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10 key takeaways from 2 years at the digital Harvard, Hyper Island

Whether you are a Hyper-alumni who wants to refresh your learnings, an entrepreneur who strives to accelerate productivity or an aspiring designer who seeks to break out of tiring routines — this article is certain to provide you with tangible concepts, process-tools and frameworks to accelerate both innovation and growth.

Who are we?

Casper Nielsen and Daniel Bech — two entrepreneurial-minded creatives who studied Digital Media Creative at Hyper Island for 2 years. Today we form the digital design duo Oimachi in Copenhagen.

1. Reflection

Actively reflecting on your past experiences will help you synthesize learnings and inform future actions. A 15 minute reflection session at your next project wrap-up, is a simple way to accelerate both personal and professional growth.

Learn to reflect on your past experiences and turn insights into productivity.

Research in call centers demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect. Reflection works, because it helps you to take a pause, untangle and actively consider your observations and experiences. From that you will form well-considered generalizations that impacts both your future thinking and doing.

The basic questions
You can get a long way, both as an individual or a team by letting your reflection sessions (20–60 min) be guided by these 4 simple questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did I feel and what were my reactions?
  3. What insights or conclusions can I draw from the experience?
  4. How can I apply what I learned to improve future experiences?

Tip: Be situated in a quiet place, remove digital distractions and use pen and paper to note down your thoughts.

👉 Key takeaway
While it is human nature to reflect, it is a quite overlooked and underestimated tool in professional context. A designed set of questions to guide your thoughts in the right direction, is all that it takes to initiate a reflection-session for your team or yourself. The continuous practice of structured reflection will develop your ability to dig deeper, extract more and turn insights into productivity.

2. Point of Departure

When starting a new project with a new team it is easy to just rush into work-mode without taking out time to build an initial foundation for working together. To set and align expectations for both the content and process, you can form a “team playbook” — where the team through a structured process discuss questions to accelerate cohesion, a shared culture and efficiency.

Discuss important questions to prepare a new team for takeoff together.

What could go into a team playbook?
Answering questions like: Why are we doing this? What is our desired outcome? What is each member’s responsibility area? Will put words to assumptions and provide clarity to content-related things in the project. Answering questions like: What needs do we each have for working efficiently? What individual strengths weaknesses and goals are there within the team? This will help team members get a better understanding of each other and advance the creation of a healthy, productive team culture.

How to do it
As a facilitator or leader you can create your own Point of Departure framework by shaping purposeful questions that are relevant for your specific team and project. In example, if you have many stakeholders in a project, it might be a good idea to discuss the question: How do we make decisions in the team? It sounds very basic, but having a common understanding of such a question, can be absolutely crucial for the success of a project. You can also use existing frameworks like the Team Canvas or the Kickoff Template that we created ourselves.

Go over all the questions together while writing down all the conclusions. Once done, make sure that the Point of Departure document is highly accessible for the whole team and consider printing it and hanging it up in your workspace.

👉 Key takeaway
Creating a Point of Departure is not about carving rules into stone. Instead you should revisit and develop it on a regular basis — making sure that the whole team still is on the same page.

3. Content vs Process

When you have tons of work and tight deadlines, it can be easy to forget about how you are working (the process) and only focus on what you need to get done (the content). Optimizing the process is often overlooked because it does not necessarily pay off right away — but over time, a healthy balance between content and process will lead to increased alignment, shared goals and prevent drops in productivity.

Find a healthy balance between content (what you work on) and process (how you work).

Content vs. Process model
The model (seen on the image above) describes the two different aspects a team or individual can focus on:

  • Content — what you are working on
    (example: discussing specific details on a task)
  • Process — how you are working
    (example: having a check-up meeting to talk about the current level of motivation in the team)

How to find a healthy balance
Try to reflect upon where your focus has been in the team lately. A great way to encourage a deeper reflection, is by physically using the Content vs Process model:

  • Draw up a circle, divide it with a line in the middle, content is top and process is bottom.
  • Using a pen, draw a line representing your journey in the project so far.
  • Looking at the outcome you will get an indication of your balance between content and process focus.

If there is an uneven distribution, it might be a sign that something is being forgotten. Too much focus on the process (re-aligning, discussing personal needs) will result in restlessness and tasks not being completed on time. Too much focus on content (producing, only discussing tasks) will result in lack of motivation and burnout.

Example: if you only have been discussing details on your current task with the team for one week straight (content focus), you might want to suggest a brief check-up meeting to reconnect with your team and see how motivated they are (process focus).

👉 Key takeaway
When you become aware about your team’s focus, you can take action to maintain a healthy balance between content and process, to sustain effectiveness in your team.

