I have tried to embrace a new favorite color but no matter how hard I try I always go back to orange. Even if I try to like a new color, it’s really just a second runner up . It is simply the very best color. Now, enter in YOU, what’s your favorite color? It’s the best color right???
Your favorite color is your filter, you will pick things out in that color and not even notice that your entire living room and walls are all orange. One day you will wake up in your orange room with your orange t-shirt on and finally notice you have painted your world orange. In fact even your dog may be a red head, close enough. Our favorite colors are a great example of how our filters work, we are often totally unaware that our inherent filters are auto sorting the information streaming in around us. Our filters are constantly informing the decisions we make, influencing and compelling our actions, behaviors, thoughts, opinions, and point of view. Evolutionary IDEO designer Jane Fulton Suri captures the concept of unconscious behavior in her book Thoughtless Acts. The pictures on her website are fun to look at. Just look at all the things we do without even thinking about it, putting our coat on a chair to save out spot, mindlessly walking along a line in the road, using a pencil to hold up our hair. The way we interact and engage with the world can be totally ‘thoughtless’. Our inherent filters are acting in much the same way, stealthily shaping our interactions with the world. Auto filtration is necessary so we can think fast, solve feverishly and form opinions, however it can also stunt our ability to bring the most impactful solutions, ideas and approaches to our work and personal lives. We are happy victims of our own inherent filters.
As creatures of habit and routine we like what we like. How can we think outside of our own inherent filters? How can we get inside someone else’s mind for a while, and think ‘inside out’?
Let’s leave the filters to our coffee pots.
Many companies are using a concept called “Design Thinking” to insert empathy into their problem solving processes, this is done with the intention of creating better solutions. Gaining empathy is just one part of the full DT process but, it is the most important step to disable our filters and enable open minds.
Design thinking is a technique to discover new opportunities , it doesn’t matter if you are an entrepreneur, a dog walker or a ballerina, anyone can use design thinking to unlock new levels of success. It involves the following :
1) Defining a problem that customers/employees/families/insert-any-group-here are experiencing,
2) Gathering insight on that problem from their perspective using empathy ( put yourself in their shoes) and observation (watching the user experience).
3) Ideating on possible ways to solve these identified problems based on the collected insights that you gathered. This is the time to go big or go home.
4)Prototyping your solutions,this parts fun!
5) Testing and iterating your solutions with the group, add salt and pepper to taste, adjust as needed.
This process sounds really fancy but its not, it can be applied to basically any situation, and anyone can do it. Teachers have used DT to redesign classrooms so students can learn in a more stimulating environment. Kindergarteners have used it to design homes for owl babies. The OXO vegetable peeler was created using it, designed to ensure comfort for consumers with arthritis because the founder’s wife had arthritis and it limited her ability to cook, which she loved to do.
Opportunities to use Design Thinking are all around us. Empathy doesn’t mean feeling sorry for someone by the way, thats sympathy. Empathy is about understanding another perspective.
In a DT workshop I took last year we were asked to go through this Gift Giving Exercise . Its fun and you should try it. This sort of exercise is just one teeny tiny example of one tiny step in the full DT thinking methodology. You can learn the full process by checking out all the free resources from the Stanford Design School.
Most of us have been taught to think our way through a problem but to be a true innovator, not just create a one time innovation, we need to think from the inside out. Inserting empathy consciously allows us to do this, it helps slow our automatic filtration system from kicking in too fast. The Designing Thinking School at Stanford provides three key methods to help us gain empathy.
- Immerse: Become the user, live their experiences. A day in the life of a mom trying to balance a kids busy sports schedule, a patient visiting the ER, an employee going through a performance discussion with their manager, a commuter braving bay area traffic at peak time. Gain direct insight into how the user feels when engaging in the activity.
- Observe: Observe users in the context of their lives to understand how they experience and interact with the world, what is important to them. The intangible insights you gather will expand perspective on challenges in their daily life they may themselves not notice.
- Engage: Get people to tell you stories about their experience. This is different than validating a solution or an idea with a group of people we think need that solution ( like a focus group). Engaging with others and listening to stories will help us understand their values and beliefs, which allow us to design compelling solutions with emotional appeal.
While we are not necessarily all designers, we are all human. Our filters make up an important part of our self identity and anchor us to our personal beliefs and values. For all the great they bring us, filters can also dilute the full flavor of our experiences. Be bold, take on new experiences, be a perpetual student and employ empathy, it’s free and its fun.
Bianca E. McCann, MHRIR
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