A learn-by-doing community for creative professionals.


Written by

Building Ecosystems in Organizations: Lessons from Gap Inc.

By Anya Kandel

This week’s blog post was contributed by TDG friend and community member Anya Kendal. Anya has spent much of her career focused on innovation strategy, including 3 years helping build innovation capacity at Gap Inc. This blog post, originally published on Faster Than 20, shares valuable lessons and insights Anya has learned along the way.


For three years, I worked to build innovation capacity at Gap Inc. The work required us to explore the complexities of driving change within ingrained systems and behavioral norms across multiple communities, teams and brands. Throughout my time there, I asked myself (and my colleagues) this not so simple question:

How do we build thriving, innovative and strategically-minded organizations and communities that are sustainably driven by the individuals that comprise them?

I don’t have the answer to that question, not for a lack of trying, of course, but I do have several ideas and approaches that got me that much closer:

  1. People and context before process and model
  2. Learn through the work
  3. Democratize strategic thinking and innovation
  4. Coordinated access to strategy and culture tools + practice
  5. Do It Together

1. People and context before process and model

Working at the intersection of innovation, management consulting and strategy, there is a significant emphasis on models, frameworks and processes. They are what firms sell in order to scale and what clients reference to understand a consultant’s approach and impact. These models, frameworks and processes are important…as tools. But ultimately, what makes innovation and strategy consulting firms successful and covetable are the creative, intuitive and smart people who work there—individuals armed with an understanding of the various processes and techniques that support strategic thinking.

Design Thinking is a good example. It is a rich model and process that works well for many challenges. The philosophy behind the model — one that invites empathy, observation and collaboration in organization and product development — has informed the way we think about problem solving, particularly in the world of business. But, IDEO, grounded in David M. Kelley’s Design Thinking approach, does not sell multi-million dollar projects simply because companies want to buy this model. (It is already accessible and free.) Organizations keep coming back to them because they have a diverse set of creative, strategic and dedicated people who (with a robust toolkit and lots of experience) can approach every client request in a unique way.

The models (especially sold by innovation firms) aren’t as different as one might think. The power is in the people—those who facilitate, those who participate and those who work to bring new ideas to life. A good strategic practitioner understands the people and the context, and pools the resources they need to design a process that works best for that specific case. A good approach enables the client/participants to understand the context of various scenarios and problems, ask good questions and match process models to context. A good outcome is when an organization, team or community has the capacity to learn and grow from the experience and continue to evolve the work on their own.

2. Learn through the work

During my time at Gap Inc., I worked to build an internal innovation consulting group. We facilitated teams to solve complex challenges, we designed trainings and systems in order to grow innovation capacity, and we helped teams create new products. In our work, there was certainly no lack of innovative ideas—that was the easy part. The hard part was creating a vision and environment where those ideas could surface, as well as a culture that supported ongoing experimentation to help bring those ideas to life.

Initially, we spent much of our time fixing things that weren’t working (rethinking products, systems, and ways of working) and facilitating sessions that solved immediate problems. In parallel, we began to train employees within the company in creative group facilitation, building a force of innovation catalysts. They learned through the “work” of managing innovation projects and co-facilitating with us.

The projects that stuck and the initiatives that had the biggest impact were always those that allowed the catalysts and the collaborators to be the work, rather than receive it. This required solving real challenges and testing new ways of working in a safe environment.

One of my favorite experiences came while working on in-store experience and design with a creative leader in the company. We introduced her to a co-creation process, where customers worked collaboratively with her and her team to evolve what had already been created. It was amazing to see the shift from theoretical appreciation to active engagement, from the fear of getting something wrong to the discovery of new creative ways of working. From then on, she was able to integrate co-creation and prototyping into her work, recognizing not only the feeling of creative breakthrough, but the visceral understanding of how hard it can be to bring those ideas to life.

Still, given the size of the company and the scale of work we had, our engagements were often confined to executive leadership or isolated teams. Working solely with leaders to build a culture of innovation based on yearly priorities is not enough. Inevitably, leadership and strategy changes, initiatives are dropped and the pressure of immediate business needs can trump almost anything, no matter how important we think it is.

Learning through the work is imperative, but is only as powerful as the people who are enabled to actually do so. It wasn’t that our initiatives weren’t big enough or unsuccessful. Rather, we needed to scale or evolve in order to influence the diverse subcultures and teams within the company. We needed to democratize innovation and build a long-lasting culture that celebrated experimentation, collaboration and strategic thinking.

3. Democratize strategic thinking and innovation

Soon after joining Gap Inc., I started to explore how to create alternate spaces for communication, which could scale, and that skirted, hierarchical limitations.

I noticed a disconnect between the leadership’s desire to understand Millennials and the overwhelming majority of Millennials who worked inside the company. Here lay a tremendous opportunity to bridge that divide and create environments for open communication between those who were making decisions and the young people who had insight into how those decisions would impact individuals like themselves.

I started a group called the M Suite, a nonhierarchical, transparent network of Millennials dedicated to building co-creation and collaboration across brand and function. Functioning like a node in a network, M Suite connects people in the organization who were looking for creative input and collaboration, with the very large community of people eager to help solve creative challenges and share their perspectives.

Building our own infrastructure became an experiment in establishing networked, collaborative communities functioning within a hierarchical infrastructure. We used ourselves to explore unique models and approaches. We experimented with different ways of meeting, communicating and solving problems. We tried different models for governance. We tried partner leadership. Eventually we arrived somewhere between a Holacracy and a leadership network, and officially took the form of an ERG.

Because our work was inherently related to change, and the way we worked was very different from our surroundings, our presence invited reservations too:

  • “What if they don’t know the bigger picture and choose the wrong problems to focus on?”
  • “Why spend time building visionary ideas and solutions to complex problems when they don’t have the power to implement upon these new ideas?”

Clearly, the notion of democratizing innovation and building networks can feel really scary to organizations that rely on a more hierarchical way of working. However, I found that unearthing these reservations often highlighted circumstances that were best addressed head on (like a lack of alignment or unclear vision). We never saw their work undermine high-level strategy, but rather elevate the conversations around it.

Democratizing innovation doesn’t necessarily imply that the work of innovation is everyone’s job, or that an organization should lose its structure. Rather, it starts with furnishing everyone the respect and equal opportunity to engage in the creative process and think strategically. By expecting this community of individuals to thoughtfully own their work and ask good questions, they often did. By giving them the tools to walk into any meeting with a strategic mindset, we created an environment where everyone was more likely to try to understand the broader vision and understand what “alignment” could really look like.

The desire to join the M Suite was impressive. People from across the company and around the globe participated, hungry to contribute to the evolution of the company. This fitful enthusiasm also reminded me of the social movements and community networks that I’ve worked with in the past, and the challenges their emerging organizers faced to initiate new systems for working and new forms of self governance.

4. Coordinated access to strategy and culture tools + practice

The transition to a new way of working is invariably messy, personal, multifarious, iterative and nonlinear.

We (M Suite co-founders and new board) were called upon to define how to govern ourselves while still leading. Our growing network of communities were looking for guidance on how to evolve, potentially in very different capacities. The organizers were hungry for tools and techniques that could help them understand how to lead and facilitate collaborative engagements. Plus, they needed to learn tactical strategies for managing the work while also doing their day job.

