A Design Problem

My friend who’s literally moving on called me yesterday, frustrated with all the packing, sorting, and decisions that stand between Now and Then, Here and There, Old Life and New.  If you’ve ever been there, you understand!  Staring at the furniture, the boxes, the remaining stuff, she had a horrible, inescapable notion that there was too much.  “I’ll have to throw away all my dishes and books,” she told me, “because they won’t fit and there’s no other option.”

If you know me at all, you know almost nothing grates on me like that phrase “no other option.”  There’s always another option – probably many others.  They may not be good options, but if you think about the bad ones, you’ll probably think of something better after a while.  In an interesting bit of dramatic irony, that’s the subject of this week’s lecture and assignment in the Venture Lab / NovoEd “Design Thinking Action Lab” course I’m taking.  But I hadn’t yet seen the lectures,  wouldn’t see them for another few hours.  I guess I naturally use design thinking and systems thinking principles … and I did even before I knew their names.

So does my friend, as a rule.  But in the moment, alone and frustrated, she was struggling – much like me, when I was writing yesterday’s post, as I contemplated a crossroads where every road seemed fraught with peril and impossibilities.  “No good options,” I thought … but at least I saw some options.  My friend saw none.

When someone’s in that frame of mind, you can’t argue with them.  You can’t “make them see reason,” though Ms. X would probably try.  The Ms. X and Mr. Y side of me tried, too.  It tried arguing and reasoning, it tried yelling (but not labeling), it tried all kinds of things.  Unlike Ms. X, though, it didn’t write her up or send her to the office or threaten to call her parents.

Actually the yelling was cathartic, especially when I moved from yelling about my friend’s situation to yelling about mine.  That second phase of yelling helped me a lot.

But at some point, I said something that helped.  They’re sensibly using a Pod, which arrives in a day or so.  “Why don’t you go into the yard,” I asked, “and measure a space eight feet by sixteen?  Once you see and feel how big it is, that will probably help.”  Or something like that.

Within a few minutes, everything had changed even though the situation was the same.  Armed with a tape measure and some improvised stakes, my friend had marked out a space in their yard.  All of a sudden, the conversation changed from “I can’t do this” to “What will be the best way to arrange things when we do this?”

I really am sorry about the yelling, but I’m glad the results were positive.

I’m still standing at my own crossroads this morning, but I’ve realized that design thinking and systems thinking will be key when I do move forward.  Oddly, the “train the trainers training” yesterday helped, too.  There were two separate sessions: an overview of Infuse Learning  followed by a “planning meeting” for the World Language training sessions.

If you’re a teacher, you’ve probably been to a “technology Professional Development” or two.  Picture a computer lab with more participants than computers, a pair of enthusiastic, young, tech-savvy male teachers excitedly encouraging the older, more female, less tech-savvy audience not to use the computers but to try things out on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones.  Picture the WiFi connectivity issues, the folks arriving late, the grumbling and murmuring.  Picture one presenter talking excitedly about the district’s BYOD initiative, of which many audience members (and maybe even his co-presenter) were unaware.  “Can it import class lists from another program?” asks one participant.  “I don’t think so,” says the presenter.  “But what about this button that says Import Students?” asks the participant.  “Oh!  Well, I’ve only been using this since May, and I don’t really know all the features yet.”

Picture twenty minutes of “instruction” stretching into an hour.  Then think about the design thinking and systems thinking issues.  Imagine the frustrated participants … and imagine the teachers in their sessions, terrified and overwhelmed by Yet Another Thing that “They” are “making Us do.”

It was a relief to move on to the World Language planning session … but there, too, was an atmosphere of confusion.  A group of us had met back in May or June and made general plans, but it seems Greater Powers had inserted Additional Agenda Items, and our Minor Power was frustrated and overwhelmed, too.  “There are so many changes,” she said near the beginning, “and so many things, but we’ll just smile and get through it.”  Then came a “discussion of the agenda” which left everyone confused.  “Can we go back for a minute?” I finally asked.  “It’s currently 8:30, and they’ve arrived at their small group sessions.  What happens?”  OK, that became clear.  “Now it’s 9:00.  What happens now?”  And so on until, at least, everybody knew what was happening when.  Sometimes we even talked about why, although (at least to us) the why was usually clear from the what.

“How long do you think it will take to do X?” was a frequent question.  And, of course, it will depend on the participants, how tech-savvy they are, how willing to engage.  “Don’t wait for all of them,” said Minor Power as she often does.  “If they’re not ready, you’ll just have to move on.  If they don’t get it, that’s on them.”  Factory-thinking in a nutshell, so ingrained that even Minor Power didn’t notice … and she was an excellent, caring teacher who became a caring, driven administrator.

I’m still at the crossroads, I guess, but things are starting to become clearer.  The anger and confusion yesterday helped; they helped clear away the cobwebs and existential sadness that had been blocking my view for a while.  I’m still not sure exactly what the path looks like, but at least I’m not afraid of fear anymore.  Friends on Google+ helped me with that step, too.

I’ll be going through a formal design thinking process with myself today, empathizing with myself, defining the problem clearly, and starting to ideate about solutions.  If all goes well, I should have a report for you tomorrow.

And, dear friends and fellow builders and sustainers of joyful community, thank you.  Thank you for reading, for your thoughts, and for walking with me through the dark times.  Thanks for sharing your stories and your struggles and for the joyful community we’ve built together in this virtual space.

It’s a little bit scary, but much more intriguing, to think about what the future may hold.  How are things with you today?

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Published in: on August 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] had a self-imposed “homework assignment” (the design thinking task I set for myself in yesterday’s post).  I also had an assignment from a friend, who told me I simply must watch this video, in which […]


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