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“Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it.” – Our Interview with Warren Berger …*

"Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it." - Our Interview with Warren Berger ...* | rethinked.org

I first heard of Warren Berger (previously featured on rethinked …* here and here) when he reached out to me several months ago to ask if he could feature a question I had asked, here on the blog, on how we might go about learning to thrive and flourish within the tensions and contradictions that border human existence on his splendid and endlessly fascinating website A More Beautiful Question. (How’s that for a shameless ‘humble brag’?) And then I noticed Warren popping up all over the place with incredibly intelligent and insightful articles on things that keep me up at night and make me excited to wake up in the morning– the power of questions, design, and creativity, to name just a few–on Fast Company, Big Think or Harvard Business Review. Warren is an author, speaker and self-described “questionologist.” His latest book is the wonderful A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (2014). I couldn’t be more excited about kicking off our new interview series with Warren’s interview. It seems particularly appropriate to begin with the answers of a man obsessed by and dedicated to (beautiful) questions. Connect with Warren on Twitter @GlimmerGuy.

 

What was the last experiment you ran? 

I write about the power of questioning. Recently, I looked around at other people and groups who are interested in this subject. They might ordinarily be thought of as my “competitors.” I decided to do an experiment bringing all of us together around a unified event, called “Question Week.” I would say the experiment was a modest success. With most experiments, I think you have to go through iterations, learning as you go; and that’s the case here. I’m going to keep building on this idea of unifying different people and groups around this common theme.

 

What are some of the things you fear and how do you manage your fear? 

Like so many people, I have a fear of failure and rejection. I have come to believe that one of the ways to manage this fear is to have honest conversations with yourself and it starts with asking yourself some questions about your fear. Why do you fear a certain outcome? How likely is that to happen? If it does happen, what’s the worst part of that outcome, in your mind? And if the worst happened, how would you recover? I picked up on some of these questions from the author/entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, who also suggests you ask yourself, “What if I do nothing—what kind of outcome will that lead to?” This tends to make you realize that the real failure is doing nothing. There’s another question I love, which is popular in Silicon Valley—“What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?” It allows your mind to let go of the fear, if only temporarily, and envision the boldest possibilities.

 

What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

Animals. It breaks my heart to see how they are often treated and it delights me to see how wonderful and loving they can be, in spite of it all. (Also, the New York Giants –they break my heart a lot, but they’ve provided more than a few moments of sheer delight).

 

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Lots of them, too many to single one out. I recently saw a play called “Hamilton” that was a hip hop telling of the immigrant story of Alexander Hamilton; amazing. I recently read the Adam Grant book “Give and Take,” which suggests (very persuasively) that there is incredible power in giving and that nice guys can actually finish first, even in business. In my own work the most provocative idea I’ve come across is the notion that questions are currently rising in value while answers are declining in value.

 

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

The day I decided to leave my magazine editor job and go to work for myself, as a writer. I thought, at the time, it might be a temporary thing. That was 28 years ago and I haven’t had a proper job since.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

I think it’s about balancing two things: Enjoying the limited time each of us has and, at the same time, trying to bring something positive into the world, on an ongoing basis. If you can find a way to do both at the same time, then you’re living a good life.

 

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Keep questioning and learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species and we should take full advantage of it.

 

 WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How might I help, in some way, to encourage more questioning?

 

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU WOULD RECOMMEND? 

Movies: Crumb. Fargo. Boogie Nights. Hud. Books: A Fan’s Notes. Seabiscuit. The Basketball Diaries. Bird by Bird.

…*

THANK YOU, WARREN …*

Tune in this coming Friday for our interview with (micro)adventurer Alastair Humphreys.

Reflect on What You Can Put Your Agency Behind, On What You Can Be For, & Through Hard Choices, Become That Person

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition.That the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that’s why hard choices are not a curse, but a godsend.” – Ruth Chang

In this splendid TED talk, philosopher Ruth Chang examines the misconceptions and unexamined assumptions that govern our understanding and handling of hard choices. She invites us to rethink how we frame the act of choosing between unequal alternatives, where each option is better in some ways than the other but neither is better overall. Rather than agonizing over trying to uncover the “right” option in such a situation, we should celebrate and enact our agency in creating the right reasons for ourselves. This is a modern take on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola‘s Oration on the Dignity of Man. Way back in 1486, Pico della Mirandola unhinged mankind from the Great Chain of Being, highlighting the agency we each possess in choosing and fashioning our own nature. It is this very agency, this power we have to choose who we shall be[come], that is the defining characteristic of the human condition, he argued. And it is through the hard choices we make, claims Chang, that we enact this great human power we all have to shape our being and embrace the fullness of our humanity.

