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Design thinking and learning: The mindsets needed for design thinking, with Huddle

In this podcast we dive deep into the mindsets that are needed for design thinking with Kylie Savage and Caitlyn Cook from Huddle. Like Portable, Huddle is a service design firm. About half of Huddle’s work is capability development of organisations and individuals. In the other podcasts in this series, we have talked a lot about the design thinking process and the understanding phase in particular. Designing is not just proces, it’s also a mindset. Huddle has a great way of talking about and thinking about what these mindsets are.

Download the Design thinking and learning eBook

To go along with the podcast we have released an eBook with all transcripts of the interviews.  

The interviews are: 

  • Why is design thinking important to L&D, with Arun Pradhan
  • Learning experiences from a service design viewpoint, with Simon Goodrich
  • Designing thinking and instructional design, with Connie Malamed
  • The mindsets needed for design thinking, with Huddle

The introduction to the eBook gives an overview of design thinking and demystifies some of the terms used in the podcast, like ‘ideation’.  

 

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Links

  • To find out more about Huddle, visit their website.
  • Listen to The Huddle Show podcast.
  • Read This Human, the design thinking book authored by Huddle founder Melis Senova.

Transcript - Design thinking and learning: The mindsets needed for design thinking, with Huddle

What is Huddle?

Robin:

A lot of the audience might not have heard of Huddle before. What does Huddle do?

Kylie:

Huddle is a strategic design agency, so we've been around for, coming up for nine or 10 years, I’ve lost track a little bit. About half of our business is doing consulting in all sorts of organisations using human-centered design as a way of solving complex problems. Most of our clients are either government or large corporates and social enterprises. The other half of our business is building capability in human-centered design and the mindsets associated with doing this sort of work.

Caitlyn:

We're helping people do the work themselves; and also when we go into businesses and do projects, it’s helping them have the skills, the mindsets, the tools to be able to take the work forward and to keep it alive, keep the projects going, keep the outcomes flowing.

Robin:

Yes, I've heard a couple of HR and L&D people talk about some of the work you've done as well, where you’ve come through and worked with developing whole areas within the design thinking culture. That's exciting.

Kylie:

We love it.

The mindset that is needed for design thinking

Robin:

Now, ‘mindset’ is really interesting. When I think of design, I think of it as being process and mindset. A lot of other podcasts have focused on the process. At Huddle, what do you think of the core bits of a design thinking mindset?

Kylie:

Well in terms of our practice, we look to Harold Nelson out of the US, and a lot of his thinking in the philosophy of design. His model for capability is actually split into four quadrants: mindset, knowledge set, skill set, tool set. Skill set and tool set are the things that are quite tangible that we can see. The knowledge set and the mindset are intangibles. All the tools for design thinking are freely available on the web. The outcomes that we get for people are largely dependent on the mindset that we use when we adopt those tools and skills in doing this work.

A lot of our capability building focuses on developing a mindset through the use of the tools. We're getting people to use the tools but also spend a lot of time reflecting on how that went and how things could be different as well as then getting specifically into the various mindsets.

Caitlyn:

Yes, and there are a number of mindsets that we encourage people to unearth because it's not necessarily that these are mindsets that are so unfamiliar to people, that it's just that we're generally trained to not embody them. Through school, through KPIs, through expectations.

Kylie:

Through habit.

Mindset – the beginner's mind

Caitlyn:

Through habit, all sorts. I can take you through some of the mindsets. The first one that we talk about is the beginner's mind and this is the sense of having an open mind, where you are forever learning, seeing things new, living in the present and not in the past. So it's kind of like imagining that you've never seen something before and if I were to look at it with a fresh mind, a beginner's mind, what would I see? I might not see the usual judgments or the fatigue that I have with a particular challenge, but total possibility and maybe new insight that a tired, fatigued mind and mindset wouldn't see.

Mindset – the liquid mind

There's a liquid mind as well. That's about having the ability to change perspectives and positions on things. Often in government and other corporate work we can get very stuck on particular ideas or ways that things should work or positions on particular challenges. Having a liquid mind is being able to shift perspectives.

Kylie:

One thing that sometimes people feel uncomfortable about, like, ‘It sounds like I'm changing my mind,’ but it's the realisation that when where looking at things at a systemic level that there are many, many different perspectives. They’re actually all right, they're just different perspectives. So being able to be flexible so that we can shift perspective to start to give sense to the whole system.

Caitlyn:

Yes. A really big theme in this work is thinking about the holistic system. Not just where I am in my department or silo or particular goal that I'm trying to achieve but the whole. And thinking about it in terms of design, not just within the organisation but of course thinking about the end user and how they're going to be impacted by something or what they need.

