Design thinking refers to creative strategies designers utilize during the process of designing.
Design Thinking seems to be on everyone's minds these days. A simple search will reveal multiple online sources for college classes, documents and white papers all discussing the ideas and methods of Design Thinking.
What is it really? It is a group of people all building on ideas. "Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking includes "building up" ideas, with few, or no, limits on breadth during a "brainstorming" phase. This helps reduce fear of failure in the participant(s) and encourages input and participation from a wide variety of sources in the ideation phases."
It is a practice of 'yes, and'.
Improv provides the structure to allow Design Thinking to work. It is the basis of Design Thinking in the ideation phase; How do we continue to move the conversation forward and upward, without having a 'no' or a 'yes, but' blocking the progress? It is the base toolset. And as this article in Fast Company magazine says, Improv Comedians make the best Design thinkers.
So give your organization a good dose of Design Thinking in a fun and engaging way that they will remember and utilize. Give your company an ImprovMindset.
Public speaking is an art. As someone who provides multiple speeches every year, I have a chance to see many of other speakers.
Inevitably, I see the same thing. Like this article in Forbes, the same mistakes are made over and over. You can see the coaching that someone has been told, and the little things that a speech coach did to quell the speaker's normal responses: they walk in a straight line from one side of the stage to another, they try to have flashy graphics, and they start with a joke of some sort (which often does not work as well as planned.)
From my work as a professional Actor - we train to engage an audience. We practice bringing a personal connection, carrying the rhythm and tone, changing the speed to make emphasis.These are all part of the tools of our trade. And it takes years to master - one ToastMaster class is not going to make you a dynamic speaker overnight.
As with all practices, it takes perseverance, training and practice. And it shows when someone has spent the time, and invested in their presentation. It makes us, as listeners, feel respected.
So next time you have a big speech coming up - consider it this way: You are a world famous actor, and these are your lines. You might win an Oscar/ Tony for this role, so you want to prepare for every possible scenario, and stay on message. And most important, you want to be willing to improvise based on unforeseen changes in the situation and make it all seem like it was planned.
So be prepared for your next presentation. Take an acting class.
In a recent report from USC, researchers discovered how being funny changes your brain.
They showed a cartoon from the New Yorker, and asked participants to create one funny caption, and one un-funny caption. Meanwhile, they performed MRI scans on them to record their brain activity.
“What we found is that the more experienced someone is at doing comedy, the more activation we saw in the temporal lobe,” said USC doctoral student Ori Amir, who led the study with Irving Biederman, professor of psychology and computer science. The temporal lobe receives sensory information and is the region of the brain key to comprehending speech and visual cognition. It’s also where abstract information, semantic information and remote associations meaningfully converge.
In contrast, the amateur comedians and non-comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions like planning complex cognitive behavior and decision-making.
“The professional improv comedians let their free associations give them solutions,” Biederman said.
Many business leaders ask me what they can do to create more independent thinkers and problem solvers in their organizations. Now the answer is clear: Send them to an Improv Class! The more experience they get, the more they will rely on making new connections between items and creating innovative solutions.
For information about having an improv class for your organization, contact Andrew for details.
In my work running a company, I love looking at financial documents and balance sheets to discover the ratios between assets and liabilities and figure out an organizations solvency. If you have never seen a balance sheet before - take a look at this tutorial I filmed for the Washington Non-Profits association.
The key take-away is that a balance sheet is a snapshot in time, it is a report of the financial status of the organization at that specific moment.
The same is true with teaching case studies - they are snapshots of what was true at that moment in time. They represent the moment when that event happened, and it may never happen that way again. Many people use case studies as a tool to say 'what would YOU have done?' There is merit in that line of reasoning, however impossible it may be. Since you were not there, and you don't have the same attachment, emotional investment and engagement with the process, it is hard to say what you really would have done.
When I teach workshops I stress the importance of focussing on the differences in a situation, rather than what is similar. Focussing on what is similar can lead me to say 'this is the same as last week...' and place a solution in play that may or may not have relevance. Our brains are wired to search for patterns, so the default for our brains is to say the situations are the same, when in fact they are probably very different.
By focussing on what is different, you can make sure you are staying in this moment, and not reacting to the past. You can stay active to the people, processes and engagement at hand, rather than dismissing new information that can be the key to innovation.
So remember - when you see a situation that seems the same - ask yourself if this resembles a snapshot in time you had previously, and focus on what is different to stay active in the moment.
Solutions you used yesterday are often not the correct solutions for today.
About five weeks ago my wife and I rescued an eight-year old dog named Brodie.
He was transported up to Seattle from a high kill shelter in California, and had been in and out of shelters, foster care and trial stays with families for the last six months. When we met him, we knew we were in love. He has one crinkled ear, some extensive scarring on his head and other ear, is fairly deaf and as lovable as possible. Clearly he has had a tough life (or at least we imagine he has) and we are happy to provide him a forever home.