{ t r u t h s

I think the puzzle arises because of an unreflective assumption we make about value. We unwittingly assume that values like justice, beauty, kindness, are akin to scientific quantities, like length, mass and weight. Take any comparative question not involving value, such as which of two suitcases is heavier? There are only three possibilities. The weight of one is greater, lesser or equal to the weight of the other. Properties like weight can be represented by real numbers — one, two, three and so on — and there are only three possible comparisons between any two real numbers. One number is greater, lesser, or equal to the other. Not so with values. As post-Enlightenment creatures, we tend to assume that scientific thinking holds the key to everything of importance in our world, but the world of value is different from the world of science. The stuff of the one world can be quantified by real numbers. The stuff of the other world can’t. We shouldn’t assume that the world of is, of lengths and weights, has the same structure as the world of ought, of what we should do. So if what matters to us — a child’s delight, the love you have for your partner — can’t be represented by real numbers, then there’s no reason to believe that in choice, there are only three possibilities — that one alternative is better, worse or equal to the other. We need to introduce a new, fourth relation beyond being better, worse or equal, that describes what’s going on in hard choices. I like to say that the alternatives are “on a par.” When alternatives are on a par, it may matter very much which you choose, but one alternative isn’t better than the other. Rather, the alternatives are in the same neighborhood of value, in the same league of value, while at the same time being very different in kind of value. That’s why the choice is hard.

Understanding hard choices in this way uncovers something about ourselves we didn’t know. Each of us has the power to create reasons. Imagine a world in which every choice you face is an easy choice, that is, there’s always a best alternative. If there’s a best alternative, then that’s the one you should choose, because part of being rational is doing the better thing rather than the worse thing, choosing what you have most reason to choose. In such a world, we’d have most reason to wear black socks instead of pink socks, to eat cereal instead of donuts, to live in the city rather than the country, to marry Betty instead of Lolita. A world full of only easy choices would enslave us to reasons. When you think about it, it’s nuts to believe that the reasons given to you dictated that you had most reason to pursue the exact hobbies you do, to live in the exact house you do, to work at the exact job you do. Instead, you faced alternatives that were on a par, hard choices, and you made reasons for yourself to choose that hobby, that house and that job. When alternatives are on a par, the reasons given to us, the ones that determine whether we’re making a mistake, are silent as to what to do. It’s here, in the space of hard choices, that we get to exercise our normative power, the power to create reasons for yourself, to make yourself into the kind of person for whom country living is preferable to the urban life.

When we choose between options that are on a par, we can do something really rather remarkable. We can put our very selves behind an option. Here’s where I stand. Here’s who I am. I am for banking. I am for chocolate donuts. This response in hard choices is a rational response, but it’s not dictated by reasons given to us. Rather, it’s supported by reasons created by us. When we create reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than that, we wholeheartedly become the people that we are. You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.

*

So when we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be? You might decide to be a pink sock-wearing, cereal-loving, country-living banker, and I might decide to be a black sock-wearing, urban, donut-loving artist. What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us.

{ Question Day 2014 & Vuja De } Making the Ordinary Unknown To Rethink Anything …*

{ Question Day 2014 & Vuja De } Making the Ordinary Unknown To Rethink Anything ...* | rethinked.org

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

Break out your party hats because today we’re celebrating Albert Einstein’s 135th birthday and one of my all time favorites– questions! That’s right, inquiry now has its own day of celebration, Question Day, thanks to author of the new book: A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger, and the nonprofit The Right Question Institute who partnered to sponsor a one-day event designed to increase appreciation of the importance of questioning.

The day will be marked by an extensive social media campaign encouraging people across the Internet to share their stories and thoughts about the importance of curiosity and questioning in their lives, or to share their own meaningful questions—all designed to create a national conversation around questioning. We are also inviting teachers in schools to set aside time that day to tell students about the importance of questioning, encouraging kids to ask “beautiful questions” of their own.

