Archive for November, 2008


Creating a Point of View (step 3)

November 28, 2008

When we want to decide on a positive change in our lives..  we look at what we have, what we are missing and somehow figure out a way to solve the missing piece.

When we want to change a system, we have to look at what the system has (from the specific lens we are focusing on), what it is missing and figure out a way to bring back the missing.

One way of understanding systems is by using principles of ethnography.


When we try to understand a point of view that is different from us, we go to the person’s (or subject) natural environment. There we are able to look, listen and ask questions… taking notes of all details. In explaining interaction design, Preece, Rogers and Sharp gives an understanding of what user-centered approaches may feel like. Ethnography in this sense can help with some tools and approaches. ٍSome examples of user-centered approaches are: Coherence (questions that guides towards issues of systems development), Contextual Design (gathering data and presenting practical design), and PICTIVE and CARD methods (participatory design techniques that empower users to take an active part in design decisions). There are millions of ways to do things.. the trick is to find one way that fits both the issue at hand and the styles of those who are tackling it. David Hurst, in talking about the challenges of organizational change, pointed out that in order to change the structure of something, you need to change the dynamics that supports it. Same thing goes to bigger innovations that involves a complex connections of systems and their dynamics.

When we go about finding data… we often misunderstand the task by looking only for facts and figures. If we really want to understand different points of views we need to dig deeper. we need to understand the emotions and the real reasons that make people (or system) do the things the way they do.  It helps to have more than one ethnographer studying the issue because we often note some salient features that are sometimes only visible to us (because of our background, experience and attached emotions). Design thinking is built on multidisciplinary teams where each one brings his/her own salient features of the issue, in which allows a better picture of all point of views.

In researching the issue of design thinking, in her studies, Helene Cahen attempted to answer the question that many of us will start wondering very soon: what are we observing??

** Behavior. for one. We want to see the rituals, roles, activities, play and diversions that people undertake when they mix with the issue we are studing.

** Meaning: what do those symbols, signs, beliefs, gestures, values, attitudes and opinion mean? what is the language used? (both practically and figuratively).

**Tools: space, technology, rules, techniques are only limited examples of what tools maybe. what is being used for communication? for progress? for play?

Observing and understanding others Points of View is something that requires some practice. The untrained eye will watch and connect what it sees with readily available patterns in the head. We are built that way and that’s the easiest way to understand our surroundings. But with practice, we can start looking at things in a new interesting (sometimes unusual) ways. Looking at things as if we don’t understand what’s going on and we’re trying to figure out this new piece of information.

Kids do it all the time. because of their limited background information, they treat all new information with an open mind and an interest to try things. The rules of the world (and us adults) stand in their way of this discovery by telling them what it is (very narrowly), warning them from danger, or asking them to do what we say.

that said, it takes time and much energy to allow ourselves to wander freely when we create many points of views, that may or may not, be in accordance of our own.


Happy wandering.



Observing Social Innovation (step 2 in design thinking)

November 22, 2008

We talked about understanding the concept behind social innovation. Instinctively, this calls for observation as well. It is one thing to understand a concept and another to actually look at something, with no prior judgements in mind and observe the different elements that holds it together. In the case for Social Innovation, it is not as easy as we don’t have a product or a service where we simply watch people using it, it is a bigger more complex concept that we need to observe truly how it evolves in a certain area and who’s involved (and what they do with it).

In the previous example of Grameen Bank and Dr. Muhamad Younus, the process evovled from the Professor and and a small village in Bangladesh, to involve many villages, many professors, banks, government, companies, and the whole world got involved. Observing and immersing oneself in the process will open up on the methods that it needed to be created successfully. One would understand how each stakeholder involved attached him/herself to the process and what they went through. It usually is never the same for two people.

Another simple tool to observing the process is by interviewing. In writing his book “The Opposable Mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking”, Roger Martin interviewed Bob Young, CEO of Red Hat inc, the world’s dominant provider of Linux software. Bob Young saw two dominant business models for software entrepreneurs: companies who invested heavily in research and development and charged hefty fees for updated versions, and those who provided cheap softwares made a small profit each time a new version was released. In his social innovative mind, Bob Young incorporated aspects of each model: as ideologically committed to the open source movement, he decided Red Hat’s software would continute to be free. At the same time, he would profit by establishging an ongoing service relationship with his customers. This new model established Red Hat’s dominance and assured its financial strength (annual revenue of $400 million). Not bad for social innovation!