Since our other dog passed away over four years ago, we have been adjusting to having a dog again. Early morning wake up's for walks (6am?!?! Really?!?!?!) and changing schedules for feeding times have all been a welcome addition to our world.
I am reminded again of the lessons of leadership and shared responsibility from having a pet. When we walk in the morning (yes, at 6am, like clockwork) we practice walking next to each other, heeling when we need to, and not pulling my arm out of it's socket when a squirrel runs by. Sometimes he gets to choose the neighborhood route, which tends to put a little more pep in his step as he makes the decisions and I follow him. We travel the journey together, each day practicing the shared responsibility of the task at hand, even though we are both aware that I hold the end of the leash and am responsible for his care and well being. It is a give and take - and he provides for us the comfort and love that helps us to grow and be productive in our world, and we provide a home and care.
At work I have noticed more of my inclination to share the responsibility of the walk, rather than set out the route and demand we stay on it. As we feel which way will work for all of us, we then chart a direction knowing the goal and that we each can control and give input on how we get there. Even in those moments where we are having trouble lsitening (or deaf - like Brodie) we can still feel how the direction needs to change.
So be aware for yourself; What are the aspects of your journey where you can share the responsibility? How can you let others lead, so that they can have more pep in their step? What can you do to foster someone who needs fostering, and help them to share the responsibility of leadership?
And see how that changes your work for the better.
Just ask Brodie.
Click here to contact Andrew for more information on workshops and classes for Leadership Development,
When I was in graduate school, my teacher, Steve Pearson, used to say that each individual creates their own method of working. The idea is that there is no single way to learn; we each have to figure out what works for us, and then take that path. I never quite understood the power of this lesson until recently.
This week I have been facilitating a variety of workshops for various organizations: Valve Software, Amazon, Space Needle LLC, and a few others. On every workshop, when I introduce an exercise for the group, inevitably there are a few people who work to ‘solve’ the game. They look for how to accomplish the task, in order to move onto the next task. It is a linear, goal-oriented mindset that appears to value winning and accomplishment over knowledge and problem solving. What tends to confuse people is when I describe that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to do the exercise; the point of the exercise is to ‘do it’ and have an experience that draws correlations to our everyday habits. The exercise is about bringing awareness, not solving a problem.
As a teacher, I understand that my job is to give people the tools to find their own way, and teach them not to do what I did, but to create their own way of working. Telling someone the Five Best Methods for Productivity might be easily digestible (and highly profitable), however it doesn’t create true productivity. When people hear these lessons, they might change for a week or two, but they will revert to the practiced habits of the past. I have found that when people discover their own five methods of being productive - meaning the five that work for them based on their own experiences - then they actually do make lasting changes.
As an actor, and an artist, this is what we learn from our acting teachers. We constantly practice to see what works for us now, in the stage of life where we are now, knowing that what worked last week (or even last night!) might not be correct for today. Another wise acting teacher once said that each performance of a play must be 10-15% different each night, as each day always presents a bit differently. We strive to find what is relevant for this moment, so we can be present in our work, and not trying to “solve” the play.
So – the next time you find yourself placing the same solution on an issue to “solve” the problem, ask yourself:
By staying present and focusing on the lesson, rather than rushing to get the gold star of accomplishment, you can create real productivity – one that works for you.
There is one thing that separates good actors from struggling actors: How well do you listen?
In my work I get to interact with actors at all levels. A struggling actor knows their lines, and is pre-planning how they will react when they hear their scene partner say something. They are scripting (even if the play is improvised) how the story will come out, and how they will listen. There is a need to control what happens, and what the audience sees, rather than actually listening and being affected by what someone is giving you. In fact, you can actually see them trying to listen, as if listening is something to show people you are doing it. You can visually see them planning how they will respond, rather than listening and reacting.
The same is true for managers. I have worked with many managers who have a "listening face" which they use to "show" people they are listening. When asked to share what they just heard, their retention and understanding of what was said to them is appallingly low. And just like with actors, employees can see when you are not listening to them. They can see when you're merely waiting for their mouth to move so you can speak. They can see when you have disengaged because you have already solved the problem you think they have (even if you are not sure what the problem actually is, or if there even is one!) They can see when you are not present.
This skill is hard to learn, and there are a variety of methods to help you be aware of how you listen and how you can improve. After a few of my exercises, I have had participants say "This was the first time I really was able to hear what someone said..." Imagine if all your staff felt that way, like they have been heard and appreciated.
Honing this skill can affect your bottom line in multiple ways: increased engagement, improved customer satisfaction, innovative directions, happier and appreciative staff and family, etc. It's a simple skill that we often overlook in the wider scope of our work.