To learn more about Question Day 2014 and discover ways to get involved, head over to the microsite QuestionDay2014.

Speaking of Warren Berger, he had a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review a couple days ago about the power of reframing to spark innovation. Through his article I learned a new term–vuja de–which expresses something I hold extremely dear: making the ordinary unknown. As you may know, a core principle of our team is the belief that rethinking is greater than inventing. We’re not trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel, we’re trying to see and experience it with fresh eyes and open minds to broaden its landscape of possibilities { shoshin }; hence our motto: making the ordinary unknown to rethink * anything. And that’s precisely what late comedian’ George Carlin’s term: vuja de means. In his article, Can You See The Opportunity Right In Front of You? Warren Berger describes Carlin’s vuja de:

That term was made up by Carlin, in a bit of wordplay that put a twist on the familiar concept of déjà vu, that sensation of being in a strange circumstance yet feeling as if you’ve been there before. Imagine the reverse of that: you’re in a situation that is very familiar, something you’ve seen or done countless times before, but you feel as if you’re experiencing something completely new. This is vuja de, Carlin told his audience: “the strange feeling that, somehow, none of this has ever happened before.”

[ … ]

Of course, vuja de isn’t just a way of looking at things; it involves a certain mindset that questions assumptions and refuses to accept things as they are.

Berger goes on to describe the rich history between vuja de and innovation:

Stanford University professor Bob Sutton, author of the new book Scaling Up for Excellence, was among the first to make a connection, more than a decade ago, between the Carlin vuja de perspective and innovation. Sutton, and later Tom Kelley of IDEO, pointed out that innovators could potentially spark new ideas and insights if they could somehow manage to look at the familiar—their own products, their customers, their work processes—as if seeing it for the first time. Adopting this view, business leaders and managers might be more apt to notice inconsistencies and outdated methods, as well as untapped opportunities.

Read the rest of Berger’s article and learn more about combining vuja de observation with entrepreneurial action to yield big impact.

“When the familiar becomes this sort of alien world and you can see it fresh, then it’s like you’ve gone into a whole other section of the file folder in your brain. And now you have access to this other perspective that most people don’t have.” – Kelly Carlin

question, rethink & take action …* 

Source Can You See the Opportunity Right In Front Of You? via Harvard Business Review, published March 12, 2014.

{ S H O S H I N } “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

{ S H O S H I N } “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” | rethinked.org

Shoshin is a Zen buddhist term, which translates to “beginner’s mind.” Beginner’s mind is the goal of Zen practice and can best be explained with this sentence from Zen master Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Essentially, beginner’s mind is the capacity to approach all new moments, whether the experience at hand be known and|or habitual or not, with a sense of openness and curiosity; to not limit ourselves to past experiences and knowledge in our appraisal of the present moment.

Unfortunately, “The older we get, the further we get from the truth and the more we search for answers. If only we could ask the real experts, life would go a whole lot smoother.” Which is where Little Kids. Big Questions. comes in.

Little Kids. Big Questions. is one of Soul Pancake‘s video series which takes the concept of shoshin quite literally by turning to beginner’s minds masters –little kids–to get their ‘expertise’ on life’s big question. The series, which debuted January 7th of last year, touches upon a wide range of complex topics, from religion, honesty, purpose to life and death.

MEET THE EXPERTS:

To celebrate Valentine’s day, here is the Little Kids. Big Questions. episode on love. Delight in the tiny experts’ brilliant answers to some big questions:

  • What is this strange and all encompassing word, love?
  • How do you know when you’re in love, what does it feel like inside?
  • What does it mean to be romantic?
  • Can boys and girls be best friends or do they always fall in love?
  • How do you know when you’re ready to get married?

Little Kids. Big Questions. – Love, published January 14, 2014.

Sir Ken Robinson on the 3 Principles By Which Human Life Flourishes & What That Means For Education…*

“There are three principles on which human life flourishes and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to labor and most students have to endure.”

