Mindsetting: Approaching Process Differently To Get Better Outcomes
Science class. Sixth grade. Way before the internet. The physics assignment was to have a marble travel 10 meters in 10 seconds (it’s much harder than it sounds — 10 seconds is an eternity and 10 meters isn’t very far). We tried everything we could think of to slow down the marble. There was one configuration that seemed promising because it felt like it took a long time. Clocked in at 1.9 seconds. The next-to-last idea we came up with was to attempt to increase friction with this black plastic thing made for yard work that we found at the hardware store. When that didn’t slow the marble down enough, we decided that the only way to do it was to hold onto the marble for 8 seconds and then let it go down the track for 2 seconds. A pretty clever solution to what seemed like an impossible problem.
Turns out, the desired outcome that the teacher wanted was to create a 10-meter switchback track that with a low angle of decent so the marble couldn’t build up speed over the distance. Our straight track delayed release innovation was deemed cheating and we received an F. My parents weren’t happy when I told them.
I see now that my teacher was valuing an expected outcome, via an expected process, not new ways of approaching the process to get the desired results. Although what we learned from the process was arguably much more useful (an immersive understanding of friction, relativity, iteration, trial and error, innovative thinking, etc.), because the end result used an approach she wasn’t expecting, our outcome was judged a failure.
What none of us realized at the time is that our team was using a design thinking approach to explore different ways of getting to the desired results.
Fast-forward to today, and it seems like schools have become much more open to exploring process as a way to better outcomes. But the professional world is still catching up. While the concepts of “design thinking” and “user-centered design” are gaining traction in the corporate world, many times they are implemented using the approach of my sixth-grade physics teacher: the concepts are taught through a traditional education model with the expectation of instant, amazing results, measured in exact KPIs. For example, abstract, out-of-context trainings aim to implement an “innovation process,” but often yield only minimal results or are hard to replicate in day-to-day work. Or huge company-wide initiatives are run by huge consultancies charging huge fees that ultimately result in huge presentation decks that no one reads or understands. Or individuals are sent back to school on the company dime to learn these ways of thinking, with the expectation that they’ll teach others and organically spread the word, but then they leave the role before the ideas are fully instilled. In all these cases, the result is more expensive and less holistic than expected because the conventional wisdom is that there is one way to do “design thinking,” and ironically, it’s neither user-centered or innovative.
The lesson — and what we preach and practice at Lift Collective — is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing: you don’t have to go full stop and install “design thinking,” then restart in a new mindset (Pro Tip: it won’t work). When it comes to incorporating a design thinking mindset, we suggest a middle ground: learn the basic simple tools and methods to start thinking differently in ways that are immediately applicable to your regular job, then build capability in context over time. Learning this new mindset, or Mindsetting, can be incorporated little by little over time with way more participants, then scaled through real project work with key players. It’s easier and more cost-effective to implement if you do it a little at a time at a broad level to build awareness and empathy, then go deep with the critical teams who need that operational experience. This way, user-centered design and design thinking are integrated and shared among team members, becoming less of a “thing we do in this specific context” and more “just the way we work.”
We’ve rolled out this approach with a number of clients and the results are more integrated, sustainable and cost effective than traditional approaches. It doesn’t make everybody a design thinking guru (and it shouldn’t), but it gets everybody thinking more deeply about what they do and contributes to an overall culture of innovation and possibility.
Turns out, breaking the rules can sometimes be a good thing. Despite that F in sixth grade, my parents were sort of happy when I told them that breaking the rules was my job.