To answer those needs, we organized trainings in innovation project management, client engagement and collaborative problem solving. We initiated opportunities for shadowing. (At one point, I had eight people shadowing me in a client intake session.) We organized skill shares. We created opportunities to own projects in partnership with those experienced in leadership. We experimented with online tools. We tried new board structures.

We focused our attention on the development of the M Suite board first. This worked, to a certain extent. We became a community for collective learning and growth, and actively serving on the board became a venue for discovering individual potential. Our board members chose to stay at the company longer than they had planned, thanks to the opportunities we provided; or they left earlier than planned, because of the opportunities they realized. In effect, all of the board members were promoted (or promoted themselves by leaving the company) within a year of serving on the board. The need to cycle in new leadership was a happy consequence, but not always an easy one.

Our projects were successful, we grew internationally, and we gained a good reputation in some pockets of the organizations. But the group also became an oasis, striving to become a movement. And it was at this point that I left the company, along with the brilliant original co-founders of the M Suite, Rona Kremer and Jessica Talbert. If I have any regret, it would be not fully figuring out how to embed networked leadership skills and how to build the strategic muscles and tools so that members of the M Suite could more easily drive the creative process on their own and expand more quickly.

As I step away from Gap Inc., the question remains: How do we enable awesome groups, like the M Suite, to have impact and thrive? How do we find ways for people to experiment and engage with the many tools and resources we already have on hand?

I have a lot to learn in this area. But luckily, I have had the privilege of collaborating with and learning from practitioners who are specifically focused on creating accessible tools for capacity building, such as Eugene Eric Kim, founder of Faster Than 20. Eugene’s work has complemented a deficiency I found in many innovation and co-creation initiatives, including my own: accessible, foundational tools and techniques for individuals who want to practice working strategically and collaboratively. These resources are public domain, meant to be tools that everyone can use and evolve within their own context.

Also, check out Lisa Kay Solomon’s work, which provides a rich foundation in designing strategic processes. She has two fantastic books: Design a Better Business and Moments of Impact. I have no doubt that all of you have a plethora of other resources too, which I encourage you to share in the comments below.

These colleagues have helped me to better understand that matching access to practice is simple but powerful. If everyone has the tools and resources to think strategically, then slowly but surely we can build an ecosystem of individuals and organizations that can thrive together.

5. Do It Together (DIT)

We must create opportunities to build connections that allow us to look beyond best practices, models, or frameworks.

An ecosystem is only as healthy as the biomes within it and the strength of connectivity between them. Beyond the immediate development of communities and teams, my most successful initiatives have been those that invited people to step out of their realities (via guest artists, makers, new collaborations) and see themselves in new ways.

As a strategist and facilitator, I am increasingly exploring the balance between carrying a group through a transformational experience and curating a set of circumstances and resources that enable a group of people to find what they need in each other—we need both, of course. But, if by the end of our time together, I disappear and they forget to say goodbye, I consider this a success.

In fact, I just received a beautiful invitation for an event hosted by the well-branded M Suite, where they are driving conversation with internal Millennials, external creatives and all employees. It was a small moment of pride, and I hope that our (the founders) step away has translated into collective greater ownership and autonomy.

The world is made of amazing people doing the work that strategists like myself try to inspire. The more we are not needed, the better. But clearly our work isn’t going away. Many organizations and teams—especially in smaller purpose-driven organizations—seek support, but do not have the funds and access to strategic coaching that is sometimes required to shift circumstance and the behaviors that inspire innovation and change.

So then, how close can we get to putting me out of job? How might we pull back the curtain (often weighed down by the fear of losing IP) and share systems, tools, models and approaches across origination and field?

This has been a fun and challenging question to explore with colleagues like Eugene. Drawing on the DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality that utilizes the power of the network for individual development, we are developing strategies to Do It Together (DIT) and ignite the power of peer groups—bridging high-level strategic support and training with access to learning communities and support networks.

So far these efforts have resulted in a growing community of practitioners eager to share what they know and grow their personal practice (no matter the industry). Exchanging and fusing approaches has also provided us a great opportunity to challenge the bounds of our own frameworks and tools and think about what it really means to move people and ideas.

Interested in engaging in the conversation? Tweet me @4anya or follow me on Medium.


The top photo is of Anya Kandel and Jessica Talbert, Gap Inc. M Suite cofounders. The second photo is of Rona Kremer, another M Suite cofounder. The last photo is from Eugene Eric Kim and Anya Kandel’s October 2016 Do-It-Together Strategy / Culture workshop in New York.


About Anya

Anya Kandel is an innovation strategy consultant based in San Francisco. She has spent the last 15 years researching and building systems that enable creativity for positive change and helps organizations work holistically to build long-term strategy and innovation capacity. Anya recently worked internally at Gap Inc to help build an internal innovation practice and shares some of what she learned here.



The Design Gym’s Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Stocking stuffers for the creative

‘Tis the season for holiday parties, hot toddy’s and buzzfeed-style gift guides. And here at The Design Gym, we have a burning passion for awesome shit. So we’ve decided to join in on the holiday cheer and create a shopping list of our own—one we’re dubbing the ultimate stocking stuffers for the creative.

Pulled together from The Design Gym staff and lead trainers, here are our top suggestions to get you through gift-buying this holiday season.


Machine Era Brass Pen | $38

Andy Hagerman, Co-founder


This is one of my favorite gifts to give right now because it balances classy, creative and useful in one affordable gift. Machine Era encompasses those principles lovingly in all the products they come up with. Pens are one of those timeless items that have unfortunately become throw away pieces, so this brings back some of that spirit of having a pen you’re proud to pull out whether you’re in a client session or a bar stool brainstorm. Best accompanied with a fresh sketchbook or a pint of whiskey.


In the Company of Women | $24.06

Erin Lamberty, Community Education Lead


This book is everything you want in a great coffee table centerpiece. Wise words. Beautiful photos. And sparks of inspiration to get your brain gears turning. I’ve purchased this for myself and a few friends already! Santa said it was OK to deliver early 🙂


100 Questions: A Toolkit for Conversations | $30


Interesting prompts are sparks for creative exploration, so why not bring some fuel to your holiday conversations? This card deck is the perfect size for a stocking stuffer, keeping in your facilitator bag, or keeping out on the coffee table. Warning: convo prompts can sometimes be a little existential!

And, just for fun…

Field Notes: Expedition Notebooks | $12.95


When we ask folks in our workshops where they get their most creative ideas, they often say “in the shower!” Be prepared with a waterproof notebook so no idea is forgotten.


Notebooks | $3

Hannah Dubin, Lead Trainer


Need a cost-effective, thoughtful stocking stuffer that works for both tiny and adult humans? Amazing notebooks are always great! I write and sketch everything and love having a gift that can be shared with the kids.



Ketzali Shawl or Scarf | $65 – $125

Jane Garcia Buhks, Marketing Lead


From one creative to another—you can’t go wrong with a beautifully designed gift, with a social mission that can be used all year-round. Guatemalan-based Ketzali works with local artisans to create stunning scarves and shawls that can be worn outdoors during the frigid winter or inside to combat the office cold.


Zeichen Press Holiday & Thank You Greeting Cards | $4.50


Nothing warms the heart more than a handwritten, postmarked card. Whether I’m wishing someone a happy holidays or thanking them for the awesome gift they picked me up off this list, I tend to turn to Zeichen Press. Funny and beautifully-designed greeting cards: can’t beat it.