In this insightful and brilliantly delivered talk, which first aired on the TED TV special on education, produced with PBS, Sir Ken Robinson highlights three principles by which human life flourishes and the implications that these principles have for learning and teaching practices. Robinson notes some of the various ways in which America’s education culture contradicts these critical principles and then goes on to offer some suggestions on how to better align our educational system and culture to these inherent principles of human flourishing.

The three principles that Robinson identifies are:

1. Human beings are naturally different and diverse ~ “Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them.”

2. Curiosity is the engine of achievement ~ “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners.”

3. Human life is inherently creative ~  “It’s why we all have different résumés. We create our lives, and we can recreate them as we go through them. It’s the common currency of being a human being. It’s why human culture is so interesting and diverse and dynamic.”

Drawing from the practices of high-performing educational systems across the world, Robinson highlights three trends of real-life applications of these principles to actual teaching and learning practices which lead to greater engagement and more effective learning:

1.  They individualize teaching and learning. They recognize that it’s students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. That’s how you get them to learn.

2. They attribute a very high status to the teaching profession. They recognize that you can’t improve education if you don’t pick great people to teach and if you don’t keep giving them constant support and professional development. Investing in professional development is not a cost. It’s an investment.

3. They devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education. [Learning] happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working. You have to put it back to the people.

 

highlights }

 

The drop out crisis is just the tip of an iceberg, what it doesn’t count are all the kids who are in school but being disengaged from it–who don’t enjoy it, who don’t get any real benefit from it.

Education, under No Child Left Behind, is based on not diversity but conformity. What schools are encouraged to do is find out what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. One of the effects of No Child Left Behind, has been to narrow the focus on to the so-called STEM disciplines. They’re very important; I’m not here to argue against Science and Math. On the contrary, they’re necessary but they’re not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the Arts, the Humanities, to Physical Education.

By the way, the Arts aren’t just important because they improve Math scores, they’re important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.

There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you’re not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.

You can say, “There’s Deborah, she’s in room 34, she’s teaching.” But if nobody’s learning anything, she may be engaged in the task of teaching but not actually fulfilling it.

The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing. Now, testing is important. Standardized tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education. They should be diagnostic. They should help.

So in place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance. Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.

We all create our own lives through this restless process of imagining alternatives and possibilities, and what one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity. Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.

The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people, people who either do want to learn or don’t want to learn. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography. They may find it boring. They may find it irrelevant. They may find that it’s at odds with the life they’re living outside of school. There are trends, but the stories are always unique.

Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about, and with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable. It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.

The real role of leadership in education — and I think it’s true at the national level, the state level, at the school level — is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility. And if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things that you completely did not anticipate and couldn’t have expected.

 

Enjoy & rethink…

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley via TED.com, published May 2013.

Celebrating Frida

Happy birthday Frida Kahlo!

Frida, who was born in Coyoacán in 1907, would have been 106 today. She is a great rethinked…* inspiration & hero and we hope you join us in celebrating her this weekend.

Watch a free online biographical documentary on Frida:

 

Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V Part VI

Enjoy some of the her own and family photographs from Frida Kahlo: Her Photos by James Oles, Horacio Fernadez, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio and of course Frida Kahlo

 

    

 

 

 

Te vas? No. Alas rotas

 

Excerpts from her journal printed in The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait edited by Carlos Fuentes

 

(Left) HIS BROTHER NEFERDÓS

(RIGHT) AVE [AVI-] RIA [ARY]

 

(Left) STRANGE COUPLE FROM THE LAND OF THE DOT AND LINE . ____________ . ____________ . “ONE-EYE” MARRIED THE BEAUTIFUL “NEFERISIS’ (THE IMMENSELY WISE) IN A MONTH OF HEAT AND VITALITY. . OF THIS UNION BORN TO THE THEM WAS A BOY STRAGE OF FACE AND HE WAS NAME FERUNICO, AND IT WAS HE WHO FOUNDED THE CITY COMMONLY KNOWN AS “LOKURA”

(Right) Portrait of Neferúnico. Founder of Lokura.

