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by Mercedes de Miranda

Inquiry questions, open questions, creative questions, closed questions, leading questions. We were questioning “questioning” at our family dinner table a few weeks ago. Sabrina, our 8th grade daughter, was telling us that she had been working on inquiry questions at school. Being a typical teenager, she was questioning why it is useful to spend hours doing this. We were curious to know what these inquiry questions were exactly and how you formulate a good one, to give an “appropriate parental response”. Our questions led to a discussion about the “art of questioning”. Later that night I was thinking how lucky Sabrina is that she is already learning about and – even better yet – using questioning skills in various classes in Middle School.

We had just had this conversation, when Christen Wilson, Head of Advancement, Marketing & Communications at The Magellan International School, asked me if I would write a blog post for the school about “the skills that our school builds, particularly those that will be integrated through Design Thinking processes and preparation for continued studies, life and career.” I was happy to do so because I think it is great that the school is incorporating Design Thinking, both in their way of working and in the educational program for their students.

Our children will be faced with a world that is more rapidly changing than the world we started our adult life in. Our world is already full of large challenges and our children will likely be faced with even larger ones. It is an advantage for children to be introduced to Design Thinking, a powerful process to solve complex problems, at a young age. They will learn how to be innovative, and they will build confidence in their creative problem solving abilities. Experienced Design Thinkers are also open-minded, have a growth mindset, are empathetic and have well-developed thinking skills. I believe these skills and their creative abilities will make our children more resilient and enable them to thrive as adults both in their professional careers and personal lives. And not unimportantly, Design Thinking is fun and can intensify excitement and engagement with school and learning.

Why Are Innovation & Creative Abilities So Important?

Innovation has been a hot topic in the business world in recent years and it will continue to be top of the list of business concerns. With the speed of technological developments, the fast amount of information and tools at our disposal, the introduction of more and more artificial intelligence in our daily life and globalization, companies will continually be asked to innovate to remain relevant in their markets.

Equally pressing us to be innovative are the number of world-wide challenges we face to preserve our planet and natural resources and to provide our ever-increasing world population with opportunities to live safely, be healthy and have a meaningful life.

Already now, knowledge and information is available everywhere and continuously at our disposal. Access to information and knowledge is no longer the strategic strength it once was. It is increasingly more valuable for companies and individuals to be able to use information, knowledge and artificial intelligence effectively to solve problems, innovate and improve lives, workplaces and ultimately create a better world.

Skill Building Through Design Thinking: Creativity, A Growth Mindset and More

Through my work as Endeavor Coach at THNK School of Creative Leadership, I have had personal experience seeing how innovation leadership can have a positive impact in your life. I have noticed it in myself and have seen it in the participants at the school. THNK has developed an innovation approach that is based on Design Thinking. At THNK adults are supported to become better creative leaders by working both on their personal creative leadership development and learning innovation techniques, approaches and methods through a real-life global innovation challenge

Design Thinking can help everyone to be more creative and innovative. Through its practice, we all can create something useful, and it stimulates the development of a growth mindset. Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the concept of a Growth Mindset.

According to Dweck, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

By being exposed to Design Thinking at such an early age, our children will playfully experience the creativity that is in all of us. It is not something that just artists do; we all can be creative. And our children will see that creativity is useful not only when you make art, but also when you are trying to solve everyday problems. Design Thinking helps us to find and use our creativity.

Creativity is also a skill that is developed through practice. You cannot just read about it or learn it by watching YouTube videos. Therefore, it is wonderful that we now have a maker lab at the school where the children can prototype or build some of their solutions.

There are many other skills you can develop through Design Thinking. Understanding people, questioning, divergent and convergent thinking, working in teams – just to name a few. Design thinkers develop useful traits like being open-minded and empathetic and they learn not be afraid to fail, but to rather see failure as an opportunity to learn.

Understanding People, Developing Empathy

Design Thinking is a human centered approach, meaning it starts with people and solutions are tailor-made to their needs. It requires that you truly understand your users, and design a personal and specific solution. One must adapt to and understand the habits, preferences, beliefs, activities, etc. of the users. You examine how they function, what choices they make, how they live and work and discover what they really strive for or need. By learning to take the perspective of the user, our children will develop more empathy and compassion.

The Art of Questioning

At the dinner, Sabrina explained to us that inquiry questions are used to shape the content of what her class will learn this trimester. She has used these types of questions a lot in science to set up her research projects – they need to be open ended enough to require research and that often includes a comparison between things to be effective.

We compared the inquiry questions to the creative questions used at THNK. At THNK formulating a creative question is used in the beginning of the innovation process on a challenge. A creative question helps to guide the work of the team. It is broad enough to stimulate deep examination of the topic or problem area to allow for multiple solution directions but narrow and challenging enough to address the specific problem.

Just as Magellan students, THNK participants spend significant hours formulating their question. Formulating questions requires you to dive into your topic and it helps you find your personal connection to and fascination with the topic. Having a personal connection is what makes you more eager and determined to develop a good solution. It means “finding out why you care”.

In the book The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly sees questioning as “one of the larger forces that will completely revolutionize the way we work, play, learn, buy and communicate with one another.” He writes that in the future with all data, information and knowledge on intelligent machines, almost all questions can be answered inexpensively. The challenge and the task that computers will likely be able to perform last is asking a good question. A good question is not concerned with the correct answer but one that challenges existing answers, creates new territories of thinking, and that can be a probe, a what-if scenario. He states that in the future: “Question Makers will be seen, properly, as the engines that create the new fields, new industries, new brands, new possibilities, new continents that our restless species can explore.”