Brooklyn Botanical Gardens Membership | $50

Jason Cha, Director, Training and Culture Strategy


Research suggests that, over time, experiences make people happier than things. So I think the best gifts are ones that enable people to have new experiences by themselves or with friends and family: memberships to local museums, tickets to events or shows, classes, massages, a babysitter so you can have a date night—you get the idea. And on top of that, you don’t contribute to the “burden of stuff” that many of us have to deal with after the holidays.

Alternative Gag Gift:

Flying Fuck RC Helicopter | $25.58


Show everyone how much you care by actually giving a fuck 😉


Classes | Price Varies

Jason Wisdom, Co-founder


My recommended gift is classes! Not to be self-serving but there is nothing I enjoy giving or receiving more than classes. A few of my favorites have been: Murray’s Cheese (Scotch and cheese tasting), UCB (Learn improv), Brooklyn Kitchen (Greek cooking and cocktail making), Parkour at Chelsea Piers, SkateYogi.

I gave my Mom a Greek cooking class that we took together at Brooklyn Kitchen, which was so much more than I expected (it was really a philosophy class where we happened to cook). My girlfriend got me a Scotch and Cheese Tasting class at Murray’s Cheese, which has since been replicated multiple times in our apartment. And finally I’m 10 classes on learning how to skate a mini ramp through Kevin’s courses at SkateYogi. My ankle is an awful shade of blue/green today but I feel like I’m reliving childhood and loving it.



Moleskin Classic Notebook | $17.96

John Bloch, Lead Trainer

It has serious look—it’s black, hard cover, elastic band closure, heavy stock dense enough not to show through, a ribbon bookmark (like a fine old dictionary) and even a pocket on the inside back cover for napkin scribbles. Moleskins come in all sizes and the choice is personal. I like the 5 x 8.25; it’s large enough for shared brainstorming and using bold lines, yet small enough for ideating at your local coffee shop, sketching on the subway and tossing into a backpack.

And to go with that notebook…

Uniball Signo Impact | $21.49


Pens? Again personal. Try the Uniball Signo Impact 207 Rt 65870, black, 1.0mm bold point. The bold line obliges me to draw a little simpler and heavier than I might otherwise = less fussy visuals. Point is retractable and refills available.


Serenflipity | $10.35

Jonathan Jeter, Lead Trainer


A friend and former colleague developed a set of cards after going on a month-long sabbatical to Asia. She had friends give her daily challenges to be completed on her trip, and didn’t look at any of them until each morning when she drew one out of a hat to read it for the first time. Through it all she learned how to be adventurous and the benefits it can bring to your creativity and life in general.


Snapchat Spectacles | $129.99

Karen Hold, Lead Trainer


This TDG D.C. chick is dying for a pair of Snapchat Spectacles. Keeping my eyes on the map for the eventual D.C. Bot to spring up. So fun!


Cards Against Humanity | $25

Kiely Sweatt, Lead Trainer


It’s great for holiday gatherings, parties with friends and I’ve even used it with with colleagues during team building workshops. There are also so many additional packs you can add to your pre existing decks.


Carry On Cocktail Kit | $24

Reilly Carpenter, Lead Trainer


There’s nothing better than a craft cocktail after a long day. For the traveling creative, the Carry On Cocktail Kit is the perfect way to relax at 30,000 feet without settling for whatever they’ve got on the drink cart. This TSA-approved, personal mixology kit transforms that middle seat by the bathroom into a speakeasy for one. Plus, cute packaging!




When is the shiny new toy the right tool for the job?

How to Best Integrate Design Thinking Into Your Organization

Let’s face it, as with anything new, it’s easy to fall in love with design thinking and want to apply it to every challenge you come across. As a leader in an organization that’s adopting design thinking, you may find yourself in the situation where your team, filled with excitement about the new process, is requesting to use it for every project—or as one executive eloquently put it to us, ‘What can I do!? My team wants to design think the shit out of everything!’

However, as someone who’s mindful of stakeholder alignment, budgets and priorities, knowing when to leverage design thinking is essential to its success (and therefore your success).

So, how do you identify which challenges are right for design thinking?

1. It’s a High-Impact Challenge for You or Your Organization

High-impact can mean different things to different organizations. However, what makes a challenge high-impact is its ability to drive significant change for your business. That change can be tied to anything from revenue growth to customer engagement or internal business structure. Whatever it’s tied to, the key here is it’ll lead to an outcome that will shift things.

Several years ago, the founder and CEO of Capital One declared that from that day forward they were no longer a bank, but were now a technology company. The companies they had typically compared themselves to, namely other large banks such as JPMorgan Chase or Citibank, had broadened greatly to include established tech companies, like Google, and rapidly growing tech startups, like Venmo.

Understanding the implications of technology on their business was critical to their sustained success, and thus high-impact. It required them to dive deep into new user research and identify needs-based insights that would drive future strategies. Flash forward to today, and Capital One is recognized as one of the most tech-forward financial institutions with new, user-driven innovation coming out every quarter.

2. There Are Stakeholder Needs, Behaviors and Emotions That We Should Understand but Don’t

When thinking about who your stakeholders are, you have to take into consideration everyone who’ll be affected by the outcomes of your challenge—really anyone interacting with your business, from customers to suppliers to internal teams. Remember, design thinking is not only for customers, it’s for all humans involved. Properly identifying who those stakeholders are and then understanding their needs, behaviors and emotions is critical to one’s ability to empathize.

Back in 2007, in an effort to make a quick buck, a pair of San Francisco roommates decided to open up their couch for people attending an upcoming conference. They decided to call their idea AirBed&Breakfast, which eventually became Airbnb—a company today valued at $30 billion, boasting 2,000,000+ listings across 191 countries.

But before that success, way back in 2007, they were having some trouble. They’d seen some growth in listings, around a few large events (namely President Obama’s inauguration), but otherwise interest had been stagnant. They knew they had a great concept, but something wasn’t quite resonating. So they took to the streets to spend time with some of their core users, hosting MeetUps and even renting out rooms themselves.

Through this immersive research, they uncovered a few key insights about how people were using their platform—one being that the poor photography, accompanying most of their listings, was deterring potential users from actually committing to renting a space. They had never considered just how imperative good shots were, so they immediately scrapped some other initiatives and redirected resources towards capturing appealing photos. All of a sudden growth began to steadily increase.

It’s easy to speculate on why growth might not be taking place, but until you get on the front line and learn about your stakeholders’ needs, behaviors and emotions, you might be missing lots of opportunity.

3. There’s Ambiguity Around What the Best Solution Could Look Like

Frequently, when you set out to solve a problem that you’re familiar with or you’ve encountered before, you typically already have a solution in mind. However, for problems where you’re not quite sure what the best solution could be or have a feeling there are multiple solutions, leveraging design thinking allows you to go wide, imagining several different options, before narrowing in on one to prototype. Ever heard the phrase, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”—that’s exactly what we’re talking about.

Sydney’s King Cross neighborhood is known as the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night. With a plethora of bars, nightclubs, sex shops and strip clubs, it’s often referred to as Sydney’s Red Light district. It also happens to be the epicenter of alcohol-related crime, particularly drinking-induced violence. So in 2013, in an effort to combat that violence, the City of Sydney paired up with the research center, Designing Out Crime to look into possible solutions.

Instead of pursuing the predictable, and frequently undesired, solution of just increasing police presence to reduce crime, Designing Out Crime leveraged design thinking to look deeper into the problem.

