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.


Andy Hagerman
[email protected]
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