I got 99 problems (but design thinking ain’t one of them)

It feels like just yesterday, but last week I hosted our first Hangout this year to help frame our thinking about action plans. It was great to have so many fresh faces and a few alumni to support the conversation about action plans. To be quite honest, I personally find this process excruciatingly difficult and I’ve been doing Cohort now since day one.

A handsome Hangout concierge at our service (also known as Adam)
A handsome Hangout concierge at our service (also known as Adam)

For the last two years, I knew instantly over the summer exactly what I was going to focus my next action plan on. These were ideas that were solutions to problems that arose from my previous class and I was thrilled to “fix” these issues for my incoming classes…even before they had the chance to be problems. I was so so so very clever.

Can you see what my actual problem was?

I was designing an action plan for a problem that didn’t quite exist in my current group of students. I was trying to magically create a time machine to hit refresh on my year and get a little more time to sort out one of the many challenges I faced. Maybe portfolios or personalized book adventures were what my classes needed, but I didn’t fully give myself time to really observe and empathize with my present class and what their needs were.

I keep coming back to the elegance of design thinking. For the last few months, I’ve been trying to be more present in my role with my students and not jump into problem solving mode right away. I’m doing what I can to practice that little blue circle, empathy, and actually understand who it is I’m designing for. What are these students’ challenges?

In that spirit, during the Hangout, we spent some time trying to articulate what our problems have been in our practices. We reframed these to “how might I” statements (to keep things in the realm of “possible”). Here is my rough list, started during the Hang and finished right now:

How Might I?

This is all to say, I’m trying to stay open to what my actual action plan will be this year. It’s a little exciting to be in the place of not knowing, or “beginners mind” as some of my teachers call it.

What I can say is that I’m looking forward to building and developing with you at our next F2F in a few weeks!

2 thoughts on “I got 99 problems (but design thinking ain’t one of them)

  1. Synergy! I love this post for the way it prompts us to embrace ambiguity, to hold off on the “Let’s get a solution!” instinct.

    I had a similar experience in my design club yesterday. As a Design Thinking exercise, without any prior knowledge, I posed this question to the students: “I have a problem…I have tried everything to solve it…but I just know I can’t!” Then I asked them to help me.

    Their first piece of advice: “You can solve it Mr. Nichols, just keep trying!”. To which I responded “no, I’ve tried everything…I just can’t” What followed was a slew of ideas mixed with motivation – the level of earnestness was overwhelming.

    Then I asked “What are you missing…what piece of information do you need?”

    “OOOOHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhh… What is the problem you’re having?” Asked a few students at once. And there it was, exercise over (almost). They had arrived at the idea that they must DEFINE the problem, not just go to suggesting random solutions. We proceeded to define the PROBLEM: I can’t get to work on time…

    One student, in a bout of silliness suggested that I sleep at school. “Aha!” I said “That is a silly solution, but it moves us much farther ahead than just setting your alarm clock earlier.” It moves us into new realm of possibilities – that my status quo might need to change. From there, a new array of ideas emerged – some silly, some quite incredible!

    I too love the elegance and structure of Design Thinking – how once you know it, it just settles into the way you think and approach things. Embracing ambiguity, building creative confidence, etc…

    Love it!

  2. Awesome post, Celeste! I too need to practice a little more empathy before jumping into “problem-solving mode.” All too often, I start problem solving in the summer in an effort to be on top of things – when I’m not even exactly sure what I need to be on top of yet. This has given me a lot to think about – thank you!

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