Mindset – the open mind, the creative mind, the disciplined mind, the whole mind

There are some more mindsets I can quickly take you through. There's the open mind, which is being open to new perspectives, ideas, beliefs. The creative mind, which is the belief in the ability that everything is up to question and anything can be changed in creative ways. That's also taking inspiration from different areas of the business or in life in general, different people. There's a disciplined mind, and that's about being mindful about how our mind works. The sorts of judgements and beliefs that we have. It’s being really conscious of what sort of perspectives we're taking and being able to say, ‘Oh, right now I'm switching into something that's quite closed,’ and being able to open again – being aware. Also the whole mind, that's about seeing the whole connected system and just being aware of the full holistic scope of what you're working in and being aware of that. All the people, all the perspectives, all of the needs within that.

So those are the core mindsets that we explore in the work that we do and we really encourage through the capability building workshops and things. We help people unearth that so that the project that they're working on gets unlocked, basically. Because without these mindset it's a real struggle to get traction on projects and make the kinds of change that people want to see in an organisation.

Robin:

A couple things that are really interesting around that. You're using a word that I've started to use a little bit as well – practice – because practice gives a wider view of how things work. When you were outlining the mindsets it was interesting how you dwelled on the ‘liquid’. That is one of those sort of key things with design thinking. It’s about being open and being able to look at things in different perspectives. Liquid is a really nice way of thinking about it.

Caitlyn:

Yes, I think sort of fluidity. Not being stuck.

Robin:

Some of the most successful tools are sometimes tools that help people become more liquid as well. Connie talked about her ideation sessions by getting people to draw, to try to just free people up a little bit.

Unearthing subconscious values and needs

Kylie:

Yes, absolutely, and one of the things we also talk about is when we’re trying to get deep insights out of people, those insights are usually unconscious. And if we ask people questions, they're operating from their conscious mind and what we really want them to do is to be able to dig in to things that sit below the surface. So getting people, either observing them and asking questions, or actually getting them to make things, often unearths things that are quite deep in their subconscious.

Robin:

So you mean in terms of the understanding and empathising stage, that quite often the designer is searching for is something that's unconscious? Or unconscious in the designer’s perception?

Kylie:

Something that’s perhaps unconscious. Often we are looking for latent needs in our customers, and understanding some of the values, beliefs, and motivations that they have. When we align our design with someone's values then we're going to create something that is going to resonate and has impact and longevity. We’re designing things in a very complex, chaotic world. Technology is changing so rapidly, the environment's changing, systems around us are changing really quickly. The one thing that doesn't change quickly is human values. Within a generation they don't tend to change rapidly, if at all. So what we're doing is we're building a stable foundation in an unstable system from which we can design. So when we can get down to those deep human needs and values, it’s something that provides that foundation.

Caitlyn:

In order to access what are others’ values for a subset of people, the market that we're working with, we have to use creative methods. It's not like you can just walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, what are your values?’ Because they'll say whatever they'll say, but then what their habits reveal and what they spend their money on and how they spend their time and all the different ways that express what people's values truly are, it's a different story. So using creative, and sort of holistic methods, to really understand people more than people sometimes understand themselves.

The challenge of design thinking mindsets

Robin:

You talked before about the notion of teaching people the tools and knowledge at the same time as helping them develop the mindsets. Mindsets are something that often can't quite be explicitly taught. It’s about setting up the environment for fostering and growing these types of skills in people. I'm really fascinated to know, in your experience, what is the mindset that people struggle the most with?

Kylie:

It's different for everyone. I think most people who are attracted to our program already have a good level of self awareness and have already started considering their mindset. But I think it comes from that ‘onion’ scenario: that we sometimes believe that we do adopt particular mindsets and then when we're thrown into different situations or we're put in a safe environment where we can explore that we realise that actually we've got more opportunity to go a little bit further. I'm not sure it's a one size fits all with these things. I think some people struggle with some things more than others and I think it's quite unique to the individual.

Caitlyn:

I think it's also where it is in the process as well. We take people through the ‘double diamond’ design process. You're going from the beginning, where you're just being given a design challenge, all the way through to really understanding the context of the issue, what the issue really is, analysing and synthesising your research, coming up with a really clear, ‘How might we?’ question, and then going through different ways to solve the problem. Then selecting a final design, prototyping it, testing and iterating. At each moment, the different mindsets are relevant. Having a beginner's mind, a liquid mind, open mind. At different moments people will find a resistance or that, ‘Oh my God, what if I get it wrong?’ or ‘Oh my God, what if my colleagues think I'm an idiot? or ‘Oh my God, how do I make sure that I'm really representing the customer right now?’ At each phase of the design process there's always a new opportunity to be met with the challenge of really sinking into these mindsets. I think for each person, what they struggle with can vary throughout the entire process.

Kylie:

I think a lot of reflection people have is how the mindsets are playing out in their work contexts. So we're also getting people to reflect back into past situations. We also talk about how the habits that block those mindsets, and how those have played out in situations and how might they have approached things differently then and perhaps what they might do differently in the future.

Caitlyn:

It's a good point as well because in the workshop space it's a safe space. It's a laboratory, really, where you're allowed to experiment and get things right and get things wrong, test, iterate. That's kind of the point, but then of course when people take things back to the organisation it's kind of taking the trainer wheels off. Things around the courage to do something different or the ability to really reflect on where they're at and how they're thinking about something in their daily role when they've got all the stresses and pressures of life and work. The mindset challenges can be different as well.

