Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Say What?

Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel 1563 
Last week I was given the unique opportunity to observe the K-12 Lab's Design Thinking seminar first hand. It was a terrific experience and great refresher. While there I photo documented nearly the whole process, including the karaoke bits. (no, I'm not sharing...)

Watching the teaching of Design Thinking and actually doing it are very different things, of course. But something else occurred to me which I think bears some further scrutiny;

There seem to be a lot of different ways of describing the process;

Expressions of Design Thinking

Some of these bear resemblance to each other but in terms of helping the neophyte Design Thinker understand the framework, they leave a lot to be desired. Over the next few days I'm going to try and get to the heart of the matter.

It's been said that a good reporter covers five things about a story; Who, What, Why. When and Where. In the context of Design Thinking - or any learnable skill, there are several steps to mastery. Bloom called them levels of learning.

Blooms's Taxonomy

They parallel the activities in Design Thinking's phases;

Both Bloom and Design Thinking are fundamentally about developing and expressing creativity.

Other descriptions of DT emphasize methods, tools, or skills. They are all about finding an area of overlap between Business Viability, Technical Feasibility and Filling Human Needs.

The Hasso Platner Institute's View

With all this commonality underpinning the details, why all the verbal confusion (babble)?

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Spark is still strong

This past week has provided a couple of unique opportunities to review and refresh. My wife, who will be teaching gifted fourth grade students staring this fall, was fortunate enough to attend a K-12 Teachers workshop at the at Stanford. I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours with four very talented Imagineers. Both experiences were refreshing and delightful for a surprisingly similar reason.

When Terri and I arrived at Stanford, the plan was to drop her off and go find a corner somewhere to prepare for a meeting I had later in the week while she experienced the magnificent chaos of Express - Test - Cycle first hand. Things started out that way, but then I started taking "just a few" pictures.

Devon Young putting a welcome smile on the day
School teachers are an amazing blend of optimism, practicality, determination and love which isn't found in nearly enough places.  As the group filed in, a remarkable range of diversity was also present. They settled in, as teachers do, to curious polite chatter about each other's situations and circumstances.

Then it was time to call the class to order...

The magic and miracle of Design Thinking is something which is best learned first hand. Like most skills of mastery, there are rules,  tools and methods. One of the first and most fundamental is to learn quick and fail fast.  Therefore, the first exercise was about loosening up and getting comfortable with failure. 

Everyone spent a couple of minutes celebrating failure. This move would prove useful and entertaining many times over the course of the next three days as cups of beverage were spilled, bodies bumped, and prototypes were built and recycled.

Whoo hooo! I'm not perfect!

Sketching is a key idea capture and expression skill, so a few minutes were spent warming up everyone's rapid visualization toolbox.

I don't need to draw as well as Da Vinci...

As we've discussed elsewhere, Design Thinking starts with Empathy, so the next exercise involved going out and interviewing. As was the case with every exercise, there was an example and an opportunity to practice together. Then everyone was metaphorically thrown into the pool, sent out onto the the campus to talk to people about their circumstances.  The formal name for this in other circles is need finding, but Design Thinking puts a much more personal spin on it.

Some sample questions

At this point I headed out for some fuel, for both the car and I.  The plan was to meet back at 3:30, but after I'd gassed up (at $4.60 a gallon!) and made a phone call or two, my curiosity got the best of me and I headed back towards the atrium, to "see how Terri was doing."

When I arrived, the group had broken out into their teams and were deep into constructing their first needs analysis.

As I went around the room and looked at what was on all the white boards I was utterly re-hooked.

All my plans for the next two days went out the window and I opted-in to vicariously photo document everything.  And it felt like coming home.

More to follow...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stone Soup - A Tale of Design Thinking... almost


Robert Moser's fable of Stone Soup has been told at least as far back as 1808, when it was published in The European Magazine and London Review as The Recipe for Stone Soup. Fundamentally, it's a tale about creative problem solving.

The story goes that a weary traveler arrives at a small village, just north of the border town of Schauffhausen, Switzerland.* Coming into town, the traveller sees a woman, sitting at a spinning wheel at the door of her cottage, singing as she spins. The traveller approaches, starts a conversation and asks the woman if she has any fire. Thus starts a classic tale of persuasion, collaboration and resource management, since retold to thousands of young and old for generations.