4. Energizers

Stop reading this article for a second, stand up and stretch your arms above your head while screaming “whohooooooo”. Proved by research, you will now feel more energized and perform better on the tasks at hand. Energizers helps you and your team quickly regain focus, energy and connect with one another in a joyful way.

Use energizers to boost energy levels and connect with your team.

Energizers are social and typically physical activities, designed to boost energy levels and help people to get to know each other. They are particularly useful when starting out the day, to break up info-heavy sessions or right after lunch when people can feel a bit drowsy. Because of their social aspect, they also work as great icebreakers and team-building exercises. Check out the 2 examples below or find more in the Hyper Island Toolbox.

🍌 Go Bananas (2–100 people / 5 min)

  1. The energizer starts with the group in a circle.
  2. The whole group crouches down and begins to whisper “go bananas — b-a-n-a-n-a-s”. This is repeated over and over again, each time a bit louder. Along with the increasing volume, the group slowly stands up until, in the end, everyone is jumping energetically and screaming: “GO BANANAS — B-A-N-A-N-A-S!”

✂️ Rock Paper Scissors (6–100 people / 5–20 min)

  1. Everyone pairs up two and two for a classic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  2. Whoever “loses” goes behind the winner — holding onto his or hers shoulders all while the winner slowly walks over to compete against the next person.
  3. As more and more people lose, they hook on to the back of the winner’s squad — all while cheering the winners name.
  4. This continues until there is one squad left cheering and a winner has been found!

👉 Key takeaway
Use energizers when people start to look tired or unengaged to create a natural break between activities. Be intentional with the energizer you pick — they greatly vary in their level of silliness, time and “comfort-zone”. But most importantly, be sure to have fun!

5. Check-in and Check-out

What are your expectations for today? Starting or ending a meeting or workshop with an intentional question can make people feel heard, increase focus and boost team spirit.

Check-in/out questions creates a natural transition in and out of work.

The format

  1. Have all participants seated in a circle for easy eye contact, laptops should be closed, and phones put away. Make sure that everyone is aware of how long time it will take.
  2. Going around in a circle, everyone answers the question asked by a facilitator. If you have the time, try out the “popcorn-style” where people answer the question whenever they feel ready — in no particular order.
  3. When a person is done answering, they should verbalize it by either saying “checking in” or “checking out” — that way it is clear to everyone that the person is done talking. If standing up in a circle, you can also encourage people to fully embody the transition by having them take a step forward when having checked in and a step backward when having checked out.

Creating intentional questions
When coming up with a good check-in or check-out questions as a facilitator or leader, you can consider things like the current stage of the team, the general mood and the purpose of the overall session. Has there been a conflict? Is there something we should celebrate? Would it be beneficial to get people into a serious or more loose and creative mindset? Defining the initial intention is key to shaping relevant and purposeful questions.

Examples of questions

👉 Key takeaway
Only your ability to be smart and intentional with your questions is limiting what is possible to achieve with this simple process. If it feels like a waste of time, something is probably missing. Keep it fresh by having a good balance between both fun, personal and more serious questions.

6. Openness and Trust

To be an effective team, there has to be a safe space for taking risks and daring to be vulnerable. This requires mutual trust between the team members. You can’t create trust on demand, but you can use openness as a tool to foster it.

Openness leads to trust, and trust leads to more openness. It’s a positive spiral!

Trust and openness spiral
When someone in the team starts opening up, for example by sharing a personal story, it strengthens the relationship between the team members. A strong relationship leads to more trust. Ultimately, trust will continue to encourage more openness — as a positive spiral effect. However, someone always has to start the spiral by being the first one to open up.

Keep in mind that opening up to the team is not your group therapy session — there is a big difference between sharing a personal story and a private issue. If you overshare intimate details or struggles, you might leave the team feeling uncomfortable and distant.

How you can use it
Find ways to encourage openness in your team, to start building trust. For example, you can prepare more personal check-in/out questions such as ‘What is one thing that brings you energy and joy?’ You can also plan some team activities (wine tasting, bowling night) that sparks new conversations and helps you see new sides of your colleagues. Pay attention to your team members and invite them to open up if something seems to be on their mind. Remember that anyone in the team can be the first one to open up — including you!

👉 Key takeaway
There is a misconception that opening up to the team can be perceived as being unprofessional or even weak. However, if we don’t evolve beyond polite smalltalk, the team will never develop trust and become more effective.

7. I-Message

When conflict arises in a team, emotions might cause us to use blaming, judgemental or even hurtful language. I-Message is a simple concept that helps us become aware of our own needs and speak with clear intention, to avoid and resolve conflict in teams.

I-Message helps you understand your needs and speak with intention.