Find out how to increase your listening potential - email Andrew today.
Show and Tell: Leave it in Kindergarten
Show, don't tell. This concept is something you learn in theater. Show, don't tell. In other words, I don't want to hear your explanations, your reasons, or your justifications. What I want to see is you doing something.
As an audience member, I am not engaged by listening to you talk about an old lady doing tricks on roller skates. However, I would be intrigued to see the old lady on stage doing tricks on roller skates! That’s what I want.
Too often with Improv, people will talk about what they are doing: “I am going to get you a glass of water now…” “I am walking my dog now...” “I am stapling papers…” How many times have you heard someone at your office say "I am stapling papers now!" (and if you have, I would LOVE to know more content about that…)
As we do things normally in our world, we don’t talk about it. We just do it. We brush our teeth without exclaiming "I am brushing my teeth!” We drive a car without constantly saying, "I am driving now, I am still driving, look at me drive!”
The same is true for business. I sit in meetings often and hear people talk about what they plan to do. And a lot of the time, people feel like if they talked about it, then they actually DID something. But the truth is, TALK is NOT action.
So when you are confronted with people who describe what they will do, ask them "When? When will you do it?"
Don’t tell me you will do it. Show me you have done it. That is forward motion, rather than idle chatter.
I have found a classification of people in the performing arts called 'accidental administrators.' They are the people who trained to be actors, or directors, or some specific aspect of theater, and ended up being the person in charge of the organization. When I ask these people about their journey, I usually get the same response; they decided to do the things that no one else wanted to because these things had to be done.
So they became the accidental leader of an organization. They didn't plan, prepare or desire to be the person in charge. They just found themselves there because of who they are, because of the type of person they are.
Sometimes this leads to a level of Imposter Syndrome, and even malcontented staff surrounding theses individuals who say 'who put them in charge?'
The answer I tell those disgruntled workers is: You did. And they did. They chose to make the organization work, because it had to be done and no one else would do it. They saw what needed to be done, and did it.
When companies begin - the lines between job descriptions and duties are fairly fluid. Individuals need to do what must be done to make a new organization survive. As a company grows, it's needs change and everyone must adapt to the constant changes. Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as making a commitment to code everyday, which is a goal he has had to step away from as the realities of being the CEO of a large company change.
The main quality I find from these accidental leaders (and in full disclosure, I identify with this group) is that they adapt to the needs of the changing organization as time goes on. Accidental Leaders are still leaders, and they are not stuck in amber waiting for the next ice age. They listen, react in real time, and adapt to the changing situation either by training themselves, or finding the support they need to make a dream come true. They are quintessential problem solvers, who see the end result and goal and reach for the dream.
When you are hiring, how can you identify these individuals? Look for the person who has been doing work outside the scope of their training. That shows they are doing whatever they can to be successful. And test them on problem solving. The ability to adapt and change in real time is a key skill.
How can you develop these skills in the staff you already have? Provide training in the skills of improvisation. It can lead them to higher levels of listening, critical thinking and problem solving as well as leadership development.
Don't let accidental leaders believe that it is all coincidental that they are where they are. It is who they are that makes them leaders.
For more information and workshops of Leadership Development - click here for Andrew's workshops.
Many years ago I worked with a magician who taught me a lot about producing events. Together we created Haunted Houses, Parties and events as well as on-going attractions in Casinos.
There was one trick he did on a whim that always stuck with me. It was the 'coin toss'. We were at an event, and he had a wooden nickel that they have given him. He took it, showed me both sides were unmarked, flipped it in the air and shot at it with his hand as if he had a gun. When the wooden nickel hit the ground, it had a black mark on the side facing up, resembling a bullet hole.
Then it was my turn to tell him how the trick was done:
ME: "You did a slight of hand to show me the same side of the coin, and make it look like I was seeing both sides."
ME: "Then how did you know it would land with the side that had the mark facing up?"
HIM: "I didn't. That part I gambled on..."
ME: "So if it had landed with the unmarked side up, then what would you have done."
HIM: "I don't know - but it didn't happen that way. The trick worked. If it didn't, I'd have figured out something else..."
As I learned with a lot of magic tricks, there is a certain amount of bluff and confidence that it will work the way you thought it would. And there is a lot of being sure of yourself to make whatever happens look like it's what you wanted to have happen.
When I speak to people about their leadership style, I sometimes hear people say "I am not sure what I am doing, or if what I am doing is the right thing." I think we all have times of self doubt about the next action we are about to take, or the next proposal for a client, or the next initiative we are putting forth. And the truth is, it may not work. If we understand the risks involved, and agree to move forward with confidence anyway, then we will make whatever happens work. Not trying the trick because it might fail is the only real failure.
So remember the rules:
How do I do this? - JUST DO IT
Am I doing it right? - YES
See where it takes you.