1. October 25, 2014
    A co-creation illustration by Stine Degnegaard rests on the whiteboard wall in Huddle Room 3 at the d.school.

    A co-creation illustration by Stine Degnegaard rests on the whiteboard wall in Huddle Room 3 at the d.school.

    I’m smack in the middle of process – or, at least, I think I am. It’s hard to tell sometimes. This past week, I was able to find a little clarity and a few, fascinating insights.

    Co-creation expert and INITIATIVES co-founder and partner Stine Degnegaard visited the d.school this week. Stine, like Aaron Huey, is a Global Ambassador for the d.school fellows program. She is also a PhD Fellow at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design.

    Now, if you remember last year’s fellows, you know this isn’t the first time Stine has been to the d.school. She spent days working with last year’s cohort to help them bring clarity to their projects through the process of co-creation. Continue Reading

  2. October 24, 2014

    I took a moment to chat with Dr. Helen Fisher today at PopTech: Rebellion, here in Maine. The conversation went in a number of different directions — from art and design to the nature of our biology — but I was most taken with her position on The Golden Rule. As you probably know, The Golden Rule goes like this, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    Well, that doesn’t work for Dr. Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Match.com. She gave me her take on The Golden Rule:

    “Treat others as they would have done unto themselves. Understand who they are, and give them what they need in the way they can hear it.”

    If that doesn’t sound oddly familiar, perhaps it should. It’s basically empathy work. Know what others are feeling, ascertain their needs and meet them. So, in design, as in love, placing others first will rarely steer you wrong.

  3. October 23, 2014

    So, I love to write, particularly quickly and in short bits. But writing isn’t a practice everyone finds valuable. Why write when you can make an object or simply be out and about? So, I was struck by the quote, above, from Maria Popova: “Writing is a record of my own becoming.”

    Now, for others, it may not be writing. It may be photography, or audio recordings or a series of artifacts or objects. As we explore points of access to innovators’ work in progress and new ways of exchanging learnings and insights from that process, this is something I am trying to keep in mind.

    If writing isn’t your method of recording your becoming or — better yet your being — what is?

  4. October 23, 2014

    Alec Ross recited this quote during his talk at PopTech today:

    Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
    Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

    Theodore Roosevelt (The LIbrary of Congress)
    Theodore Roosevelt (The Library of Congress)

    When did you last “dare mighty things”? Ross, the former Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recited the quote in reference to public servants and our foreign policy. So important was this quote to him, he recited it twice.

    It prompted me to look back and try to find the last time I dared a “mighty” thing. I realized that I didn’t do it often enough — at least not enough as I would like. Yet, it was also what I seek to have innovators do in being open (if not entirely transparent) with their process. It’s also what we call on our students to do in their application of design thinking.

    Try something.

    Make something.


    Try again.

    Dare more mighty things.

  5. October 23, 2014
    Joi Ito (left) and John Maeda at PopTech on Thurs., Oct. 23. (Emi Kolawole)

    Joi Ito (left) and John Maeda at PopTech on Thurs., Oct. 23. (Emi Kolawole)

    “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
    - Thomas Jefferson to James Madison in Paris Jan, 30 1887. 

    The Nor’easter tearing through Camden is waging a rebellion all its own against my warm, dry California senses, and, in doing so, serves as a fitting backdrop to this year’s PopTech conference. The theme this year is Rebellion and the host is John Maeda. John is the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design and currently a design partner at the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

    The theme of rebellion ties deeply with the work I’m trying to do, not to mention the underlying ethos of the d.school. Continue Reading

  6. October 17, 2014


    The following sentence is an understatement: Aaron Huey is a photographer.

    Aaron is a designer, storyteller, explorer, entrepreneur, activist, author and maker — and those are only a few of the hats he wears. In addition to his award-winning work for National Geographic, The New Yorker, Smithsonian and The New York Times, among other publications, Aaron is an alumni of the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford and is currently a Global Ambassador of the d.school fellowship program. For seven years, he photographed the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, transitioning from objective observer to activist, which led to his collaboration with street artist Shepard Fairey and the launch of the Honor the Treaties campaign.

    Aaron visited the d.school this week to speak with the d.school fellows about his work, the power of visual storytelling and the new developments for those who seek to reach out and have impact. I had a chance to catch up with him afterwards and ask a few questions about his daily process and professional evolution. Continue Reading

  7. October 16, 2014

    Learning to do a backflip on a BMX bike is a lot like launching a new product or service. You’ve got to continue to do things you can already do well, and you’ll have to do some things you (and maybe no one) has ever done before.  That’s scary territory. If you mess up, the implications are serious.