They conducted extensive research into the stakeholders and their needs; studied similar environments that had high levels of alcohol consumption, yet low levels of alcohol-induced violence; and they looked for common themes. That led them to a solution centered around two strategies distraction and extraction.

Distraction focused on offering different forms of entertainment—like food stalls, interactive games, illuminated seating podiums for chilling out—to distract revelers from the “vacuum effect” and pedestrian congestion that were frequently credited for leading to altercations. Meanwhile, extraction centered around creating efficient and safe methods of transporting people out of King Cross, back home at the end of the night. The two together made for a creative and interesting solution that more than likely wouldn’t have come to fruition without the use of design thinking.

All Three Apply

You’ve been nodding your head the entire time, all three of the above criteria apply—you’re facing a high-impact challenge with unknown stakeholder needs, behaviors and emotions; and ambiguity around the best solution. In that case, the shiny new toy—design thinking—actually becomes not only the an applicable tool, but also an excellent one for the job.

Once you’ve determined that all 3 criteria are at play and your team is all set to design think it, your next step will be to frame your challenge. This post is the first installment in a 3-part series about starting your projects off on the right foot. Next week, we’ll be looking at framing your challenge, how to make sure you’re asking the right questions.



The Mindsets Behind the Methods: Applying Design Thinking in Your Organization


I remember as a child watching the movie Matilda and having a burning desire to move things with my mind, just like Matilda. I wanted it SO bad. I would stare really hard at the TV remote, trying to lift it with all my psychokinetic might. But after minutes of squinting and grunting, giving it my all, nothing happened and I gave up on my dream of being able to make objects fly with a glare. I was just wishing I could make magic happen.


Fast forward to today. As a design thinking facilitator, trainer and coach, I often get the question of how to change the culture of a company to be more collaborative, creative and “design thinking-y.” It can seem like an impossible task getting five, a dozen or even hundreds of people to change the way they act and work every day. And while many people wish for change, frequently they don’t actually make change happen.

So what does Matilda have to do with getting design thinking off the ground at your organization? Matilda taught us that when you put your mind to it, you can make the impossible happen.

You’re probably thinking, “Whaaaaat? Shut up. NEXT!” But bear with me.

A common thing I see after people are exposed to design thinking is a desire to directly apply the methods without being critical of what they’re trying to accomplish with design thinking in the first place. They want to check a box, follow a process, and expect magic to happen. But the real magic of design thinking is in the mindsets behind the methods.

Our actions are manifestations of our attitudes and mindsets. So the easiest way to start changing how people act is changing the way they think. You can’t expect people to completely overhaul the way they work overnight. But you can be a role model by demonstrating the change you want to see through your own behaviors and mindsets.

To get you started, here are a few, simple design thinking mindsets you can start modeling within your organization.

Make It Human

People assume doing empathy interviews is doing design thinking, and in many cases, talking to customers is a big part of the process. But an empathy interview is just one tool to help us think from the human perspective. The mindset is about shifting your frame on any problem from your own point of view, or your business’ point of view, to that of your customer to challenge your assumptions and biases.

Ask Yourself: How might I get my team and I thinking from a perspective that’s not our own?

Apply It: Next time you and your team are facing a problem, challenge everyone to think of three ways they can learn about the customer’s point of view. For example, they could actually go talk to real customers, strike up a conversation with their next Uber driver, or just browse online reviews or social media to get a sense for what customers are thinking and feeling. Then, have everyone complete at least one of those activities and come back with a story to represent the customer. This will start to train others in your organization about the many ways to understand a problem and how to continually bring the customer into the problem-solving process.

Make It Real

Ideas are only meaningful if they are put into action, which is why the mindset of making it real is so critical to design thinking. Often, it gets associated with prototyping with popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. But making it real is actually about making our ideas tangible so we can understand them, critique them and share them with others. You don’t always have to build a physical prototype (though you can!). It can be as simple as visualizing your ideas in a sketch or a storyboard that someone else can see, understand and react to.

Ask Yourself: What can I create right now to bring this idea/concept/discussion to life?

Apply It: In your next brainstorm or problem-solving session, if the discussion begins to circle around the merit of a particular idea or concept, ask everyone to take a moment to draw what’s in their mind, making it as concrete and detailed as possible. Then have everyone share their drawing and ask the rest of the team to provide feedback, starting their thought with either “I liked” or “did you think about…” This will help make the discussion more tangible, grounding it in real artifacts as opposed to hypotheticals and opinions.

Make It Inspiring

When presented with a problem, we often jump immediately to the first solution that comes to mind and the problem-solving stops there. That’s because most organizations reward solutions over curiosity and creativity. But finding innovative solutions requires being able to explore lots of possible solutions before choosing a particular one to move forward with. This is called flaring before focusing. If you’ve ever been to a Design Gym workshop, you’ll remember this Open and Exploring before you Close.

Ask Yourself: How might we get inspired about this particular problem or challenge?

Apply It: The next time you catch yourself or someone on your team jumping right to the solution, ask each person on your team to say something that inspires them. Then, set a 10-minute timer and have everyone brainstorm other possible solutions to the problem as well as unanswered questions about the problem. Then, spend another 10 minutes sharing and discussing the unanswered questions and other possible solution areas. At the end of twenty minutes, you should have a few different avenues for further exploring and solving the original problem.

With three new mindsets at your disposal to start reshaping how your organization thinks and acts, here are a few tips for affecting the magic of change:

1. Start With Baby Steps

Sometimes the best way to make a wave is with a ripple. Don’t expect you can change the entire culture of your organization overnight. But you can change your next meeting, working session or conversation in a matter of minutes. Aim to exhibit just one of the above mindsets a day in your work and with your team, and soon enough, you’ll start to notice the culture shifting the way you want.

2. Make Some New Friends

If you’re sitting around saying, “we should be working differently” you’re probably not alone. Find the others secretly wanting change too. Practice your small mindset changes with them and then begin to recruit more allies. Before you know it, you’ll have a small army of changemakers helping reshape how your organization works. Remember, it can all start with finding your partner in crime.

3. Coach the Change You Wish to See

Everybody has problems they don’t know how to solve. Find these people and become a coach for them using the mindsets above. Use inspiration and exploration to help them see the world of possibilities, or help them gain new perspective on their challenge by thinking human-first. But remember, the key to coaching is helping them arrive at their own ah-ha moment—not telling them the answer. But once they do, you can be sure they’ll be hungry for more and you can rally them to become a change agent with you. You’ll also build a reputation as someone who has a toolkit that can make things happen.


Changing an organization is no easy job. Be patient, but start today. Apply a design thinking mindset—big or small—any chance you get. Look for small wins that start to nudge people towards bigger change. Focus on practicing and exhibiting new ways of thinking and, like magic, new habits and behaviors will follow. I can’t promise that you’ll ever be able to move a fork with your mind like Matilda (let’s be real, that will never happen), but adopt the right mindsets—and teach others to do the same—and you’ll start to see your world changing around you.



This week’s blog post is from Lead Trainer Reilly Carpenter. Reilly has a background in marketing and branding and is now a Design Strategist for Capital One. In his current role, his focus has been championing internal education and adoption of design thinking into his organization’s culture as well as leading large-scale design thinking projects. Reilly is your go-to guy for questions on securing buy-in and implementing design thinking projects. You can ask him all about it at an upcoming Design Thinking Bootcamp.


