Design thinking is not a product, a deliverable, or a stand alone process. Used to maximum advantage it is a mindset, an approach, a system of practice. An analogy comes to mind: some see yoga as stretching or working out in a hot gym. Those who embrace the mindset of yogic practice reap greater rewards than do those who engage largely in the physical routines. Lifting weights results in a product: bigger muscles. Yoga results in a mindset that can lead to better fitness.
As I continue to develop and refine my work with individual schools, I am using many of the tools that have been clarified by design thinkers who trace their thought-roots to the Stanford d.school. Each school has a unique set of strategic objectives, as each is at a different point on the path of institutional evolution. Therefore the activities and outcomes for each school should be unique. Some consultants like to come to schools and do the same thing with every group; some un-named author/consultants have made a nice living off of giving the same stand-up presentation for the last 10 years! That would drive me nuts.
I have two goals for every school I work with. The first is that they advance, in very concrete ways, along an arc of innovation that will enhance their institutional value in the future. The second is that they will build comfort with a design thinking-oriented mindset that allows them, both as individuals and as an organization, to be more effective questioners, problem finders, and problem solvers.
Like yoga, developing a design thinking mindset takes time and repetition; if we stretch muscles infrequently they don’t stay loose for long. Effective school leaders will find many times and many ways for their teams to practice this mindset in small, high frequency bites. As we unwrapped at our day-long, all-hands power event at Summit School in North Carolina last week, every departmental and faculty meeting, every parent coffee, trustee retreat, and every class period, is a chance for a few minutes of design thinking mindset practice. The result: an entire community finding their “creative confidence” (Kelly and Kelly), becoming the “educator/leaders” we need them to be for effective institutional innovation.