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Growing (a plant?)

“My plant isn’t growing, I think it’s not happy,” I concluded after recounting the number of leaves. “Your plant won’t be happy if you aren’t happy,” said one of my colleagues. I think that was the validation I needed for my pre-existing notion of identifying with this climber.

When I joined TinkerLabs in June last year, I found this plant occupying the space that was allotted to me. It wasn’t intentional, it had just been there and I chose to adopt it. TinkerLabs is an innovation consultancy that uses design thinking to drive innovation for behaviour change and sustainable business models. I had joined our small team after four years of design education at IIITDM, Jabalpur where I developed my roots in human centered design.

TinkerLabs found me or I found them and in June 2019, a 22-year old with roots in design thinking, experience of internships, carrying research tools, methods, and jargon —adopted a small climber with roots she knew not how deep or strong and a few leaves running along its spine.

I had only ever adopted a plant once before when I had overwatered it desperate to see signs of growth. I used to think that it’s either growing or dying and if I can’t see it growing, is it dying?!

That’s the thing about growing-it’s sometimes the leaves (which gets us all excited) but its often the roots which we are unable to see.

I recall the difficulty I would face when exhibiting or talking about my work to a faculty member, a potential employer or a relative at a family gathering*. I would often resort to talking about the fruits of design thinking-of products and services that came about. As a design researcher, I would define my work with what’s visible-a spine you can trace across my Resume and leaves borrowed from the more familiar fields of psychology and marketing.

Design thinking is often visualised as a process: EMPATHY-DEFINE-IDEATE-PROTOTYPE-TEST.

I feel the process came into place to give structure to and make tangible its core human-centric values. It’s important to remember that. When I water my plant, it’s the roots I water. That’s where our strength lies.

Both my plant and I found the support we needed to climb-navigating across projects over the months. As we climbed further, I saw leaves at the bottom withering until they were shed. It was painful to watch us losing parts that I thought we needed, parts that I had actually entered TinkerLabs with. However, in the place of old leaves at the bottom, I found new leaves above. What earlier seemed like a trade-off between old leaves and new didn’t remain to be one as soon the new leaves started outnumbering the old.

I recall using personas earlier to state how demographic differences determine actions, thoughts, and feelings. Through my very first project and exposure to everything happening around me and the world, I was forced to challenge the idea of labeling people and personifying stereotypes. Instead, I grew a new leaf somewhere in the climb of identifying common behaviours among demographic differences. Women poor or affluent, from a developed or developing city, were united by their common needs of security and autonomy in marriage.

Growing had both learning and unlearning and the unlearning led to loads of learning.

One of the beautiful things about a money plant is that it’s easy to share. I could cut out a stalk and give it to a friend for him to have a plant as well. That’s all we do when we teach design thinking-we share our experience and our tools.

But when he takes the shoot and puts it in a bowl, the shoot has to grow its own roots. And those roots have to then be nurtured with sunshine and water.

Earlier this month, I completed a year at TinkerLabs and my colleagues sent me a money plant to commemorate the same. No, they don’t know that I have been growing with it (probably know now), just know that I have been missing my plant. In case you are wondering if I received my plant from office-I didn’t. Offices are closed as they should be.

The stick supporting this plant is actually a root i brought back from college. It is only fitting to say that roots from my education support my journey ahead.

This is an older plant, I can tell by the leaves. This one came to me intentionally, it’s my ‘present’. It has found a spot at home, much like me.

It’s been two weeks since the ‘remote world’ plant came to me and I have been watering it, awaiting signs of growth. However, now I know a thing or two about what growth may look like and that sometimes when there isn’t a visible sign, we are still growing. Just need to keep watering the roots.

*I still face difficulty with this. If you have any suggestions, I welcome you to drop them in the comments below.

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A collection of TinkerLabs’ learnings inspired by the team’s experiences

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Meru Vashisht

Meru Vashisht

innovation, stories, advocacy

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