    But the BMX community has developed a way to prototype a BMX backflip (and countless other tricks) in a way that minimizes their chance of injury and is leading to rapid changes in the evolution of that sport. The innovation is called a tramp bike. It’s a “bike” that’s completely non-functioning (no chain, wheels, pedal, brakes, etc.), except when combined with a trampoline; at that point, it becomes a brilliant tool for prototyping risky tricks.

    So, what can we learn from these prototyping geniuses? Let’s break it down into 5 key lessons.

    1. Deconstruct the challenge
    Continue Reading

  8. October 9, 2014

    I built a prototype tonight. It’s quick, dirty, to the point, and, quite frankly, I think it’s going to fail completely. But I want to know why.

    One of the persistent challenges at the d.school is getting individuals to share the stories of their learning. They’re too busy doing to share. So, I continue to test new ways to mine for these golden nuggets. My latest effort is a short, sweet Google form. It consists of four fields: Name, date, a call for one insight and another call for one wish. The prompts for the last two fields are “I was surprised to learn…” and “It would be incredible if…”.

    So, who am I testing with. I sent the form to one fellow (rather than blasting it to all of the fellows at once) to get a response and and iterate from there. Continue Reading

  9. October 9, 2014
    Brandenburg Gate at night. (Emi Kolawole)

    Brandenburg Gate at night. (Emi Kolawole)

    Berlin-Tegel Airport is humming at 5:45AM. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong (visit Marché, should you ever find yourself at Gate D72). The rocket fuel helps me to clarify the last 72 hours, which have taken me from San Francisco to Paris, from Paris to Berlin and now back to Paris.

    I have a very good reason to be in Paris. The French-American Foundation has a remarkable Young Leaders program, which makes possible a regular cultural exchange between French and American professionals over the course of two years. I was fortunate enough to be named a Young Leader in 2014, making me eligible to take part in this year’s gathering in Paris and Bordeaux.

    I decided, however, that while I was here, I should take care of some other important business: experiencing Berlin after having heard much of its startup energy and its continued emergence nearly 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, I arrived very close to the Nov. 9 anniversary of the fall. While I took some time to reflect on the important and difficult history of the city and visit its key landmarks, I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t there just to look back. Rather, I was there to see glimpses of Berlin’s future and places where design thinking’s seeds had been planted and started to take root.

    The entrance to the Creation Center in Berlin at The Telekom Innovation Center. (Emi Kolawole)

    The entrance to the Creation Center in Berlin at The Telekom Innovation Center. (Emi Kolawole)

    I stayed in Potsdamer Platz between Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburg Gate, but I found the sparks I was looking for at the Telekom Innovation Arena in Winterfeldstraße, specifically I went to visit the Creation Center there. I walked into the bright, open space and immediately felt at home. There were toys, objects the team used to help inspire those new to design thinking to reach new prototype ideas. There were lamps adorned with pink sticky notes, and multi-level seating and wide-open tables. But, most importantly, there was evidence of strong storytelling and methods that I hadn’t yet tried to employ, including flip books and card boxes to help distill process and outcome on a project. Continue Reading

  10. October 2, 2014
    The cover of the worksheet we had fellows from four separate Stanford programs work on during an introductory design thinking workshop. (Emi Kolawole / Photo by Flickr user muffinn)

    The cover of the worksheet we had fellows from four separate Stanford programs work on during an introductory design thinking workshop. (Emi Kolawole / Photo by Flickr user muffinn)

    One of many challenges in teaching design thinking can be finding ways to make the methods relevant to students’ everyday lives. It’s one thing to design an object or experience for a partner you may have just met, it’s another to apply the process to a project with which you are intimately familiar.

    In a previous post, I mentioned that Justin Ferrell (our director of fellowships), Ashish Goel (d.school teaching fellow) and I put together a worksheet for professional fellows at Stanford, including the Knight, Biodesign, CERC and d.school fellows. For many of the fellows, the workshop we conducted served as an introduction to design thinking. But, based on previous experience, Justin realized that the engagement needed to be more than just a simple introductory design project or bootcamp. It had to be designed, if you will, for the attendees — a group of professionals who, in many cases, had uprooted their lives to come to Stanford, learn a variety of new skills and methods and bring that learning back to their professional organizations.

    They needed a bridge between a basic understanding of the process and the potential for its application in their work. So, what could such a custom introduction to design thinking look like? Continue Reading