How you can use it
There are four key components, when you are constructing a sentence with I-message:

  1. Observations — something I observe
    When you (disturb, interrupt…)
  2. Feelings — how I feel in relation to my observation
    I feel (angry, frustrated, confused, demotivated…)
  3. Needs — what I have a need for or value highly
    because I have a need for (structure, professionalism…)
  4. Requests — the action you would like someone to take
    so I would appreciate if you would (pay attention, speak up more…)

The full sentence could be:
When you (interrupt me), I feel (frustrated) because I have a need for (expressing myself clearly), so I would appreciate if you would (let me finish my sentences).

Instead of suddenly bursting out:
“Goddamit! Can I please finish my sentence now?

👉 Key takeaway
The I-Message framework might look complicated and stiff at first glance. But the important thing is that you start questioning your own emotions and figure out what your underlying needs are — because the better you can explain your needs to a team member, the better they will try to meet them and the less conflict there will be.

8. Team Development Sessions

When everyone is busy working on their own tasks, it can be difficult to reflect about the process and stay connected as a team. Team Development Sessions (TDS) can be scheduled to deal with unresolved tensions, align expectations, increase empathy between team members and take your workflow to new heights.

Set aside time to realign your team and get to know each other on a deeper level.

A TDS might sound intimidating and time consuming, but it really doesn’t have to be. Here is an example of how a session could look like.

The format — example

  • The team sits down in a circle, preferably in a different location than the usual workspace
  • A facilitator (sometimes the project leader, but not necessarily) will take the lead and ask a check-in question to kick off the session
  • Afterwards, the facilitator will ask a guiding question such as “Do you feel that your needs are being met in the team?” and the team will briefly reflect in silence
  • Going around in a circle, everyone will get a chance to share how they feel — getting the full undivided attention from the team without anyone interrupting
  • After everyone has shared, the facilitator can encourage team members to dig deeper into potential conflicts. The goal is to help team members gain more empathy for each other, by understanding how everyone has different needs
  • Finally, the team members will give each other feedback
  • The session will be wrapped up with a check-out

Facilitating a TDS
There is no single way to host a TDS — it is all about finding a format that fits the current stage of the team. For example, if the team is new and still getting to know each other, maybe the goal isn’t to resolve conflict but rather help the team get to know each other and open up. Here’s a few tips.

  • Schedule the TDS in advance. People generally don’t like spending valuable work hours, talking about how they feel — but if it is in the calendar, it is easier to attend and be present
  • Consider the stage of the team. Consider how the the team is doing and what is currently limiting it from being more efficient. Are team members too polite and held back? Are there fights and conflicts emerging? Lack of motivation?
  • Make a structure for the session. Formulate guiding questions and find ways to help people verbalize their feelings. What has been your highs and lows the past week? What gives you energy? What makes you feel motivated?
  • Empower the person who speaks. During the session, your job as a facilitator is to help everyone get a chance to share their feelings and thoughts in a safe space.
  • Keep time. It is difficult to predict how the session will turn out. Emotional outbursts or intense debates can break the structure and you will need to adapt the rest of the session. Be transparent with the team and let them know how long time there is left for each activity

👉 Key takeaway
In a nutshell, TDS is a team meeting where you don’t talk about work itself, but deal with emerging frictions or find ways to take your workflow to new heights — things you usually don’t have time for in everyday work. It can take a few sessions to get comfortable with the format, but the results of increased trust, alignment and empathy among the team will undoubtedly be worth it.

9. Feedback

Receiving personal feedback is an essential way to promote personal and professional growth. Feedback will not only help you elevate your work — but also help you understand and potentially improve your own behavior.

The Feedback Stairs explains potential responses to receiving feedback. Aim for the top!

How to receive feedback
When someone criticizes or questions the way you are working, a typical natural reaction is either denial or defending yourself. “No I didn’t… Well, I had to do it…” You might even try to explain why they would be critical of you. “Yes, it is because…” These are the first 3 steps of the “Feedback Stairs”. In order to benefit from constructive feedback, you need to be able to move past all these steps and actively listen to the feedback. Only then you will be able to actually understand where the feedback is coming from and potentially even change your behavior.

A trick to make personal feedback less intimidating and easier to take in, is to view the feedback as a gift rather than criticism — emphasize it by saying thank you after receiving it.

How to give feedback
There are a bunch of process tools you can use to systemize personal feedback and make it feel less direct and confronting. Below are 2 examples.

🟨 “I appreciate” post-it sharing (4–6 people)

  1. On a post-it note, answer the sentences “What I appreciate the most about you is…” and “What I would like to see more of from you is…” for each team member
  2. One by one, a team member receives all their feedback notes. Every note is read up aloud to the entire team, as they are handed over

🙇 Back-turned feedback (3–6 people)

  1. Everyone prepares feedback for each team member, based on the questions “What I appreciate about you…” and “What I would like to see more of from you…” for each team member
  2. One by one, a team member turns his/her back towards the team. The team will talk about them as if they weren’t in the room, and the subject will take notes
  3. Once everyone had their turn, everyone shares a piece of their feedback they want to take with them

👉 Key takeaway
Personal feedback can promote growth and improve behavior — but only if you know how to actively listen to it and reflect upon it. By using a structured process for exchanging feedback, you ensure that people are in the right mindset and receive it as a valuable gift rather than a spiteful criticism.

