“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The fellow sitting next to me clearly had not agreed with my comments. We were at the Adobe Summer Institute, it was the wrap up session and I had asked a question which tested an underlying assumption. Apparently that was not a good thing to do. To me this phrase and this attitude is the very anathema of all that is creative and insightful. Being creative frequently means testing your most basic, fundamental baseline assumptions.
The value of this testing lies in the truths that the process can reveal. For example, you might use a classroom that appears to be attentive as a positive reference point. The trouble is, you are assuming attentive = learning. Experience shows that the equation does not always work. Beware, though, doing this testing is not easy. If you test these baseline assumptions then you may lose your reference points and that can leave you in what I call free fall. You have released yourself from the norm, and you cannot know where you will land. If you ask these questions you may discover that the products you create so carefully are irrelevant. You may learn, as did one of our clients, that your assumptions are blocking your view. One of our designers and I were sitting chatting with this client. He proceeded to describe a situation in his factory and then offered us three different options to solve the issue. Which of these, he asked, would we use? Here is the funny thing – neither Danny, the designer, nor I knew in advance that he was going to ask this question. We could not have rehearsed our answers, and so it was rather dramatic when we both, simultaneously, replied, “Don’t do any of these. Remove that step from the process – you don’t need it.” Two designers using design thinking and no assumptions led us both to this interpretation. It was not what our client had expected. His deep immersion in his processes had convinced him that there were no other interpretations available. We changed that, without even meaning to, and our client learned a valuable lesson. So- how does any of this relate to cutting the grass?
It is early spring time up here in southern Ontario – time to re-find the garage. That meant finding and moving the lawn mower… and that is what started my line of thought. Looking at this simple machine I wondered just how often do we take these activities and machines for granted. Do we ever ask if there could be a better way or do we just cut the grass? As I thought about that I recalled one situation in which the creators of a product had definitely not just cut the grass, and Flash CS4, their product, had become much stronger because of it.
It was at the 2008 Summer Institute and we were being shown a preview of Flash CS4. The Flash team leader was on stage demonstrating several new features. These were fabulous, powerful new features that took my breath away. The Flash team had challenged their baseline assumptions – about how a piece of software works and Flash CS4 had grown because of that. Flash CS4 is so much more accessible that teachers should now consider it when experiences with past versions may have suggested otherwise. But, what about that idea of testing your fundamental, baseline assumptions?
I see many applications for this thinking, especially in our school settings. Teaching can never be a problem with a single answer. Our students learn in so many different ways that we must always try to reach out to them using different approaches… but are our approaches really all that different? Use this testing to see if your “different ways” are different and to see if they actually work. The answers may require you to revisit some very basic beliefs. Read on in THINKING Pt.2 – Storyboards? Sort of… for those answers and more.