Tips for Organizational Innovation Initiatives

Culture change has to start somewhere and if you finally got the green light to start bringing more creativity to your organization, you don’t want to miss a beat. Many times the opportunity to host a new team training, an organization-wide innovation week or fair, a design sprint on a tough business challenge, or even bringing some new tools into a meeting will dictate whether people endorse or criticize those efforts—first impressions are everything.

We had a client recently ask us what they should be thinking about before hosting their first-ever innovation week, which got us to thinking and then writing. The following list of tips will help your prepare for the before, during and after—ensuring you get the best ROI on your work, both monetarily and culturally.


Pre Innovation Initiative Tips

The planning phase is your opportunity to lay a solid foundation that will make it much easier to advance your organization’s innovation initiative forward while ensuring that you hit key milestones and goals along the way. Here are some of the best ways to lay that foundation:

Get Internal Alignment

You’ll want to make sure the members of your organization are aligned on the “why.” Be super clear—let everyone know why design thinking is the tool for the job, why now is the time to use it, and what it means for your organization. Having that internal alignment is one of the most important steps along the way, and a huge determinant of the success of the initiative.

Get (Authentic) Leader Support

You probably need the support (or at least the approval) of your bosses for any major project. But for an organization-wide innovation initiative, a lukewarm “OK” from the higher-ups isn’t enough. This is about the culture of your whole organization! You want the leadership to be excited about the process and enthusiastic in their support. The primary risk is a skeptical leader pulling back their support 2-3 months once the fire has been lit. This can cause more damage than good. Case studies showing how similar initiatives have benefitted other organizations are a great way to get the authentic support you need, and integrating a specific leadership training or conversation can be a safe way to air skepticisms and translate what it means for them.

Start Light

This is completely relative to each organization, but don’t try to do it all at once. Kick things off with reasonable expectations and goals. Cultural change isn’t easy. You’re more likely to be successful if you start slow, focusing on building awareness and buy-in first. Once people get use to these new ideas and practices, you’ll be able to start building expertise.

Make it Part of the Bigger Picture

Frame this process as part of the larger strategic direction of your organization, rather than a one-off event. You’ll want to focus attention not just on planning your kick-off, but also on what what will happen afterwards. The more you can connect it to the bigger picture, and put it in context of your organization’s overarching goals, the more successful it’s apt to be.

Focus on Business Objectives

Your innovation strategy should be driven by your overall business objectives. Design Thinking is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Design Thinking can build your business in lots of different ways, but, in order for it to be successful, you need to specify your business goals (i.e. increase revenue among existing users, acquire new users, build brand equity, enter new product categories, defend against competitors, etc).


Tips During the Innovation Initiative

With the groundwork laid and the innovation initiative in motion, you’ll need to keep revisiting your goals, throughout the course of the project, to make sure everything is still on track. This process may be very new and different for a lot of folks in your organization, which means they may actively resist the process or simply not have the proper toolkit to implement best practices effectively. Here are four recommended ways you can keep the initiative moving in the right direction:

Don’t Miss the Story

One way to help build awareness and enthusiasm is to create a narrative around the process of planning and implementing this innovation initiative. Document it with photos, videos and blog posts, and use them to tell a story about what your organization is doing and why. That documentation can serve as a kind of internal branding that you can use to promote the innovation initiative throughout your organization.

Make it the Organization’s Voice, not Yours

Creating a cultural change is easier when there’s more than one person talking about it. Engage leadership and other employees to take active roles kicking off, facilitating and sharing stories, so that your voice isn’t the only one your organization hears. It’s not just your personal project—it’s for everyone!

Don’t Force it—Customize

If you’ve helped implement this kind of cultural change at other organizations, that experience can be super valuable as you help an organization go through it for the first time. Just remember to be mindful of the differences between organizations—not every tactic transfers. Customize this initiative so it fits the needs of this particular organization and allows for authentic innovation—that’s the only kind that actually works.

Reinforce Behaviors not Just Outcomes.

We all want great ideas and solutions that grow the business, but culture change comes from the everyday actions and behaviors—so make sure you reward and celebrate them as well.

Plan for Extreme Reactions

Whenever someone calls for change, there’s someone ready to stand up and argue against it. That’s not a bad thing! Make sure you provide a space and a forum for people to challenge the process and ask tough questions. That way everyone feels like their concerns are being heard. And since you’re anticipating those reactions, you can prepare great answers to help bring the doubters around.


Post Innovation Initiative Tips

As we’ve mentioned, in order for your organization to successfully implement and get the most value from an innovation initiative, it has to be part of a larger process, not just a one-off event. And that means planning for post-event. This is the time to evaluate the process, solidify the results and set up future projects. Here are four great ways to do that:

Debrief Three Times

Debriefing gives you a chance to really look at how the initiative went—what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved for next time. Start by debriefing with your team about the specifics of the process and about what your next steps should be. Next, debrief with the participants in the initiative to hear their reactions—they can be a source of great ideas for your future projects! And don’t forget to debrief with the leadership. You’ll want to get their input on how they felt about the process and make sure they’re still supportive.

Share the Calls to Action ASAP

You created your vision early for a reason, now is the time to pull it out. Send out follow-ups as soon as possible to let the people in your organization know what happened, what’s going to happen next, and how they can get involved in the process.

Leverage Your Catalysts

In addition to following up with your organization as a whole, plan more in-depth follow-ups with the folks that have become passionate advocates in your organization—the catalysts. They’ll be able to help you get the rest of the organization excited about and interested in continuing the design thinking process. It can be as simple as grabbing a happy hour drink or planning a lunch.

Remember, the people in your organization who are intrinsically motivated to innovate are the most valuable. They can be taught design thinking skills and given resources to amplify their efforts. Motivation, on the other hand, can’t be taught.

Don’t Over-Engineer the Process

Be careful to not overcomplicate the process, especially at the beginning of your culture change efforts. Too many check-ins, approvals and process requirements are a major turnoff. You want to lower the barriers to adoption, not add new ones.

Create a Concrete Success Story

Your organization just went through its first innovation initiative and now it’s time to tell that story. Use your team, documentation of the process, and your organization’s catalysts to create concrete success stories about how the initiative went, what it achieved, and why that matters. That narrative will help solidify the value of the design thinking process in your organization and keep the energy and enthusiasm high for the next round.

An innovation initiative is only as good as the principles that inform it. You don’t want to go through all the planning and prep and work only to find that you’ve lost sight of the original goal! Being mindful of the user-centric best practices of design thinking at every stage of the initiative will help make it a success for your organization—and for your customers!



Who to Engage When Kicking Off a Design Thinking Project

Any project you’re kicking off needs a strong foundation. You need to decide whether design thinking is the right tool for the job, define the scope, create a brief and engage the right people to make your project a success.

We frequently get asked, “Exactly who are the right people to engage?” Well, they’re the stakeholders in a position to make or break your project—the ones that control organizational resources, set and guide the vision, and drive implementation. The key is bringing them on and getting buy-in and support from the beginning—you don’t want to go through all the work of a project only to have it mothballed! (Sad-face Emoji).

Here are 5 groups of stakeholders you’ll need to consider:

1. Stakeholders Involved In The Project

Begin at the beginning—with the people who are a direct part of the process. These are the folks who will be signing off on the project and outcomes, like leadership and project sponsors. Make sure they’re not only aware of your plans, but have had opportunities to offer their input. You want them to be truly excited and supportive about it, not just give it a lukewarm “OK.” You’ll be asking for their involvement in kickoffs, pitches, and feedback sessions later on so you need them to be enthusiastic advocates—and that means keeping them in the loop.