10. Design Thinking

Solving problems in an increasingly complex world requires a process. Design Thinking provides an effective framework for both thinking and doing — that puts the humans, experimentation and iteration at the center.

Design thinking helps you create innovation by having a deep understanding of the user.

While Design Thinking draws its inspiration from how designers’ work — people in all fields can use it to come up with meaningful ideas that solve real problems for a particular group of people. Design Thinking is practiced by the 5-step process below. Note, that Design Thinking is a non-linear process — meaning that you should be circling back and fourth between different steps and even repeating the whole process several times to achieve the best results.

The first step is about understanding the user’s problems and the world they live in. You need to set aside your assumptions and immerse yourself in the context of the problem that you are trying to solve. More practically, you can conduct interviews, do field research, create personas and user-journey maps.

Based on your research from the first step, you need to structure and analyze your findings. Form core insights by clustering your user’s statements and pain-points. The end goal of this step is to define a clear problem statement. A statement that focuses on your user’s needs, is broad enough for creativity and specific enough to provide guidance and direction.

With a clear problem statement in mind, you now generate ideas. It’s not about the idea, but rather about exploring all possible angles and solutions. Use a range of different ideation methods (eg. Mash-up innovation, Analogy Thinking, or Worst Possible Idea). Try to ideate together with different project-stakeholders like the client, users or even investors.

If you have many ideas, try to narrow them down to just a few strong candidates. Turn those into tangible prototypes that can be tested against your target audience. Do it by using the competences and resources you have — it can be everything from basic paper models to interactive digital prototypes. Try not to lose clarity of the core concept by getting lost in unnecessary details.

To complete the user-centric approach, you will now need to put your prototypes in the hands of the users. Run test sessions, observe how people interact with your solution and gather valuable feedback. Based on the feedback you can determine whether your concept has solved the problem or you need to go back into one of the previous steps of the process.

👉 Key takeaway
Design Thinking is a fluid, yet actionable process that encourages us to challenge our initial assumptions, explore multiple solutions to complex problems while being immersed in the context of the user and building genuine empathy for the target audience.

Every ‘Hyper’ has their own unique experience — and they vary greatly between different courses, countries and years. These are the 10 key takeaways from our experience, but we also became familiar a ton of other awesome concepts, tools, processes and models. So if you’re still curious, check out the 22 unsorted gems below!

🖼️ Johari Window
The relationship between yourself and others.

🌯 Project Wrap-up
An end-of-project process.

👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 IMGD / Integrated Model of Group Development
A model of how teams mature to become more effective.

💧 The Well of Knowledge
A thinking-frame work for reflection.

🗺 ️User Journey Map
A visual representation/process to illustrate the user’s journey.

A version of a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers.

📊 The Action Priority Matrix
A simple way of categorizing tasks according to their ease and impact.

🟡 The Golden Circle
How to use the power of why to motivate people and create change.

💠💠 Double Diamond Diagram
A model of the divergent and convergent thinking in the design process.

⛳️ Jobs to be done (Outcome-Driven Innovation)
A simple framework for understanding your users/costumers specific goals.

🪑 Hot Seat
A ‘questioning’ activity to help people getting to know each other.

A model of the core social domains that drive human behavior.

🈯️ Ikigai
A powerful Japanese concept to find a direction and meaning in life.

A simple structure to lead an effective meeting or process.

🎾 Team Performance Model
An approach to achieve increased levels of sustained performance in teams.

🤔 Experiential learning
The process of leaning through doing and reflection.

A theory explaining the three main needs that people are looking to obtain.

🙏 “Trust the Process” mentality
A useful mindset-hack to help people thrive in any process.

💬 How Might We Question
A simple way to frame questions for innovative thinking.

💼 Business Model Canvas
A recognized structure for describing or developing a business.

🐟 Stinky Fish
An activity to tackle “that thing you carry around but don’t like to talk about”.

📙 The Power of Habit
Before starting at Hyper Island we got told to read this book. If you haven’t read it already, we would highly recommend you to do so!

Hyper Island has been an emotional rollercoaster and insightful journey of self development and personal growth. The education would not have been the same without all our incredible industry leaders, lecturers and managers who shaped our unique DMC20 experience.

Are you also a Hyper alumni? We would love to hear your biggest takeaways from your Hyper journey. Let us know in the comments below 👇



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Digital design duo and childhood friends, working together for 15 years.