Although enlarged and embellished since it's first telling, the core message is the same; How do you persuade others to cooperate, overcome their fears and use limited available resources to create something valuable, seemingly out of nothing?

San Antonio Potters Guild Empty Bowls

The story illustrates several aspects of Design Thinking and the nature of creativity; Showing what can happen when people collaborate, do a bit of unplanned brainstorming and some forced association. It also shows the power of optimism and storytelling in persuading people to a common point of view and the benefit of the rapid built/test cycle.

Illustration by Marcia Brown
In Marcia Brown's re-telling, the role of the traveller is filled by three soldiers and the town has been ravaged by war, so the townsfolk are feeling both resource poor and suspicious. The soldier's first attempts to get some relief are an utter failure.  Partly because it's a one sided transaction, relying on the charity of already war-torn townsfolk.

What happens next isn't too different from what many stage magicians do; The soldiers pull the audience into the act by asking for something of little value and playing on the citizen's curiosity about something unusual, contradictory, and new; stone soup.

But, let's just pick up the story;

Image by Carl Sommer
Three soldiers trudged down a road in a strange country. They were on their way home from the wars. Besides being tired, they were hungry. In fact, they had eaten nothing for two days.

"How I would like a good dinner tonight,” said the first.
“And a bed to sleep in,” said the second.
“But all that is impossible,” said the third. “We must march on.” (Negative Thinking!)

On they marched. Suddenly, ahead of them they saw the lights of a village.
“Maybe we’ll find a bite to eat there,” said the first.
“And a loft to sleep in,” said the second.
No harm in asking,” said the third. (A bit of optimism there.)

Image by John Shelley
Now, the peasants of that place feared strangers. When they heard that three soldiers were coming down the road, they talked among themselves. (Fearful Collaboration)

Ekherd Theater Company
“Here come three soldiers. Soldiers are always hungry. But we have little enough for ourselves.” And they hurried to hide their food. (Possibly invalid assumptions, "scarcity" mind set.)

They pushed the sacks of barley under the hay in the lofts. They lowered buckets of milk down the wells. They spread old quilts over the carrot bins. They hid their cabbages and potatoes under the beds. They hung their meat in the cellars. (Dishonest and withholding)

They hid all they had to eat. Then – they waited.

The soldiers stopped first at the house of Paul and Francoise.

“Good evening to you,” they said. “Could you spare a bit of food for three hungry soldiers?”
(Not starting with empathy for Paul and Francoise.) 

“We have had no food for ourselves for three days,” said Paul. Francoise made a sad face. “It has been a poor harvest.” (Not starting with empathy for the soldiers.) 

The three soldiers went on the house of Albert and Louise. “Could you spare a bit of food? And have you some corner where we could sleep for the night?” (Again...)

“Oh no,” said Albert. “We gave all we could spare to soldiers who came before you.” (Again...)

“Our beds are full,” said Louise.  (Again...)

At Vincent and Marie’s the answer was the same. It had been a poor harvest and all the grain must be kept for seed. (Are we seeing the pattern here?)

So it went all through the village. Not a peasant had any food to give away. They all had good reasons. One family had use the grain for feed. Another had an old sick father to care for. All had too many mouths to fill. (Complete disconnect over Points of View, faulty information and assumptions all around - what a mess!)

The villagers stood in the street and sighed. The looked as hungry as they could.

The three soldiers talked together. (Collaboration!)

Then the first soldier called out, “Good people!” (Ah!, a bit of optimism.) The peasants drew near.

“We are three hungry soldiers in a strange land. We have asked you for food and you have no food. Well then, we’ll have to make stone soup.” (Start with the simple truth and propose a wacky solution.)

The peasants stared.

Stone soup? That would be something to know about.

“First, we’ll need a large iron pot,” the soldiers said. (The start of the build/test cycle.)

The peasants brought the largest pot they could find. How else to cook enough?

“That's none too large,” said the soldiers. “But it will do. And now, water to fill it and a fire to heat it.”

Image by Lauren Gallegos
It took many buckets of water to fill the pot. A fire was built on the village square and the pot was set to boil.

“And now, if you please, three round, smooth stones.”

Those were easy enough to find. (Quick prototype with easily available materials and processes.)

The peasants’ eyes grew round as they watched the soldiers drop the stones into the pot.

Image by Necdet Yilmaz

“Any soup needs salt and pepper,” said the soldiers, as they began to stir.