2. Stakeholders That Can Stop Your Project

There are likely to be some folks in your organization that have the power to call a halt on your project. They may not see the value or they may simply prefer to have things done their way. This group may include some members of leadership, but also managers and directors who are being asked to empower their team with support and bandwidth. You might not need their input on the project brief or structure, but you do need their buy-in on the project and the benefits of the design thinking process as a whole. Work on building their awareness of the structure, also giving them a safe place to ask questions and vet concerns. That gives you the opportunity to get their support (or at least understanding) and also lets them know you’re not just trying to force changes against their wishes.

3. Change Advocates

These are the people that have the ability and presence to catalyze energy in the organization. They span all roles and levels, so don’t just look to leadership. Getting them excited about the project means they’ll get the rest of the organization excited—these are your organizational cheerleaders. You probably don’t need their direct buy-in, but you want their support because they can create serious momentum behind the project. Let them know what it is you’re kicking off and find key opportunities to get them involved, like pitch sessions and ideation sessions.

4. Stakeholders With A Link To The Larger Organizational Strategy

Looking outside your direct team, are there other people across the organization who might have the ability to do this work better, faster, or stronger? Are there people who might be able to connect this work to larger organizational priorities now or in the future? The more you can tie this work to larger initiatives, the easier it will be to gain support and share outcomes. It’s helpful to bring these folks in for milestone share-outs (insights presentations and final pitches) and debrief conversations so you can discuss what worked well and talk about how you might collaborate on these kinds of projects in the future.

5. Anyone That Will Benefit From Awareness

This might seem like a broad category, but it’s an important one to consider. There are people in and out of your organization that will be inspired and excited to know you’re approaching your work differently. They may be clients, recruiting and HR stakeholders, leaders from elsewhere in the org, or people that might want to use your services in the future. These communications are more like internal marketing than a way to get buy-in—you probably don’t need their involvement in this direct project, but don’t miss the opportunity to share a great story while it’s going on.


Being a changemaker means both exploring new methods and mindsets to creative problem solving and encouraging their adoption throughout your organization. When you get ready to embark on a new project, reach out to the right people in advance. It’ll help ensure the success of your project, spread awareness of new ways to problem-solve, and light the spark of inspiration for other people in your org. So do your homework, find those key stakeholders, and bring them on board!


The Design Gym’s Highlights from the 99U Conference

The 99U conference is an event aimed at empowering the creative community. It’s not designed to teach you to “think” big; but rather to show you how to “do” big. And as with many conferences we attend, we found it to be a tremendous source of inspiration. After all, get that many creatives in a room and good things are bound to happen!

For those of you who weren’t able to make it out this year (or for those of you who were and are just curious about what we thought), we wanted to share a list of some of our personal highlights, takeaways and inspirations from this year’s 99U conference.

1. Giving Yourself Time to Enjoy Your Creative Career

Conferences like this are always a great time to lift your head above water and remember those eternal truths that we’re always quick to agree to on paper, but are fast to slip away when the days get busy. Enjoying the process and embracing our creative permissions is one of those things. As part of a growing business and small team, we feel these strains all the time, and we see them in our huge global clients as well—it affects us all.

At MoMA’s Thursday morning workshop, Creating Compelling & Memorable Physical Spaces, Ingrid Chou, Associate Creative Director at MoMA, said something that really resonated with us. In the context of planning and curating new exhibits, she explained how essential it was to afford yourself creative time and to cherish that time.

“I think the majority of you are in creative fields and if you’re not having fun then something is wrong. That little bit of energy is what we live for.” @MuseumModernArt

We also loved hearing famed graphic designer, Yuko Shimizu‘s rule for prioritizing which projects to take:

“Learn to say no. Don’t take a job if it will cost you a good night’s sleep.” @yukoart

Click to Tweet.

2. Ryan Carson’s life mapping + weekly calendar ritual

Ryan Carson, CEO & Co-Founder of Treehouse, really inspired us with the time he dedicates and the process he’s built for continual reflection and self-awareness. If you haven’t seen this video on The Atlantic about Treehouse’s 4-day work week, it’s spectacular. Ryan shared some context about how he was inspired by Wait But Why’s Life Calendar (a visual representation of the weeks in our life) to begin reprioritizing his own weekly life.

Ryan shared with us that at the beginning of every week he blocks off 20 min to go through his personal mission statement. He breaks his mission down by the roles he plays (CEO, Father, Husband, etc…) and how he would want to be described in each of those roles. If he feels he’s slacking on any of them he immediately makes sure to fill in the upcoming week with more activities suited to that role—a great way to get the week started on the right note. Each week counts!

3. Jerry Seinfeld: How to Write a Joke

Throughout the conference, 99U did a really great job of integrating humor and mixed media to keep energy high and appeal to different learning styles—something as experience designers we can totally appreciate.

A great example of that in action was when they played the New York Times video, How to Write a Joke, as explained by the hilarious Jerry Seinfeld.

4. The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck

Cap Watkins, VP of Design at Buzzfeed, introduced us to The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck—a team tool we plan to immediately start leveraging. The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck, essentially, is a tool that allows you to pause on a conversation or debate and quickly assess the level of importance of that given topic to each individual team member.

For example, let’s say we’re in a passionate debate on what should be our next blog post—we use The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck and you tell me you give 7 out of 10 fucks, while I only give 2 out of 10 fucks. It’s probably not worth the energy and tension the argument is creating—clearly, the next blog post is more important to you and I should let you roll with what you’re thinking.

It’s a pretty cool team tool when you’re getting into debate—just throw the flag and put it out there, how many fucks do you give?

5. Cap Watkins on Culture

Cap also spoke about the importance of culture and his personal deviation from the popular notion of creating “design-led” or “design-driven” organizations. In his mind, that’s no more accurate than having an ‘accounting-led’ or a ‘sales-led’ organization. Focusing on any one department to make all the decisions is too narrow, and misses the target. We agreed—Cap is thinking long term.

If you find yourself defaulting to that way of thinking, you need to work on bringing others into your process. It’s not about one team leading, it’s about having systems to solve together. This quote hit it home:

“Leadership is not a role or a title, anyone can bring that mindset. We talk a lot about building empathy with our customer but we need to start building empathy with our own organizations. That means treating our organization and cultures like real products or UX problems.” @Cap

6. SYP Cards

We’ve done a bunch of personality assessments and use them pretty actively to kick off projects, reflect on our personal growth, and check in on team dynamics. We had the chance to try out the SYPartners Superpower Cards and found them to be particularly helpful given the fun format and the quick conversations they spurred.

We immediately ordered a deck for ourselves to better understand how we can leverage our team’s super powers. Gotta love SYPartners.

7. Jason Fried, Founder & CEO of Basecamp

Jason Fried captured our hearts back in 2010 with the book ReWork—a book all about rethinking how we approach the work we do. He’s a thought leader we really respect, but also someone that inherently has customer empathy baked into how he approaches work. We were amazed with Jason’s talk and really inspired by one of his “ah ha” moments. Jason shared with the group a story about how an experience in his personal life allowed him to completely rethink the client experience.

