How we deliberately screwed up design thinking and why it was a good idea

We have just finished a design thinking workshop on the transition from school to employment. The “screw up” part wasn’t the plan when we first started our preparations. It became one only a few days before the workshop… And it worked really well.

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For the last seven months, we’ve been working together with my colleagues at Pracownia Miejska on a model of urban foresight for medium cities. We’ve been testing it in Konin, a post-industrial city in central Poland with the highest unemployment rate in the Greater Poland voivodeship. Almost a third of the unemployed here are people younger than 35.

A month ago, the headmistress at one of the local high-schools (who is also an expert in our project) shared some comments on Facebook on how our system of education is set up to fail. We met a couple of days later and decided we want to look for solutions that would work, even if only locally. I suggested we use design thinking, and we took it from there.

Short into the recruitment process, we realised it will be fairly easy to find representatives of all different groups shaping a student’s path from school to work except for… students themselves. Summer, what can I say. The choice was simple: move the workshop to September or set it up to fail. I decided to do the latter.

We’ve just finished a two-day workshop with a fantastic group of teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs, city officials and interns. We carefully went step by step through the design thinking process, except we did so treating ourselves as the target group (you know, the way it’s usually done). Why? Because knowing that I can do the same workshop with the same group again in September, I wanted them to arrive at solutions that they will then confront with the ones they design in a bit more than a month – this time though, working closely with the young. 

Was it a good idea? We’ll know for sure in September, but having seen the prototypes we ended up with, I have a hunch that learning the contrast between the results of two seemingly identical workshops will be way more memorable and thought-provoking than a single, stand-alone design thinking workshop. I’ll surely keep you posted on how it all went in the end.

Have your design thinking workshops ever failed? What have you learnt from it?



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