Children ran to fetch salt and pepper.

“Stones like these generally make good soup. But oh, if there were carrots, it would be much better.”

“Why, I think I have a carrot or two,” said Francoise, and off she ran.
Image by Sue Cornelison
She came back with her apron full of carrots from the bin beneath the red quilt.
(Franciose is on board and contributing, even if she hasn't caught the full vision yet.)

“A good stone soup should have cabbage,” said the soldiers as they sliced the carrots into the pot. “But no use asking for what you don't have.” (Build on the existing idea, and encourage more from the group.)

“I think I could find a cabbage somewhere,” said Marie and she hurried home. Back she came with three cabbages from the cupboard under the bed. (Maria is getting the idea...)

Image by Johanna van der Sterre
“If we only had a bit of beef and a few potatoes, this soup would be good enough for a rich man's table.” (Looking for better and better outcomes...)

The peasants thought that over. They remembered their potatoes and the sides of beef hanging in the cellars. They ran to fetch them. (Now they're cooking!)

A rich man's soup – and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic!

Image by Lydia Halverson
“Ah,” sighed the soldiers as they stirred in the beef and potatoes, “if we only had a little barley and a cup of milk! This would would be fit for the king himself. Indeed he asked for just such a soup when last he dined with us.” (Storytelling of past and future success.)

The peasants looked at each other. The soldiers had entertained the king! Well!

“But – no use asking for what you don’t have,” the soldiers signed. (Keep pulling...)

The peasants brought their barley from the lofts, they brought their milk from the wells. The soldiers stirred the barley and milk into the steaming broth while the peasants stared.

Image by Michael Hays
At last the soup was ready.

“All of you shall taste,” the soldiers said. “But first a table must be set.” (Keep the group thinking and engaged!)

Great tables were placed in the square. And all around were lighted torches.

Such a soup! How good it smelled! Truly fit for a king.

But then the peasants asked themselves, “Would not such a soup require bread – and a roast – and cider?” Soon a banquet was spread and everyone sat down to eat.

Image by Marcia Brown

Never had there been such a feast. Never had the peasants tasted such soup.

And fancy, made from stones!

Where are these Design Thinking traits found in the story? Are there any missing?

* Possibly Merishausen or Thayngen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Making Magic

IDEO employee Sandy Speicher recently wrote an article called Design Thinking: A Human-Centered Approach to Innovation in Education which was featured on the Education Week blog. In it, Sandy uses a project IDEO did for the San Francisco Unified School District as an example. Part way into the article she writes:

In one particularly revealing moment, a student told us what she thought about the new lunchtime experiences: "I love this so much. This would be amazing. I just can't believe you would do this for us."

The thought which immediately occurred to me was; That's magic.

Jeff McBride
Back in 2011, I attended the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society convention in Las Vegas. The keynote speaker was a magician named Jeff McBride, who definitely knows how to throw cards.

HFES explained their choice of Jeff as keynote by stating; The theory behind illusions and the tools of the illusionist are similar to those that are relevant to the human factors/ergonomics community. Principles of attention, perception, biases, expectations, and memory are as pertinent to a magician as they are to an interface or systems designer.

Jeff's performance got me thinking about the nature of magic and user experience and magic always reminds me of Disney.

Along with playing the role of Crabby Old Guy in both Product Design groups on LinkedIn, I'm also a member of Doug Lipp's Disney Best Practices group. Doug wrote a book called Disney U - How Disney University Develops the World's Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees

Last year Doug posted a question; Is the Disney Way a process or is it magic? There were several replies, most of which focused on the mechanism and context of the experience a guest is supposed to have at a Disney destination. 

In the midst of a mental mashup of Disney and magic and human factors, it occurred to me that Disney's - and Apple's - brand of magic is what happens when someone unexpectedly responds to someone else's unexpressed (latent) needs, which creates the opportunity for; "I love this so much. This would be amazing. I just can't believe you would do this for us."

Jeff McBride's illusions are "magic" because we don't know how they are done. Disney's customer service is magic because we don't expect it. Apple's Look and Feel delight us by making the process of using technology feel natural. What we bring to the party is a willingness to suspend our disbelief long enough to be delighted when the "trick" happens. Apple, Disney and McBride are masters of their craft. 