It started with a bathroom renovation (inspiration comes from anywhere). Jason was bidding contractors, and realized he was drawn towards one in particular, even though all had been highly recommended. Upon reflection, he realized that it was a simple interaction that won him over—the contractor had taken him to the home improvement store and picked out tiles and fixtures in person. It was an expensive project, and this removed the majority of the risk and ambiguity for him.

Insert ‘ah-ha moment’ emoji here. As a small agency he had always prioritized longer, bigger projects with his clients. But in reality, his clients hated the risk and ambiguity attached with that commitment. He immediately restructured how he sold work and started doing cheap, 1-week projects in high-volume. His clients loved it, he loved it, and they saw a huge spike in revenue.

To quote Jason, when something like that happens:

“Don’t be afraid to blow it up and start over… Fall madly out of love with something you are so use to doing.” @jasonfried

Click to Tweet.


Were you at the conference this year? We’d love to hear what you thought and what were some of your highlights. Hit us up by email or tweet at us.

Welcoming Jason Cha to The Design Gym Team

Our client work doesn’t come up all that often in our communications. Sure, from time to time, we’ll talk about it on the blog, write about it in the newsletter, or casually mention it in a Bootcamp or workshop. But frequently, we hear from community members, “Oh!? I didn’t know you work with organizations.”

The truth of the matter is it’s a significant part of the work we do. And like our community education, it’s growing.

Our work with client organizations is very much rooted in the same belief system as our community education offerings: We’re not just teaching design thinking, but rather working to empower individuals and teams to create culture change within their organizations. And helping us to do that is a new addition to The Design Gym team!

design-gym-photobooth-48We are extremely excited to announce and introduce you to Jason Cha, who is coming on board as our Director of Training and Culture Strategy. Some of you may know Jason from his previous work with us as a Lead Trainer. In this role, Jason will be responsible for working with our client organizations to build internal design thinking capabilities and increase internal creativity and collaboration.

Originally from Chicago, Jason made the long voyage to New York at the turn of the century to be a middle school science teacher (I know, didn’t totally surprise us either!). From there things took a path-altering turn. Jason worked in advertising as a brand strategist and then spent over 10 years as an innovation and strategy consultant—developing new products and business ideas for companies like PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble. In the last 5 years, he’s shifted his focus from products to people, working on training and culture development at ?What If! Innovation Partners for clients such as Google, Disney, Pfizer, and Citi.

Other than the fact that Jason is just an all-around awesome human being, he brings with him a ton of knowledge and passion that we’re super excited to tap into. To introduce you to the design thinker behind the glasses, we played a round of 5 questions.

1. What got you into design thinking, innovation and training work?

I’ve always been very interested in two areas: creativity and human behavior. This has led me to work at the intersection of these two fields, and design thinking happens to live at this intersection as well. More recently, I’ve developed an appreciation for how important it is for people to be creative in other areas of business as well, not just marketing or product development. That’s why I now spend my time and energy helping organizations develop their own creative potential—so, essentially, I’m developing people instead of products.

2. What shaped your perspectives and the way you look at DT and innovation?

I’m not sure where it comes from, but I tend to be a fan of the simpler, less flashy, grittier version of things. To some degree, that’s probably affected the way I look at innovation. While I’m in awe of some the amazing inventions that don the covers of Fast Company, I also love the small, everyday acts of creativity and innovation that happen in our day-to-day lives that say a lot of about an organization’s culture. It could be something that a Customer Service rep does to fix an unexpected problem or an unconventional way of conducting research with limited resources. To me, these applications of design thinking and creative problem solving capture the spirit and mindset of innovation as much as the big, category-disrupting stuff.

3. What’s been one of the best, most fulfilling, perspective-changing things about the work you’ve done?

There’s a psychologist named Robert Waldinger who directs the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has been tracking the lives of hundreds of people over a 75-year period. It’s a one-of-a-kind research study, and based on all of their data, they found that ONE thing mattered when it came to living a good life: good relationships.

That jibes with my experience. While I’ve worked on some exciting projects that I’m very proud of, my absolute favorite thing about this work is that it has enabled me to develop meaningful relationships with people (colleagues and clients), whom I find inspiring, thoughtful and smart as hell.

4. Why did you choose to work for The Design Gym?

HUMAN-CENTERED MISSION: I very much believe in The Design Gym’s mission of educating people and guiding teams to make a positive impact in the world by being more creative and collaborative problem-solvers. They are single-minded about this mission and that conviction appeals to me.

COMMUNITY MINDSET: The Design Gym is very active in building and advancing a broader community of creative thinkers and doers (apart from their organizational clients) who are using their creative powers to make a difference in the world. They also have meaningful relationships with diverse clients in the corporate, nonprofit, and startup worlds, which I find inspiring.

ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE: It’s easy to talk about the importance of having an entrepreneurial culture, but when you’re a 3 year-old organization, you have to walk the entrepreneurial walk every day. I look forward to the rewards and struggles of being a part of that environment.

5. What are some of the opportunities you are looking forward to in your role?

I thoroughly enjoy being in the “classroom” teaching people about design thinking and innovation. However, this is often only the beginning of the journey. To change group behaviors, it takes a deeper commitment to rethinking and reshaping the broader systems at play in our lives. The opportunity to drive this kind of culture change work for clients is something that I look forward to.

We’re ecstatic to welcome Jason to the team. Want to drop Jason a line? Tweet him @hmm_interesting or Jason.cha@thedesigngym.com.


Bridging The Gap From Book Smarts To New Starts

Maybe you read a really inspiring design thinking article that got you jonesing for more. Or maybe you had never heard of the concept before your boss approached you about managing its rollout and adoption among your team. However that exposure happened, you were excited about and ready for the opportunity. You brought in resources internally or sought external opportunities—such as sending your team to a workshop—to create a baseline awareness around design thinking tools and garner enthusiasm for using them.

But now, a few months down the line, you’re noticing the level of adoption is not at all where you thought it would be. People aren’t bringing the tools into their everyday jobs at the level you and leadership expected.

You’re witnessing a behavioral breakdown.

Ideas Are Great, Actions Are Better

tweet-graphic-4Ideas are great, actions are better.

We’ve seen this time and again in organizations and it’s completely normal. Rolling out Design Thinking is not a one and done event. It’s a process by which you’re attempting to create a culture change. And that’s no easy task! What’s key is the way in which you tackle it.

One of the reasons for a low level of adoption can usually be tied to trepidation or an absence of confidence. You’ve learned a tool, you like the tool, but you’re doubting your ability to use that tool in real-time.

For example, imagine you’re sitting in an ideation session and you know it’s going badly. People are off-topic, no one is on the same page, and nothing is getting done. You know exactly how to get that meeting back on track, but you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to implement the right facilitation tactic to speak up.

Now, normally when someone feels uncomfortable stepping up, their natural inclination is, “I couldn’t step up because I don’t know enough.” And then their logical response is, “I need to learn more.” However, as we take a closer look at the situation, it’s not knowledge that’s missing—you and your team know the toolsets—it’s confidence. And there’s only one way to build it: practice.

Practice is the bridge between knowledge and implementation. You can read all the cookbooks in the world, but you’ll never become a chef until you get into the kitchen and start cooking. You can study musical theory for a lifetime, but you’ll never be able to play a concert unless you put in the hours with your guitar. You might know everything there is to know about baseball, but you’ll never score if you don’t pick up a bat and give it a go.

tweet-graphic-4Practice is the bridge between knowledge and implementation.

