Stanford bootcamp experience

Last week for 3 full, intense days I participated in the Stanford “design thinking” bootcamp (along with 13 others from Citrix, including designers, managers, execs, from around the company). Just wanted to share a few initial thoughts as I reflect upon the activities we performed.

As everyone has acknowledged–and i concur– it was certainly exhilarating, intensive, productive, mind-blowing, enlightening, inspiring, frustrating, difficult, empowering, and any other contradictory superlative you want to throw at it ;-) Yes, it’s all of that, with some minor issues. Very grateful to undergo this workshop with my colleagues and meet others from many walks of life who sought something actionable to light the fire of “design thinking and doing” in their workplaces.


My key takeaways:

* The’s flexible basic process of 5 steps is NOT a formula or recipe but instead a pathway of generating novel solutions, to break us out of the usual “left-brained” analytical mindset. The steps are Empathize > Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test . You can bounce among them, iterate multiple times, as needed. Indeed the language can adjust per your culture’s and team’s needs. Do what makes sense, no need for fancy stuff.

* Evaluate ideas per 3 basic criteria: Successful, Delightful, Breakthrough. (Helpful after brainstorming, and putting a sticker to denote each idea)

* Identify a specifically shaped “point of view” to suss out novel opportunities and extremes of possibilities, and to force debate about what’s really important in the product/service you are creating.

* Brainstorming well needs a strong context definition and framing of a “point of view” and problem statement: Person needs/wants X in order to achieve Y which will provide Z benefit. Not just randomly throwing up ideas on a whiteboard and see what sticks. (BTW, Luke Williams at frogdesign demo’d this brilliantly with their trademark frogTHINK exercises to drive creative problem solving)

* You can achieve alot in just a short, acclerated comprssed timeframe! It’s all about quick, nimble creative thinking in the moment. The bias to action helps you lean forward constantly.

* Empathy and humanity are the drivers for doing what’s right and good in the world. Positive change emanates from that simple yet often hard to grasp premise. Gotta try to remember that in large, anonymous organizations rife with policies and templates, etc.

* Design isn’t about you, the designer, but about the community you serve: the users, providers, vendors, partners, suppliers, parents, neighbors, etc. Totally reminds me of Eames’ legendary diagram.


My own color commentary:

Now, admittedly I went through this bootcamp as an experienced hi-tech designer trained in a rich set of methods/approaches from CMU and through Valley mentors at various companies like Oracle and Adobe. I had to put all that away! So I did humor the process and just go with the flow, realizing that the purpose and point of view is truly oriented to break via “shock and awe” tactics the rest of the workshop participants, without a design background who have grown weary of neverending Excel/Powerpoint/Word docs and tedious meetings that devolve into petty politics. I totally got the value of the breakneck speed and crazy intensity, with very minimal discussion or reflection time, just run and act very purposefully with intention. Truly, like a bootcamp :-)

You are pushed beyond what you think are capable in very short timeframes, and rather unexpectedly to tap into latent abilities deadened by Powerpoints. It’s great to shock folks to wake up… but I’m not sure about the intellectual value which seemed tossed aside in zealous favor of “fast and furious” action. Is this 72 hour bootcamp the “fast food” equiv of a burger or donut?? Impromptu tasty satisfaction but what about long-lasting value?? Not much reflective analysis (or conceptual tools for deep analysis), ironically for something called “design thinking” ;-)

I do wonder how other participants will take the ideas and experiences back to their workplaces. And after 3-5 years from now, will they still be applying the same lessons? What value will have been achieved? WIll their opinions have evolved given the rigors of practical execution? Design is not for the weak, as I often mention. There’s always such tremendous organizational/cultural pressure to kill infectious ideas and powerful possibilities (see Machiavelli, The Prince). The forces that shape real execution, as Steve Jobs cites, demand that “real artists ship”. You gotta deliver and it’s often the devils in those implementation details, the gotchas, that separate the real change agents from the posers & dreamers. Not sure how much that message was conveyed in the wrap-up sessions.

I also had issue with their very liberal use of the word “prototyping” verging on buzzwordy jargon. Per’s ideology, literally anything and everything that is hand-made is a prototype, including a blob of dough with a straw in it, or a sticky note sketch. Emphasis was on crude and raw, which I understand. But I didn’t care for the obvious disdain for hi-fidelity prototypes, continuing to spread the false myth that people don’t give feedback to highly precise demos. They clearly haven’t done real-world design at a hi-tech context which often demands very accurate visualizations to elicit critical opinions. Also repeated a few times was criticism of designers as “forces of authority”, which really does justly occur in many contexts. Designers must be forces of persuasion, given all the constraints and compromises endured. While design is overall collaborative, there needs to be a clear vision and voice driving a focused agenda. “Make it so!” as Picard would say.

Despite these relatively minor misgivings, the bootcamp is perhaps the most vivid, potent expression of what it means to learn design by doing, truly living the experience in all its pain and glory. It’s certainly a very bold, powerful start…



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