosses, peers, and friends?

  1. Make time for a long walk without our phones. Incorporate this as a daily routine.
  2. Stop taking our phone out at every opportunity. Start with deciding not to take our phone out when you are waiting for the traffic light to turn from red to green or when we are waiting in a que at a shopping mall to pay for our purchases.
  3. Make more time for fun and games. It is well-known that taking time and having fun by playing games resets the focus and activates the part of brain that is responsible for creativity.
  4. Alternate between doing focused work and activities that are less intellectually demanding. Schedule downtime after every session of focused activity. It could be as simple as taking a 15 minute break before engaging in yet another activity that requires us to focus.

If our work requires us to be creative-on-demand, we need to exercise our creative muscles as well. We would be well off if we make it a part of our daily routine to come up with a set of creative ideas (irrespective of whether we need them or not). This is very similar to digging a well, much before we need water to drink.

If we spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and we run the risk of permanently reducing our capacity to perform creative work.

That’s not a good sign for those who wish to perform creatively, which in reality is all of us and more specifically is a bad news for all of us entrepreneurs.

Research shows that the fear of missing out (FOMO) increases anxiety and takes a toll on your health in the long run.

Of all the things to suffer, ability to think creatively is one of our greatest losses. As entrepreneurs, a flexible mindset, open to new ideas and approaches is invaluable. Losing it just to check on the latest tweet or post an irrelevant selfie is an avoidable but sadly sanctioned tragedy.

Finally a Mixed Reality Tool That Has the Potential to Bring MR in Mainstream Use

 

Disney Research recently released a white paper on its experiment with Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality. They address the one challenge that was stopping the widespread adoption of Mixed reality in everyday business scenarios – the requirement that the user wear an expensive device on his self and thereby literally get transported to a different world and it was an isolated experience for this user.

They say:

We create a solution for multi-user interactions in AR/MR, where a group can share the same augmented environment with any computer generated (CG) asset and interact in a shared story sequence through a third-person POV. Our approach is to instrument the environment leaving the user unburdened of any equipment, creating a seamless walk-up-and-play experience. We demonstrate this technology in a series of vignettes featuring humanoid animals. Participants can not only see and hear these characters, they can also feel them on the bench through haptic feedback. Many of the characters also interact with users directly, either through speech or touch. In one vignettŠe an elephant hands a participant a glowing orb. ŒThis demonstrates HCI in its simplest form: a person walks up to a computer, and the computer hands the person an object

You can have a look at the video that was accompanied with the white paper here:.

As you can see, the experience with this “magic bench” is not only simple but also has the possibility for multiple people sharing the same experience.

Once the Disney team is able to build this to scale, I can see many applications of this in the real world.

Some of them could be:

  1. Customer Service: Augmented reality customer service engagement at different retail stores. This experience can give the consumers a reason to visit the store rather than buy everything online.
  2. Movie promotions: This will allow Disney and other movie franchisees to allow their customers to have an interaction with their favourite movie characters.
  3. Book Promotions:  Just like there can be an engagement built with the users favourite movie characters, people can also interact with their favorite book characters and maybe the authors themselves.
  4. Mass personalization of Brand advertisements:  Brands can use these benches to hyper-personalise their by immersing their consumers as part of the advertisement itself, there by creating stronger bonding with the brand.
  5. Stories abound: Add to this an AI bot that can engage with the user and have an improvisational dialogue and co-create a story with the user. This would just be amazing to see. We could have a “Whose Line is it anyway” with a virtual character in play (played by an AI bot).

These are just a very few ideas that I can think of.  I am sure you can think up a lot more uses for these magic benches.

I see enormous potential for this technology if this is developed and opened up to entrepreneurs to play with.

The question is will Disney make it available for developers and entrepreneurs learn and play with their creation?