Baby Steps to Run

What is the minimum you can get away with starting? Where are you trying to start by boiling the ocean? What can you do that is the littlest step forward?

This week I met up with my family for a reunion of fun. It was the first time we had all been together in years and we did a lot of – what have you been up to? What do you DO anyway? Where are things going.

One of my cousins (technically first cousin once removed) and her boyfriend have a dream of opening a restaurant. They are building experience working with another owner and learning the ropes and both have quite a bit of experience given that they are both in their mid twenties.

The big idea is vegan and vegetarian pizzas that bring their lifestyle and his italian heritage and family restaurant experience together with their passion for opening a restaurant. But, they lack capital and experience with running things completely on their own.

After I explained design thinking we had a series of brainstorming sessions over the next two days refining the idea. We went from a brick and mortar restaurant in another state – which is the final dream – down to a pop-up kitchen version that they can try for a single day at farmers markets with minimal entry costs and a lot to learn from the experience.

This is the minimal viable product or a low resolution prototype of their ultimate idea. Within that they have already determined several questions to be answered by this small step and it has propelled them into action!

That is the power of prototyping – it gets you started and learning.

What project are you working on that needs some action? What is the minimal viable version of that?

Don’t wait. Do something small.

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Live Intentionally

Where do you accept the defaults? When do you get to decide how life goes? Why take life as it’s handed to you when you can make it what you want?

Life happens. It is always moving along, moving forward, moving on. You put plans in place or plans are made for you and it’s easy to be in the flow of it. But what if the flow is now the direction you want it to go?

I had plans to stay on after three days of workshops in Hawaii. I got the tickets with just enough time to fly off to Kauai and hike for four days then return on a late night flight back to SFO. But when the campsites were full I had my plans changed for me and stayed on Oahu.

After checking out on the last day with no inter-island flight to catch back go Honolulu, I had 12 hours to wait for a flight which I no longer needed so late. That meant the red-eye flight back and leaving at 11pm.

This was the moment – to stop the flow of plans and see what the options were. I went to the counter and just asked for what I wanted. And now I am writing this on flight 10 hours earlier than my plan, upgrade included! That means an good nights sleep and a fresh start – just because I didn’t accept the default plan.

Design Thinking requires that you always have an observer eye looking from above to see “what should we do next?” Design Thinking is not a process – no matter how many bubble diagrams people draw. You never know what you need until you are in that moment. More empathy? Another iteration? Back to brainstorming? What comes next?

And, It can be anything and some of the currents are very strong.

  • Working Meetings The reigning corporate culture is to book a room, bring your laptop, sit down, flip up, tune in or out depending on your interest, your day, and your inbox. And it’s true whether you schedule the meeting or you attend. If it was a brainstorm meeting – you need to loose the table and add music, open space, and people gathered around a vertical surface.
  • Interviews Common wisdom dictates that people come in suits, they are asked questions, put on the spot and tested. Microsoft brings in engineers to play 8 hours of pictionary and learns how they work in a collaborative environment. Why not change the game to get what you need?
  • Staff Meetings Every week, every month in the conference room or the cafeteria report out the status and Q&A. The new software movements like SCRUM and agile turned that idea on it’s head with daily standup meetings because it’s what you need now what you did.

Where are the the places you are defaulting? What are the obvious routines, the ongoing traditions, the project planning you did months ago that need to change?

Who *will* let the dogs out?

Who will let the dogs out?

When things fail – what do you focus on? Whose fault is it? What did I learn? Where do I go from here?

I woke up in my retreat rental on Lanakai beach in Kailua Hawaii and was just sitting down to a perfect breakfast of pineapple and mango I cut fresh that morning. Then I got a text message, the kind that I hate to get when traveling. Somewhere along the lines there was a hitch in my plan for taking care of my dogs. Normally I have a great system for while I travel and it’s no problem. This time – a mix up left me with a hole in my schedule starting… tonight!

I could have spent a lot of time working out who to blame, including finding ways to blame myself and the beating myself up for it. But instead I too a deep breath and focused on moving things forward. A few text messages and phone calls later everything was on track again. And I was on my way for a nice run and swim on the beach.

Failure happens. We don’t set out to fail, but it happens. When it does what you focus on is your choice.

  • Whose fault is it? This is not usually a helpful place to start. Perhaps there is some learning there – but mostly this leads to the blame game. Figuring out who to pin things on just takes time – time sitting in the failure.
  • What did I learn? A much more helpful question. This one is worth spending a little time on and usually leads to good insights. Careful not to subvert this back into blame like “I learned that it’s Joe’s fault”. Focus the learning on what you learned for next time.
  • Where do I go from here? This is the sweet spot. The sooner you can get to this the better. No matter what has failed, you are going to go into the future. So focus on what you want that to be. Take what you learned and turn it into what you want to happen. Focusing on where you are going and getting into action makes all he difference.