Practice Makes Perfect Helps Encourage Adoption

Cultural change is tough and the path along that journey is long. The trick is to know where you are along that arc—from learning to practice to adoption—and how to empower your team at each and every step.

So how do you provide opportunities for your team to practice and develop confidence in the skills they’ve learned? You give them a safe space where they can stretch their theoretical wings. You could:

1. Practice on basic challenges
Pick a basic challenge (like where to go to lunch) and then apply the principles of ideation to a 20 minute brainstorm. Let the team know it’s about practicing some of the tools they recently learned.

2. Take inspiring field trips
Pick a topic important to your work and take your team out for a half day of field research. Visit competitive brands, inspiring new retail locations and cutting edge restaurants. Wrap up with a debrief over a meal or drinks.

3. Support behaviors through artifacts
Create artifacts to put in your workspace to remind your team about the tools of design thinking. Highlight basic frameworks like open/explore/close (divergent vs. convergent thinking), the 5 phases, or the Rules of Brainstorming can often be enough to trigger best practices in a group.

4. Practice Labs
If you happen to be in or near New York, we’ve recently created a way for you to practice your design thinking and facilitation skills in a safe environment—The Design Gym Practice Labs! Each lab focuses on a specific skill and is designed to provide you with multiple opportunities across several scenarios to practice that skill. Read more about our Practice Labs and check out our events calendar for upcoming dates.

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles

You started with design thinking education—that’s a great start. You’re headed for implementation and organizational adoption—that’s a great goal. The path that ties those endpoints together is practice. Put those learned skills to use until they’re an integral part of the way you and your team operate. A great chef doesn’t check the cookbook. A great guitarist doesn’t rely on sheet music. A great baseball player doesn’t need instructions on how to swing. Practice takes the skills you learn and makes them a part of you. So when design thinking becomes a part of your team, it will automatically become a part of your organization. Boom. Change. That’s all it takes.


Creating Valuable Learning Experiences

Meet The Design Gym’s Lead Trainer Community

The times, they are a changin’. For over three years now we’ve operated under the premise that we can create great content and deliver it in a way that feels authentic to The Design Gym and our brand principles. Throughout the process, we’ve learned a great deal about ourselves, our content, and the dreams and frustrations of our community. And one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that diversity in perspectives, as well as background and story are critical to keeping things fresh and evolving.

So as we look to the future and the evolution of The Design Gym, we’re keeping that learning top of mind—and that means creating more varied learning experiences for you, our community. One of the ways we’re doing that is by having Jason and Andy step away from being in the front of the room and having our sessions led by an amazing group of talented individuals: The Design Gym’s Lead Trainer Community.

Who Are The Design Gym Lead Trainers

The Design Gym Lead Trainers are professionals actively practicing and teaching design thinking in their fields—on internal teams of Fortune 500 companies, inside of top innovation agencies, or as consultants on the front lines.

By having actual practitioners leading our sessions, you’re able to learn from experts in your field (or with similar backgrounds) who have the on-the-ground experience in leading and managing design thinking projects. They’re the ones who can guide you on how translate your learnings from The Design Gym courses back into your organization. And honestly, who better to teach you that than than the people who are doing it daily?

Real-World Examples From Everyday Practitioners

Design thinking isn’t just about learning a method, it’s about applying that method to real-world issues in a constructive way. That’s where our Lead Trainers come in. They use design thinking every day on real projects. They’re coming straight from the trenches with the war stories to share.

Hannah Dubin described her participation in The Design Gym’s Lead Trainer Community as a win. “I love sharing what I know! I’ve seen skilled facilitators make significant impacts in their organizations—and I want to help people do the same where they work. As a professional facilitator, I get a lot of energy from groups—and I consider myself lucky to teach people to be better at helping groups make progress.”

Mixing up the perspectives of our trainers makes for some serious alchemy in the classroom—they get to combine their experiences and backgrounds so you get a comprehensive picture of how design thinking, facilitation and visual communication work in the real world.

Expert Perspectives From Diverse Backgrounds

A key component to creating strong learning experiences is providing expert perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds. What this means for you is that soon community members will be able to choose from classes or sessions run by The Design Gym with a specific lead trainer in mind.

Perhaps you work for a social enterprise or nonprofit? You can choose a Bootcamp led by a trainer with a background in social enterprises. Or perhaps you work at a large corporation and you’re looking for a different perspective on how to secure buy-in—you can sign up for a Bootcamp led by a trainer from the agency world.

“Being able to exchange tips and techniques with a close group of people with diverse backgrounds is really inspiring,” says Lead Trainer Reilly Carpenter. “I spend a lot of time doing internal trainings with a set curriculum and a toolkit of methods, but working with the TDG trainers exposes me to many new toolkits of methods.” As our Lead Trainers learn from each other, they’re evolving and creating a better experience for our community.

Now that we’ve told you all about our trainers, it’s probably time to introduce you to them.

Meet the Trainers

John Bloch is a true creative. As a visual facilitator, graphic recorder and art director with over 20 years experience, John has used his skills to support conflict resolution, training workshops, hackathons, strategic visioning and product development for a wide variety of organizations including AT&T, NYC Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation and the Tribeca Film Institute. His curiosity lies at the intersection of  design thinking and visual communication. John is passionate about teaching non-artists how to express complex ideas and data through simple, powerful visuals. He can also draw anything! We dare you to put him on the spot at the next Sketching Bootcamp.

Reilly Carpenter has a background in marketing and branding and is now a Design Strategist for Capital One. In his current role, his focus has been championing internal education and adoption of design thinking into his organization’s culture as well as leading large scale design thinking projects. Reilly is your go-to guy for questions on securing buy-in and implementing design thinking projects. You can ask him all about it at an upcoming Design Thinking Bootcamp.

Hannah Dubin is the swiss army knife of facilitation—no matter what the situation, she’s got the perfect activity ready to help move a group forward. With over 15 years of experience working as a facilitator with nonprofits and social enterprises, Hannah’s people-centered approach to problem-solving has helped teams meet their goals to better serve their communities. She’s got a true skill for making learning experiences fun and engaging—see her in action at an upcoming Facilitation Bootcamp.

Gary Kopervas is a nationally syndicated cartoonist and award-winning brand strategist and storyteller for iconic brands as well as start-ups. He is currently VP Brand Strategy & Innovation at 20nine, a creative branding agency and author of the upcoming Winning the What If Wars: A visual guide to applying creative thinking in business. Gary guides brands on how to stand out in a cut-and-paste world through the application of design thinking, and teaches participants in his Sketching Bootcamp to think visually and communicate with greater originality and personality.

Kiely Sweatt began her career in creative writing and performing arts and takes a learn-by-doing approach to education—making her a perfect fit for The Design Gym! Kiely thrives on bringing creative people together to collaborate, design new products, and build communities—and is actively doing so in her current role as Program Manager and facilitator with Hyper Island. She has facilitated and mentored teams ranging from Fortune 500s to non-profits to startups and brings those experiences to the Bootcamps that she leads with us.

Thomas Wendt is an independent design strategist, educator and published author. With an academic background and continued interest in philosophy, he brings a unique perspective to design thinking. Thomas writes and speaks on design theory, ethical and sustainable design and design research. If you haven’t checked it out yet, he wrote a killer post for The Design Gym’s blog about Sustainable Design Thinking. Like to get philosophical? Be sure to engage Thomas during a Design Thinking Bootcamp lunch break.