As designers, we can become magicians. We can make real magic. Design Thinking; being at Bloom's top two levels of learning; at the level of mastery of the problem. Seeing the unseen, discovering the unknown and inventing the future is what makes the magic possible. Doing so, you discover the unexpressed needs of others, develop the knowledge necessary to respond and consistently act on that knowledge. 

The reason its seems like magic is that, so few typically do it that very few expect it, except, of course, in Magical Kingdoms.

Embrace your Inner Mouse

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Blooming Creativity

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom headed a group of educational psychologists in developing a system which  classified levels of learning mastery into several levels of behavior.

During the 1990's a group of cognitive psychologists lead by Lorin Anderson, who was a former student of Bloom's, updated the descriptions. The latest version looks like this:

For each level there is a description of the types of activities or behaviors which occur at that level:

Remembering: define, duplicate, list, memorize, recall, repeat, reproduce state.

Understanding: classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognize, report, select, translate, paraphrase

Applying: choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write.

Analyzing: appraise, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test.

Evaluating: appraise, argue, defend, judge, select, support, value, evaluate.

Creating: assemble, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, write.

Another description of the create level is; "Assembling, constructing, or designing a new product or point-of-view."

I'm seeing some very strong correlations between the activities of Bloom's levels and the activities of Design Thinking; Empathize, Prototype, Build, Test and Storytelling.

Here is another way of organizing Bloom's system:

I'm thinking there are at least two implications of this; first Bloom offers another framework to understand and teach creativity. Second; Since teachers have developed methods to create lesson plans within this framework, perhaps that process can be applied to teaching Design Thinking.

There is also a very interesting article called Innovation as a Learning Process: Embedding Design Thinking, which is well worth the read.

Here is another way to structure Bloom's approach. The red border box is around levels 5 and 6 where the highest degree of term correlation exists with Design Thinking.

For a teacher, Bloom's Taxonomy provides a way to establish measurable goals in lesson plans - what they call learning objectives or outcomes. This makes a lot of sense, as the goal of a teacher is to create an environment where students can become masters of the subject - no matter what the subject.

In another sense, Bloom's Taxonomy is a framework for achieving mastery of problem solving and creativity, as it's highest levels are describing behaviors which are key elements of Design Thinking. Another parallel aspect of Bloom is its focus; Bloom's outcomes focus on what the learner needs to know, not the instructor. In that regard they are learner (user) ­centric.

Here are some links to articles about Bloom's Taxonomy that should be instructive;

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Critical Thinking

Verbs for Learning Outcomes

Action Verbs for Learning Objectives

This should be of great interest to anyone teaching Design Thinking to educators, as it provides a natural bridge between their POV and the Design Thinker's POV.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rumors of Brainstorming's Death

There has been a lot of discussion on the boards lately regarding the "death of brainstorming". The latest round was launched by Forbes Magazine's David Burkus in an article entitled; Brainstorming Is Dead; Long Live Brainstorming. That sent me back to my copy of Adams' Conceptual Blockbusting where there are a couple of very useful illustrations on pages 139 and 140;

These apply not only to brainstorming, but any type of interaction between individuals or groups trying to understand and solve a problem.  For now I'll just post them here, but I will come back.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Faste's Review of Creative Strategies

Back in 1989, Rolfe Faste drew up a one page document he called Review of Creative Strategies which was used as a handout in one of the design classes at Stanford. His son recently posted it in one of the online design discussion groups and it was so good I wanted to talk about it here.

Faste made major contributions in the fields of human centered design and design education. He was a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Stanford Joint Program in Design from 1984 to 2003. 

I'll be working on this for a while...

1) Hard Work - Usually comes first.
2) Create a Supportive Environment - Invest in yourself.
3) RELAX - Even Dream - Tap your subconscious.
4) Brainstorming - Express/Test/Cycle
5) Lists
6) Metalists - Lists of Lists to make lists of!
7) Metaphorical Analysis - Atribute matching
8) Idea Logs + Drawings
9) Humor - The pleasure of making new connections.
10) Conversation - You have to talk to people.
11) Forced Transformations - "Checklist Solitare"
12) Synectics - Analogies and Conflict
13) Diagram Physical Process - Time/Activity/Flow
14) "What if?" - Have an enabling attitude.
15) Design Making Matrix - 
16) Working Backwards
17) Storyboards
18) How-Why Diagram
19) Nasal Thinking (Jim Adams)
20) Mind Maps
21) Meta Summary - Visual Thinking
22) Diagram Yourself