In design thinking we need to be resilient to failure, accept it, move past it and keep going.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Even the best laid plans will change

Do you plan or fly by the seat of your pants? What happens when the plans go wrong? Are you prepared for the unexpected?


“plans are useless but planning is indispensable” said, Dwight D. Eisenhower when talking about planning for battle. And Helmuth Von Moltke said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.

Now not every plan is preparing for war, and I certainly don’t think of everyone as the enemy. However, the sentiment of these quotes is about the balance of planning and thinking on your feet – or improvising.

I first really learned this lesson whilst walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail – a National Scenic Trail in the US. After a few days I met up with a nice group of other solo hikers and we hiked together for almost 2000 of the 2654 mile trail. Each day plans were discussed, debated and defined with some good amount of data, maps and opinions. What really happened was always a variation of that plan based on the actual situation, flow of the stream, beauty of the lake, view of the valley, or difficulty of the climb.

This is true with prototyping – the idea is to have a rough idea of the goal, and then to see it when you get there. You can’t plan away the work of building or doing.

Once you start building , new ideas will come to you. You need to adapt to what is, not what you thought it would be.

What have you been planning that you need to get into action? Start on it today, let it be an imperfect version and see what you learn by doing.

Blog NOW!

When you have an idea what do you do? Where do you start? Why do you stop?

Bias toward action is a key principle of design thinking. You need to DO not THINK to be a design thinker.

Step 1: For instance – this blog. I decided to write it and then opened up Drafts on my ipad and started typing. I have enough blogging experience to know that it’s the posts, not the theme that makes a blog a blog.

Step 2: Once I had two of them written – I needed a place to post them. But I was just heading out on another trip. Good thing I had my phone in my car. I created the blog in the cab on the way to the airport.

Step 3: Drafts has a great feature of being able to do “actions” on what you type. So in about 30 seconds I had an action “Send to Design Thinking Life” which sends email to my blog as a post.

Step 4: Post. They were already written – all I had to do was send them while sitting in the lounge eating yogurt peanuts and individually wrapped cheese.

Step 5: Write another post. Realizing how much I use design thinking every day gives an endless set of topics for posting. So while I drink a complementary champagne from my upgrade to business seat – I will reflect on my bias toward action.

As my friend Bernie says – “all reasons are bullshit”, and once you know that – there is no reason not to start. Now!

What is your idea waiting for action?

GO DO IT!

Prototype Yourself

What do you do? What are you as a minimal viable product? How can you get that across in 30 seconds? In 3 minutes? In 30 minutes?

Personal branding has been a buzzy topic for several years now. As you move farther into the Information Age, working with others, collaborating, and communicating who you are and what you has become a critical business skill.

So, in some sense, we all have to sell ourselves to others. We have to sell others on our ideas. We need to get them on board.

As a consultant I need to let people know what I can do to make them more effective, more creative, more… something. And that means explaining to them how experiential activities feel.

The reason Prototyping is part of the design thinking process is that it gives the user a chance to experience the idea in a tangible way and give feedback. Using low-resolution prototyping can be a great way of explaining your idea or yourself.

So I use low resolution versions of what I do to introduce them in a real way. That can be a short user journey story, a quick exercise, or a small group interaction with a few people around a conference room table.

If you can develop low resolution ways to show your idea to others it can help them understand it an a deeper way and get them more engaged. That can make all the difference on getting them on board with you.

Give it a try, try again.

Office Ah Ha!

What is right under your nose? What are you overlooking? What does it take to open your eyes to it?

Looking at the world with beginners eyes sounds easy and is a lifelong pursuit. There are things hiding right in front of you all the time, and all it takes is a slight shift to see things differently.

For the past two years I have been teaching a creativity and innovation class where more than one class is spent looking at how space effects how we think and work.

  • If you set up rows of chairs, people come in, sit down, and wait for the entertainment to happen on stage.
  • If you setup small cafe tables and chairs, they will sit and start chatting.
  • If you have an open space with higher ceilings people generate bigger ideas.

Space matters.

For those same two years, I have had a home office. I moved into a new place and set up my desk, filing cabinets, bookshelves, etc. And I have been in there about 15 times. Where do I work? In my bedroom with vaulted ceilings and big windows that look out on the Pacific Ocean.

On day in class as I heard the words coming out of my mouth – “Don’t default to what space you are given, be intentional and set your space to what you need for the task” it hit me.

I don’t need a desk. I don’t need file cabinets in my “office”. I don’t need and office. I need a creativity chamber. I need a brainstorming parlor. I need open space and whiteboards on every vertical surface.

I saw my life through beginners eyes again to the real need.

So, now I have a new project to prototype and some office furniture to move.

What is sitting right in front of you that needs a new perspective? How will you change your viewpoint? Where can you reframe?