Alone with my great happiness with the very vivid memory of the little girl. It has been 34 years since I lived that magical friendship and every time I remember it it comes alive and grows more and more inside my world. PINZÓN 1950. Frida Kahlo LAS DOS FRIDAS Coyoacán Allende 52

                     Jealous


(Left) Feet what do I need them for If I have wings to fly. 1953

 

(Left) my fault? I admit, my great guild as great as pain it was an enormous exit which my love came through. A very quiet passage that was leading me toward death I was so neglected! That it would have been best for me. You are killing yourself! YOU ARE KILLING YOURSELF There are some who will never forget you! I took their strong hands Here I am, for them to live. Frida

(Right) Years. Waiting with anguish hidden away, my spine broken, and the immense glance, footless through the vast path….Carrying on my life enclosed in steel. Diego!

(Left) NOT AS MAD AS A HATTER

 (RIGHT) JULY 1953. Cuernavaca Supporting points In my entire figure there is only one, and I want two. For me to have two they must cut one off It is the one I don’t have the one I have to have to be able to walk the other will be dead! I have many, wings. Cut them off and to hell with it!!

 

(Left) The horrible “Eyesaurus” primitive ancient animal, which dropped dead to link up the sciences. It looks up . . and has no name. –We’ll give it one: THE horrible EYESAURUS!

(Right) Astonished she remained seeing the sun-stars and the live-dead world and being in the shade.

(Left) pain – pleasure and death are no more than a process for existence XXXX the revolutionary struggle XXXXX in this process is a doorway open to intelligence

(Right) Anniversary of the revolution 7th of November 1947 Tree of Hope stand firm! I’ll wait for you– You responded to a sense with your voice and I’m full of you, waiting for your words which will make me grow and will enrich me. DIEGO I’m alone.

Who is this idiot?

 

(right) dog

(left) What a dish!

 

 

   (left) This pen is no good for this paper. I have never seen tenderness as great as Diego has and gives when his hands and his beautiful eyes touch Mexican Indian sculpture.

(right) No one is more than a function–or part of a total function. Life goes by, and sets paths, which are not traveled in vain. But no one can stop “freely” to play by the wayside, because he will delay or upset the general atomic journey. From this comes discontent. From this comes despair and unhappiness. We all would like to be the sum total and not one of the numerical elements. Changes and struggles disconcert us, terrify us because they are constant and certain, we search for calm and “peace’ because we foresee the death that we die every second. Opposites unite and nothing new or arhythmic is discovered. We take refuge in, we take flight into irrationality, magic, abnormality, in fear of the extraordinary beauty of the truth

(left) Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep I’m falling asleep

 (right) 1st. I’m convinced of my disagreement with the counterrevolution–imperialism–fascism–religions–stupidity–capitalism–and the whole gamut of bourgeois tricks–I wish to cooperate with the Revolution in transforming the world into a classless one so that we can attain a better rhythm for the oppressed classes. 2nd. a timely moment to clarify who are the allies of the Revolution    Read Lenin–Stalin–Learn that I am nothing but a “small damned part of a revolutionary movement. Always revolutionary never dead, never useless.


               Don’t come crying to me! Yes, I come crying to you.

                      (Left)  March 53. My Diego. I’m no longer alone. Wings? You keep me company. You lull me to sleep and make me come alive

(Right) I love Diego ~ Love

(Right) Chabela Villasenor– Ruddy Long Live comrades STALIN, MAO      Life   Death     WORLD DOE PAINTER POET     Long live Marx Engels Lenin

                      (Left) Color of poison. Everything upside down. ME? Sun and moon feet and Frida

Perhaps the most salient way to pay homage to Frida’s life and work is by embodying her spirit and attitude in our thoughts and actions. Frida dug deep inside herself and lay bare what she found, in all its beauty, gore, messy and chaotic glory. She sought the very human, those parts in herself that defined her condition, perception and experience of existence. She was not afraid to search for the things that hurt, and she was not ashamed to the show the ugly parts either. Frida’s art and life are one of the most touching, deep and honest message of love and respect for the human being–in all that she encompasses:  her flaws and weaknesses and immense capability and eternal possibility to imagine a different way.

So this weekend make a special effort to get in touch with the very human, very organic, messy and beautiful side of yourself. Realize that we all bleed and that we are all in search of connection and meaning. Take a step back and evaluate yourself honestly, what are the more negative things you see? How could you create a design challenge around the things you want to change? And how could you celebrate all the positive you see in yourself and others? Make this weekend a time of reflection and rethinking; get outside of yourself and into others, act with courage, compassion and imagination. & journal away…

~ Happy Frida Weekend ~

 

Thoughts on the Design Thinking For Educators Workshop

First of all a huge thank you to the Riverdale Country School (RCS) and IDEO for putting together the Design Thinking for Educators Workshop, what a brilliant two days!