Understand your social innovation topic (a step in Design Thinking)

November 13, 2008

In the d school, there is no linear method to understand design thinking. The step by step process we will take is not an indication of which comes first. It’s just to facilitate the communication about it.


In understanding the situation or issue at hand, we look at it through our own lens of expertise and we focus on the things that matter the most to us. The very same issue could be tackled in a completely different way from someone else who has other salient features available to them. The more creative we are, the more we are able to notice those other features as well, and then determine if we want to take them into consideration or not.



To understand a huge topic such as social innovation, the very first step would be our sincere interest and passion to know more about both elements: the social, and the innovation. The first time I learned about this was last year, as part of a training offered by the Centre for Social Innovation (you’d think I’d get a hint from their name, but that was a slow day for me). They describe the process as the new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet. A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges. Some examples are the Wikipedia, the Open university in the UK, micro-credit, the fair trade movement, and community wind farms (Geoff Mulgan talks more about these examples). When you dig deeper into the research as part of your thinking mechanism (now that you became a design thinker), you get more information on the leadership qualities behind those who pioneer it, the environmental factors that facilitate its process, and even how to notice the missing gaps that can lead to a socially innovative idea. In the case of micro-credit, one of the leading figures and a Nobel Prize winner is Dr. Muhamad Younus, who noticed that a village of 42 people in Bangladesh only needed $27 to pay their debt and save them from the loan sharks. He loaned his own money to the villagers thinking it was a gift, and was surprised when the money was returned to him fully after the villagers recovered their losses. That initiated a movement of micro-credit around the world.


Another thing you can do to understand the issue at hand is by talking to experts. Experts are those who will use the innovation, the affected ones, in addition to those who know about it. You start by understanding the needs that aren’t being met, and consider some ideas of how it could be met. Sometimes needs are very obvious like homelessness or hunger. Other times they are less obvious like domestic violence or racism. In Geoff Mulgan point of view: “empathy is the starting point, and ethnography is usually a more relevant formal tool than statistical analysis”. Everyone knows how to solve their problems, some need courage, others need resources or support. If you find those who champion the success stories, then you can get insight into what’s possible and more effective.


When you immerse yourself in the topic of your choice, inevitably you will get experience. This will help you further hone down your target and the solutions proposed. You will find support if you take the extra mile. This support can come from others working with you or from organizations willing to sponsor you. Some of the big organizations that support social innovation for example are:Eva’s Initiatives Award for Innovation, the Institute for Social Invention and their Global Ideas BankMIT Community Innovation Lab, the Social Action Laboratory at Melbourne, South Africa’s Poverty Action Lab, Innovation Lab Copenhagen , Civic Innovation Lab.




Bon recherche!





Design thinking for the mass.

November 11, 2008


Yesterday was day one of the Design Thinking for Social Innovation workshop.

The group was very diverse, vibrant and simply brilliant. We have about 14 in the class plus 3 facilitators, Helene was leading the workshop, and me and Deborah as side kicks. It was hosted by the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, Canada


What was different about it this time, that it was the first time I am engaged in offering Design Thinking to an open group. Usually it’s more like one organization or a group of people who want to tackle a certain issue and we go through the process together. Having the group come from different backgrounds and experiences was refreshing to see as the evening evolved and topics were covered in the shortest time I’ve seen them before. Yet, isn’t this how it’s supposed to be?


Since the age of time, or even longer, architects and other designers have been teaching their students how to use sketching and drawing not only to translate their ideas for others to see, but also as a mechanism to work out certain details that help in solving their problems. Now the world is “discovering” those Design Studios, embracing their mechanism and finding ways to adapt it to their everyday lives. Something both challenging as well as exciting for those non-designers among us.


So here it is, design thinking for the mass.


I’ll build on the workshops’ material and focus on one model at a time. Let’s start by the d school model in design thinking and work our way to others as needed.