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“Yes, And!”: Design Thinking at the Beeck Center

By: Liz Anderson, Director of Engagement

Like many organizations, we spend most of our time focusing outward, addressing systemic problems that live outside the whiteboard-walls of the Beeck Center. Although it’s a challenge to find the time to have more inward-focused conversations, it’s critical to allocate that white space for collective creative thinking. Last month, we were lucky enough to indulge in that white space thanks to the help of Dave Viotti, Founder and CEO of the innovation capacity-building firm SMALLIFY, who led us in an immersive, half-day rapid innovation lab. During the four-hour lab, we were able to solve for a set of core strategic issues as a team that would have otherwise taken us months to address.

If your organization isn’t able to spring for a SMALLIFY session (though I highly recommend you do) here are five tips to get you started for running your own rapid innovation lab:

  1. Make the space for white-space: White space isn’t just a graphic design convention, it’s a management convention too.There is always going to be a looming deadline, the emails will never stop (as much you want them to) and it’s never a good time to hit pause. But it’s in those pauses, in that white space, where you’ll achieve the greatest breakthroughs. Block out a sizeable chunk of time at regular intervals throughout the year for you and your team to convene around a set of core issues – and then attack them together with intention.
  2. Go small to go big: If you’re trying to solve for everything, then you will end up solving nothing. Take the time to clearly define your problem. Harnessing your team’s energy around deconstructing a single issue is more likely to produce an actionable, viable and robust path forward.
  3. Go big to go small: Ban the word “but” from your brainstorming process. Repeat after me: “Yes, and . . .” Before you’re able to generate a specific, concrete solution, first encourage your team to say “yes!” and consider multiple approaches across disciplines. Generate as many ideas as possible in your ideation process. If this feels messy and chaotic, don’t worry – it’s supposed to be. Being ok with uncertainty is one of the most important elements of the creative process.
  4. Fail fast, fail early: Create a space for rapid experimentation and early failure. Ask your team members to create a prototype or an early model of their concepts. Why? Because through prototyping, team members are able to experiment, fail fast and fail early. As Tom and David Kelley of IDEO note, “the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices. It also gives you something you can show to and talk about with other people . . . a prototype is just an embodiment of your idea.”
  5. Test, and then test again: Ideas die if left to languish in the conference room. Commit your team to test out the concepts generated during the brainstorming and prototyping process with the target users in the real world. Capture that feedback, iterate, tweak and test again. The pathway to the right solution looks more like a misshapen circle than a straight line.

So go forth into the world, reclaim your white space and forge ahead in experimentation. We would love to hear about how your organization is applying design thinking to solve messy problems, big and small. Join the conversation with us on Twitter:@BeeckCenter #DriveImpact

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