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Maureen Carroll

27th of September 2015, 1 comment, category: Innovation Leaders

by Maria Serra, Onclaude Founder

Maureen Carroll, founder of Lime Design and lecturer at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), explains why the Design Thinking approach can be challenging in a fast-paced solution-driven environment, how it changes the way an organization "works, thinks and breathes" and what it takes to make it really work in the corporate as well as in the education sectors. Individuals have to begin using design thinking, she says, and their efforts have to be both supported and championed within their organization. 

1 You've brought Design Thinking culture to the business world as well as to public and private schools. What are the challenges in implementing a design-driven approach to innovation at a large scale?

Adopting design thinking changes the way an organization works, thinks and breathes. Developing a design-driven approach to innovation is about culture change; developing empathy, I believe, is an essential first step in that journey. The greatest challenge for an organization is what happens after the introductory workshop. Individuals have to begin using design thinking, and their efforts have to be both supported and championed. Your first goal as a design thinker is to gain empathy for the people you are designing solutions for. You do this through ethnographic interviewing and observation. We always use the phrase “lingering in ambiguity for longer than you are comfortable with” because the key to design thinking is to make sure you are solving the right problem. This takes time. It often feels frustrating, and can be a challenge in a fast-paced solution-driven environment. You have to take the time to analyze and synthesize your data using tools like Empathy Maps and Point of View Statements that help you discover insights about unarticulated user needs. Ultimately, you want to design the best human-centered solution. Prioritizing the time to do the real work of design thinking is essential to the success of large-scale innovation efforts.

2 Reframing failure as a learning experience is key in Design Thinking. How do you manage to encourage people to change their mindset? 

 One of the most important parts of design thinking is a willingness to adopt a prototyping mindset. This means taking risks, trying things, and learning from what doesn’t work. We encourage people to embrace making mistakes because that is how you learn. The focus is not on a failure to execute; what’s important is learning from the failure. This way of thinking complements Carol Dweck’s notion of a growth mindset

We have different ways of encouraging the idea of reframing failure as a learning experience. In our workshops, you are immersed in a design challenge and that is how you learn the process. The rhythm is modeling (we do), trying (you do), reflecting (you do) and applying (we support you). In a first-time design thinking experience, we intentionally choose a challenge that is not directly related to the organization because we want the stakes to be low, and the learning to be paramount. We want people to be comfortable with this new way of thinking and we support them as they take the risk of learning something new. 

We also use techniques from improvisation to have people experience the mindset of failure. We embed improv exercises so people have a visceral and emotional connection to an idea or concept rather than simply talking about how important it is to learn from failure. I strongly believe that experiential learning and reflection are critical to learning the mindsets of the design thinking process. Being increasingly comfortable with failure is a part of continually growing as a design thinker  

3 Do people in the corporate and educational world react differently to such a challenge?

Design thinking is about creating a culture of sustainable innovation. I have found that people in the corporate and educational world do not react differently as they are learning design thinking. However, they have different goals. It is important for businesses to have empathy for their customers so that they can design products, services and strategies to meet their needs. In schools, the student is the end user and creating a meaningful learning experience is the goal. Both corporate cultures and education cultures have big, messy, complex problems with lots of moving parts. Adopting a design thinking approach provides a scaffold to solve problems in human-centered, innovative ways. Two important things happen after people have experienced a design thinking workshop. First, everyone shares a common language around innovation. For example, they know “this is how we brainstorm” or what it means “to build a prototype.” The second is that, with that knowledge, people begin to look all around them for opportunities to innovate. The application of design thinking allows a culture to constantly stretch, change, and grow.   

4 With Stanford REDlab you've worked at including Design Thinking in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum. How can the Humanities contribute to shape the minds of future innovators?

 We believe it is important to teach students to use design thinking because it provides them with an approach and tools to change the world. At REDlab, our Stanford University students become mentors to middle schoolers in a weekly afterschool program. The goal is to integrate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics and design thinking. Through this integration, we are able to focus on the powerful role of empathy in learning. For example, students learn about physics by designing a simple machine for a person who is in a wheelchair. They learn about structure and shelter within the context of learning about the problems of refugees. They are always designing solutions for a person and this humanizes the learning. I often think of the creativity in design thinking as the “A” in STEAM learning. I believe that the true measure of a 21st century lifelong learner and innovator is to be able to think broadly across disciplines. Design thinking provides a tool to do so in diverse and powerful ways.  


Maureen Carroll, Ph.D., is a Founder of Lime Design  and a lecturer at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) where she co-teaches Creativity & Innovation and leads the quarterly K12Lab Network introductory design thinking workshops. She is also a lecturer in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, where she co-teaches Educating Young STEM Thinkers - a course that integrates design thinking  and STEM. She is the director of Stanford University’s REDlab which conducts research on the intersection of design thinking and learning, and has a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in Education: Language, Literacy and Culture. Carroll's latest project is Serendipity Studio: Creative Leadership Through the Arts which brings together the world of business and the world of artists. The pilot launched at San Francisco Design Week  in June, 2015, and will be hosted throughout the United States in a variety of venues.

Graphic capture of Maureen Carroll "10 Ways to Know You Are Becoming a Design Thinker" by artist Andrew Merit. 

More tips from Maureen here: 5 Reasons Why Design Thinking is Good for Organizations.

You might also be interested in checking REDlab curriculum, which provides an integrated approach to building STEM knowledge and skills.

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Dr. Paola Fiore ETICAMBIENTE® almost 2 years ago

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Great story Maria! Thank you very much for sharing it with us!:-)