Robin:

Caitlyn, that insight around the fact that the mindset changes as you go through the process as well is fascinating. Essentially, what I've seen is when you're working in a team situation, different people have different strengths at different moments. Some people are great during that understanding phase and then some people are just really sharp on defining the problem. Quite often what's really fascinating is that sometimes those people really struggle when it comes to prototyping. It's one of the powers of design thinking. There's a lot of talk about co-design and working with a diverse team, but the reason for that is probably this mindset thing, is my thought.

Caitlyn:

Yes, absolutely. The skills mindset, knowledge set, is why it's really important to think about who is in the team, whose perspectives you're getting. So say you've got your core team but then you want to test with people in your neighbouring teams, you want to test with people in other departments, because they’ll have different mindsets, strengths, and different skills and knowledge sets and all the different things that can help refine your idea into something that's really powerful and effective.

True collaboration

Kylie:

I think that true collaboration – and collaboration is a word that gets bandied around a lot – I find that particularly when we have a group through the program that have come together from one organisation, where they believe they collaborate and they get pushed to a completely different level – I had a group the other day say, ‘Oh my goodness, after two days of doing this I really feel like we know each other and we're able to share a different level of thinking.’ Sometimes we call that concept a mind palace: people who work very closely together in a project and have spent a lot of time unpacking what they mean by particular words, seeking clarity all the time and gain a really, really solid base of common understanding then can really accelerate the way that they work together. Collaboration and that diversity of perspective to get a really holistic view and challenge each other's assumptions and having permission to do that is something that I think comes out of this work aside from just the mindsets.

Caitlyn:

Yes.

Robin:

Having that opportunity to really focus on process, communication and collaboration and strength is quite often really powerful for teams. Kylie, do you encourage people to do your capability development as a team?

Kylie:

I think that there are pros and cons whichever way you go. I think that when you bring a team in, if the leader is in the team and there is a strong hierarchy, it can inhibit people from being able to really show up. I guess that depends on the self awareness of the leader that's involved. When we bring cross-functional teams from an organisation I think that can become really powerful in terms of creating a community of practice and understanding across the organisation. I think that's probably the most valuable. But there's a lot of value in bringing groups from different organisations together because the learning across industry and from different sectors becomes really valuable. They've often got very different perspectives on things. A lot of the richness and the learning comes out of the conversations that are had between the participants. We really do see ourselves as facilitators of the learning, not teachers, if that makes sense.

Robin:

Yes, it makes sense, perfect sense, and maybe perfect sense to a lot of the listeners as well. One way I'd really like to wrap up the podcast is with a bit of advice for people starting on a design thinking journey and wanting to develop the capabilities to apply design thinking in their organisations. Where do you think they should start?

Getting started in design thinking – start with self awareness

Kylie:

Interesting question. I've got a mentee at the moment and we were having a conversation just recently. When it got down to the next thing that she should do for each of those areas, it was all about her self awareness and how she was showing up and what she was doing. I think one of the critical things in this sort of work is our level of self awareness. What are we bringing to this? What assumptions, what beliefs are we bringing? What are we projecting of our own world onto what we're hearing from someone else? I think that self awareness and reflection are the cornerstones of being a great human-centered designer.

Caitlyn:

Certainly at the beginning, but the whole way through, really. There's not a moment when you wouldn't be developing that as a reflective skill. Learning more about the knowledge set, the mindset, and tool sets, and skill sets. So we've got Huddle Academy, which has got the Designing For People program. We've got a number of programs within Huddle Academy as well about facilitation, leadership. Then we've got monthly resources that we send out via our Huddle feed. People can sign up for that on our website along with the Huddle Academy. The information is at http://wearehuddle.com

Robin:

That's great, Caitlyn, and I'll make sure that those links are included in the show notes that go along with the blog post for the podcast, if anyone is looking for those as well.

This Human 一 a book on design character

Kylie:

One other thing that people might want to consider is our founder, Melis Senova, has written a book called This Human, and it focuses on what we call ‘design character’, which is how we show up as designers, and talks a lot about mindset, finding insights, and having courage in our organisation to advocate for a human-centered way of working. What's been really interesting since she's written this book is that a lot of the American universities have picked it up on their reading list because it's an area that no-one has been talking about: how do you be the person designing for other people?

Caitlyn:

Melis has recently spoken at South by Southwest, and she spoke last year as well about design and the shadows of design. We've got those videos on our website as well, http://wearehuddle.com. We also share a lot of that on our social media: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, @wearehuddle

Robin:

That book sounds like a very exciting contribution to the design thinking field. Thank you for sharing it.

Kylie:

Awesome. We love it but then maybe we’re a little bit biased.

Caitlyn:

Perhaps.

Kylie:

But it is very practical and highly visual and Melis has taken a human-centered design approach to the book so it's laid out in a way that's really engaging, there's lots of exercises and images and things to it to make it not feel like a dry textbook. It certainly doesn’t feel like that.