How Design Thinking helped me better know myself!

The simplest schoolboy is now familiar
with truths for which Archimedes
would have given his life.
~Ernest Renan,
Souvenirs d’enfance et de jeunesse, 1883

This paper is not about a theory on Design Thinking, I wish to share with you how I discovered this ability to problem and issue resolution in my own life. I also wish to share the fact that if all people do not think the same way, it does not mean they are less of more gifted than others, they are still people who use a different manner to attain the same goal.

Allow me also to share Tim Brown’s definition of Design Thinking.

Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

During our working journey we are confronted to challenges, requests, problem-solving requests, client’s satisfaction, performances, results, profitability and more, much more… Someone said one day we were the result of our education when time comes to start working. And I find this thought somehow very true, at least for me.

00 Design Thinking Tim Brown
Image Courtesy: Design Thinking (Thoughts by Tim Brown)

We plan, organise, make projections, analyse trends, create and apply processes and procedures. It is something we have learned since schooling years. It is something we were told and taught from the authoritative and structured educational model, what I usually call the “Top down” model of education.

Many spend enough years of their lives collecting knowledge in various disciplines hoping to make a successful career, get a comfortable life and enjoy most of the pleasures of life. The years they spend learning, their way of thinking is also modeled to use, I would say, a predefined manner to work. Structured, sequenced, (just think how a spreadsheet is built, and how people get amazingly creative to build little wonders of human logical solutions and uses).

There is no doubt that the final goal of all of us, is to contribute building a better world, a better country, a better city, a better community, a better person.

Life, for those who cannot follow this pattern or who do not follow this manner of thinking, can be scattered with quite a few challenges. I have lived some of these challenges since I went to kindergarten but almost all of my school life until the end of studies.

Since I was at school, I felt bored during classes, bored not from the material itself or the teacher’s personality (some were really cool!), I did not find any use to stay many hours explaining something I thought others like me could understand in a few minutes, I soon discovered I was not allowed to ask questions or share thoughts or comments with the rest of the class. Some teachers made it clear that I had to obey and comply with rules and discipline. To my queries about discipline and the fact I needed to ask questions, very often they would get upset and treat my behaviour as undisciplined and make class loose “precious” time! Yeah, precious time! I remember meeting the principal enough times in a row so my dad was requested to meet with the school board, teachers, and asked to make me understand that I had to comply like all the other kids. One thing to say, I rarely failed any course which finally was a contradiction to me, getting good results, and struggling to live with a system that obviously I could not cope with.

As for my dad, today I feel how frustrating he must have felt, I still remember his face when he got out of these meetings, really furious and upset. I thought it was because of me, in fact he wasn’t happy because of the way they handled a kid’s curiosity and quest to learn (his own words). This never prevented or slowed me to seek more knowledge and honestly try to “survive” the years of education at that time of its history!

Three years ago, I joined an online class (MOOC: Massive Online Open Course) on Design Thinking for Business Solutions. The course was so interesting that I did not noticed the 8 weeks course were done!

That course was a kind of revelation, I was able to understand, understand that there was a different way to think and find solutions, there was an alternative to bottom down learning, I finally recovered my inner peace about the way I always thought was “different”… I had been using a different path to learn and grow!

This course opened the doors of curiosity in my mind so I read a lot about this discipline I looked for books that could tell me more. I was willing to connect DT (Design thinking) to Education, I knew there was a way, I knew many kids were having such difficulties to adapt into something that could be against their own nature! I knew because I went through many of these challenges, such difficult moments no one could ever diagnose the system could need some amelioration, instead they could have told my parents I who was having problems, whatever problems could be!

I had many jobs in my life, none was too conventional to restrain me in a cubicle, I did enjoy every moment of these years, until I decided one day I would definitely work in education. The trigger that pushed me to engage into this field, was during a course on computer technologies I was attending, when I tried to ask the instructor a question, I go in return a stinging answer: “Sir, I am not paid to solve your problems of understanding, you have a library and references for that!” Trust me I was stunned!

I was confronted for the first time in my whole life to such a blunt and rude behaviour from a person whom I had put on a pedestal, an educator! Instead of reacting the way I knew myself, I took a deep breath (really a deep one), the air in class was freezing cold, so I stood up and answered in a very polite way: “Professor, I will always thank you for this moment! As I am really grateful to you, because you have shown me which profession I would love to have!” His eyes were expecting the rest of my words, this is when I said “I shall become an educator to never expose further students to such inappropriate words from a teacher!”

Since I have been teaching and training. That teacher and I became the best friends ever… When we met, we always remembered that event in particular.

Since the beginning of my life in active education I discovered once I got in, that things were not as rosy as they looked from the outside.

I was dealing with private and public organisations each having these long lists of rules and regulations the do’s and don’ts, the must and must not. Each time I had questions about the pedagogy and the relevancy of manual and test books I was, very politely I admit, to care for teaching, as they were many “experts” in courseware design who were taking care of the learning content strategy!

Giving up would have taken me away from this world, that was the last thing that could happen to my goals. So I learned the use of “educational diplomacy!”; bringing users, learners or students to express what they did not like about a specific lesson or course. As you may understand I was not that “innocent” in these “users’ feedback” yet it worked, slowly but it worked.

When I was asked to create some user guides on soft skills courses, I knew I had the one and only one occasion to make some change happen! I figured a course framework mixing both mindset: learning by topic (actual) and the approach that met attendee’s expectations, modeling the practice according to the learners industry, where for generic courses, I had always taken examples from real life situations. In all this my key point was to involve people directly, bringing a story (situation) as a start, then defining with class how we would rule together the course content.

Many years later and after I discovered the DT approach and all the skills that could get around such as Storytelling, Gamification, Social media tools and platforms, Mind Mapping, I finally understood the way my mindset was working. Nothing wrong with me eh! Just a bit different yet reaching the same result. This has been my determination to bring upfront that education cannot remain a one size fits all, people learn according to their ability f capturing, linking things and concepts, making a direct relation to their daily life and then feel, yes the feeling is there too, they acquired and owned something that makes feel really good about themselves (I like to call it a certain level of happiness!)

Even today after so many years of teaching, I feel the excitement of a junior teacher when I meet an audience for the first time. In our jargon we know it as the critical first 55 seconds. By then you know how will be your teaching day!

Life has granted me another gift, to discover the world of education for people with special needs. In the last two months I connected to not less than 200 persons, specialists, experts in various fields of special needs. Amazing and wonderful personalities, if I had to start over a new life this is where I would love to go and bring my contribution to this cause: Education! Yes education – at least for me – is part of any solution to any social and person’s needs. All it takes, is adapting our mindset to the language and the way people love to discover how to feel good about themselves.

There is no need to call a person “a patient” a “student” a “learner” they are all people part of our life. What if experts in educational expertise of all kinds could decide to talk to each other and seek together how they could make the real change to today’s education? We are stepping into a new era of education, we are not passive listeners anymore, nor collaborators; as both types suppose a hierarchy in providing knowledge. People need to feel how important is their true role as contributors or partners whether at work, at school or for special needs.

Michel – November 27, 2014

References I consulted during the discovery of Design Thinking they are part of the inspiration when I design educational strategies and learning programs. The complete list would be too long…:

  • Humanware, practical usability engineering (- Ulf Andersson)
  • Unschooling Rules (-Clark Aldrich)
  • Designing to Growth (-Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie)
  • Solving Problems with Design Thinking
    (- Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King and Kevin Bennett)
  • For the Win – How the Game Thinking can Revolutionize your Business
    (Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter)
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