   

The workshop started Thursday morning on the sunny RCS campus. Designers, students, teachers and administrators gathered together in the RCS multi purpose room filled with IDEO’s colorful rolling desks. We started the workshop with a 45-minute challenge designed to give us an overview of the design thinking (DT) process.
                 

 

We partnered in groups of two and were tasked with redesigning our partner’s morning commute. Together we went through the five phases of the DT process (Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation, Evolution) to identify the challenges our partner faced every day as part of their commute in order to come up with tangible solutions for them.

 

      

 

We were given a list of tips for the discovery process, to allow us to engage with our partner’s reality in an empathetic way.  We were urged to not solely gather facts but to get at the moments, the stories behind the facts because design thinking, at its core, is about the human experience. It’s about improving our moments by challenging the status quo and placing the human, as an individual rather than a statistic, at the center of every experience.

I told my partner, Pia, a learning specialist at RCS, about my commute and enumerated my many complaints: the overly crowded subways, the unpredictability of the G train, the frustration I feel every morning as I try to manage a modicum of personal space, stuck in a mass of tired, cranky, coughing, sneezing people all in a hurry to get where they are going. In retrospect however, after having seen Pia’s prototypes of the solutions she came up with for my morning commute, I realized all of these complaints are the facts of my commute, shared by thousands of others taking the NYC subway. They do not reveal anything specific about my needs or my personal experience of the commute.

Armed with IDEO’s tips on discovery, Pia was able to identify the real story of my morning commute: I’m not a morning person. I’m actually not really a person at all in the mornings until I’ve had my second cup of coffee. And I’m a bit of a germaphobe. I absolutely hate having to be crammed so close to strangers that I can feel their breaths on my face, it sends me into a whirling state of paranoia about all the many diseases floating around the subway car, waiting like predators to get me sick.

So Pia designed a subway that would have Purell dispensers as well as cup holders and coffee machines in every subway car. It was a simple, elegant solution and it was such a salient insight into the overarching challenge of my commute. What amazed me was that through the DT process Pia was able to identify my morning commute challenge better than I could myself.

 

             

 

It was astounding to see the quality, breadth and creativity of the ideas produced in such a short amount of time. From bike helmets that protect your hair do, to a digital butler that bounces ideas off with you about things you’re interested in while you’re driving, the prototypes were amazing. (MTA, if you’re listening, coffee machines and cup holders in the subway are pure gold…get on it).

Our next challenge, which was to be the core of the workshop, was to reimagine the 21st century library.

1. DISCOVERY: I have a challenge. How do I approach it?

We were split up into groups of five and sent off on different field trips to analogous places and on interviews with students and their families. One group went to Starbucks, another interviewed students, another a family and so on. This was all part of the discovery phase. Discovery is about being inspired and energized. The goal of discovery is to achieve a state of ‘informed intuition’ meaning that an intellectual grasp of the challenge is not enough, we want to become aware of the various aspects of a challenge at all levels (emotional, physical, empathetic, etc.).

When all the teams returned from their interviews and observations trips we broke for lunch, excited for the next phase of the process.

2. INTERPRETATION: Learned something. How do I interpret it?

After lunch, we were ready to begin the interpretation phase. We were first asked to write down the information we had gathered on post-its notes. One thought or quote per post-it. It was interesting to see how all the members of my group, despite having all been in the same room and having participated in the same interview with a family of three, had identifying such different insights. After getting all the information we had gathered out onto the post-its, we began to group them by themes.

 

 

We then arranged the themes into “How Might We”s (HMW). In this step we rephrased the problems we had identified into possibilities. For example, we realized that the students found it difficult to navigate the library and find the resources they were looking for. This insight was translated into a HMW: How might we redesign the ways in which books are grouped to ensure that students are able to find the books they seek?

3. IDEATION: I see an opportunity. What do I create?

 

 

Once we had identified some HMWs, we were reorganized into groups of 15 and voted on two HMWs that the aggregated group wanted to focus on. We then had to come up with as many ideas as possible, which we jotted down on post-its and put up on a board. Our goal was to come up with at least 100 ideas in the allotted time. It was an amazing experience seeing the ideas slowly trickle out at first before spurting out in a seemingly endless flow.

 

 

The second day of the workshop was split between prototyping the ideas we had come up with during ideation and examining our real life challenges through the DT lens.

4. EXPERIMENTATION: I have an idea. How do I build it?

The experimentation phase of the process is about thinking through an idea. It’s about getting ideas out of your brain so they don’t become too precious in your mind and making them tangible so that you can evaluate them and get rapid responses from stakeholders. The prototype can be executed in any form; it doesn’t necessarily have to be in physical form, it can be role-playing or any other type of representation that successfully illustrates the idea.

We were split back into groups of five and each group selected two to three ideas to prototype. To build our prototypes we had access to anything in the room (chairs, tables, water bottles, etc.) as well as an assortment of arts and crafts materials.

 

 

Once the allotted time for building our prototypes was up, each group was given two minutes to present their prototype to the whole group as well as a panel of RCS students who provided feedback on each of the prototypes.

 

 

 

Each of the prototypes was breathtaking; no idea was too big or too small to be represented. One group designed a set of ‘bibliospecs’, which would function similarly to Google glasses whereby the wearer would see personalized information and set of resources tailored to her as she navigated the library. Another group designed a new type of librarian position that would hand deliver special invitations and VIP event invitations at the library to students. Yet a third group redesigned the library to include within it a large tree, hammock reading nooks, modular furniture and information kiosques. Each of the prototypes brimmed with wonder, imagination, whimsy and possibility.

5. EVOLUTION: I tried something. How do I evolve it?

Evolution is an ongoing process, a way to refine your ideas and concepts over time. All products, services and systems are constantly in the evolution phase. Nothing is ever done or perfect; as our needs evolve so too should our environments and interactions.

While we did not physically evolve our prototypes, getting the feedback from the students did give us a good idea of further steps in which to take our solutions to better meet their needs.

The rest of the day was spent focusing on the individuals in the room and their specific education challenges. We partnered up in groups of two and unleashed our specific complaints, changing them together into How Might We’s and coming up with a project plan to enact tangible solutions to the problems we face.

 

 

As the workshop came to an end, it was amazing to reflect on all that we had learned. We had acquired a new skill set (design thinking), we had gathered insights on students’ needs and preferences, and we had learned about ourselves. We tend to take our mindsets for granted because the opportunities to question deeply how we think are so rare and far between. All systems, to varying degrees, instill in us a sense of immutability. As we experienced a new methodology of thinking, we were all forced, to some extent, to realize our own biases and assumptions. It was an incredibly empowering experience to be reminded, for it seems we often forget, that our experiences as individuals matter. We do not have to passively accept systems, services, products and environments that do not meet our needs. We do not have to wait for solutions to be handed down to us by ‘experts’. With the people around us and a simple yet powerful method, we have the power to take ownership of our experiences and effect tangible changes for ourselves. Design thinking is a set of tools but it is above all a mindset. It is about rethinking problems into possibilities; it is about being human and making the most of it.

If you couldn’t make it to the workshop, don’t worry you can still experience design thinking for yourself. Check out designthinkingforeducators.com where you can get a free 94-page toolkit, which details the design thinking process as well as presenting real case studies of how the process has been used in schools to enact positive changes. Be sure to check back here with us and on our Twitter and Facebook page for more pictures of the workshop and announcements regarding upcoming initiatives.

As always, we’d love to know what you’re thinking. Whether you were at the workshop or not, let us know what’s on your mind: comments, questions, case studies, feedback…we love it all.

 

 

Classroom Prototypes

Inspired!  After a full day of prototyping, our students are near completion.  They spent a majority of Friday working in small groups to prototype one of three possibilities.  Groups focused on improving their classroom desks or chairs while other groups worked on creating a reading loft for the classroom.  Their creativity was amazing!  From built-in water bottles and pencil sharpeners to headphones for listening to laptops and teacher directions, the students truly embodied functionality and imagination with attention to saving space. Stay tuned for more pictures of completed prototypes.  Up next, feedback from current third grade students!

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