Being Open-minded

Questioning the status quo is an important start of the Design Thinking process. It guides how you look at a problem. Years ago, as I began my career as a consultant we approached each problem by starting with a hypothesis, by formulating possible solutions and assumptions. During the project, we would explore how to challenge or find facts to support the assumptions and our solutions.

In contrast, the Design Thinking process begins more openly and with a broad survey of the topic, before you start honing in and formulating, testing and prototyping your solutions. Given the fact that our current world problems are very complex, often interconnected, with diverse stakeholders and often on a global scale, it is increasingly more important to have a more human centered, integral, broad approach to problem solving.

Examining a situation broadly requires us to be open-minded: willing to hear other’s ideas and challenge our own assumptions, able to examine our own biases and curious to try new things.

Working in Teams – Being a Team Player

The Design Thinking process works best in teams as the process requires multiple viewpoints. A diverse team will yield new and better ideas and solutions. Design Thinkers know this. They have learned that diverse teams enable the creative process. And diversity must be represented in many ways: background, knowledge, expertise, interests, preferred way of working (structured and unstructured), way of thinking (convergent and divergent), personality types, etc. Working in a team encourages us to be good communicators and to help each other to succeed.

Working in teams allows us to learn how to deal with tension and experience how disagreements can lead to even better solutions. It also exposes our students to situations where teams flourish and more importantly to situations where a team struggles or fails. Learning what you can do to make the team work better is invaluable both at school, at work and at home.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking

At the end of the exploratory phase (which mostly makes use of divergent thinking) the team must transition to convergent thinking and produce an initial creative question or problem statement to drive the next phases. They synthesize the information from their broad exploration and look for patterns, trends and insights. This then initiates ideation, the process of generating multiple solutions.

Ideation often uses various types of brainstorming techniques to facilitate out of the box thinking. Ultimately, the team converges on a few solutions or part of solutions. At this point the team makes assumptions and choices based on their learning and good convergent thinking skills become essential. These choices, assumptions and solution(s) will be tested and prototyped in the next phase.

Most of us have a preferred way of thinking, but is ideal to be functional in both methods and to be aware of your preferences when you select teammates.

Failing is an Opportunity to Learn

In the prototyping and testing phase of the process, the team designs tests and produces a prototype of the solution. The prototype is tested with actual end users. By prototyping and testing, the team learns what works well and what does not. What does not work is as important as what does. It is not bad if the prototype fails as it provides opportunity to learn what needs to be changed or improved. Design Thinking requires various process cycles that lead to a final solution that solves the user’s problem and gives them what they need. In business nowadays this is a proven process; you don’t over engineer solutions but start with a good prototype and improve it in the design process with input from real users.

The prototyping and testing processes teach us that it is ok to fail. It is better to fail small and learn from it then to fail big. Even worse are situations where the team does nothing because it is afraid to fail big.

Children by nature are risk takers, they try and fail, get up and they try again. Design Thinking will help them to hold on to this trait and use it to their benefit through life and career.

Playfulness

Children love playing. Design Thinking is also a fun process. It allows and requires a bit of playful, childlike exploration to work well. Our kids will learn and play at the same time and that is a very powerful combination.

Design Thinkers use playing games – icebreakers, improvisation and eye-openers – during the creative process. It helps to look differently at things, it creates a pleasant, fun atmosphere, and it helps team members talk and get to know each other. It often helps us to get out of our thinking mind and use our intuition more, and it stimulates divergent thinking. Playfulness makes Design Thinking enjoyable and entertaining. The process has phases but in each phase you can use a variety of approaches and it is never boring. You are encouraged to try out new things.

I think your kids will love it. Sabrina has been with me to THNK a couple of times and she always wanted to return because she wanted to go and make something! And THNK does not even have such a great maker’s lab as Magellan.

Design Thinking and the IB Learner Profile

We don’t know what the world will look like in 10 years or so and what particular challenges and opportunities our kids will be facing. The best we can do as parents and teachers is to help them develop a growth mindset, a strong belief in their own creativity and abilities to learn and solve problems and opportunities to work on skills that will be useful no matter the circumstances.

Magellan is already doing this with the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Here you will see an image of the IB Profile Attributes. As you can see most of the traits that IB aims to develop in the students are skills required to be a good Design Thinker. By adding Design Thinking processes and opportunities to the curriculum, they are enriching the program with more opportunities for our kids to acquire that profile.

Our children may not fully understand the implications of the type of learning at Magellan, but the process and way of thinking and creating will be natural to them, even a habit. They will not think about them much, but just put them to use.

Some day, when they are older, they will realize that their skills and mindset are a major asset. They will realize how fortunate they are that they were able to acquire these traits and they will hopefully thank us – parents and teachers – for having made that possible.

Mercedes de Miranda is an Endeavor Coach at THNK School of Creative Leadership, a school dedicated to “develop and support creative leaders around the world to find new solutions and opportunities to address the world’s most persistent social challenges.” Her daughter, Sabrina, is a student in 8th grade at The Magellan International School.

To learn more about The Magellan International School – an International Baccalaureate World School with Spanish immersion and Design + Making enrichment serving students ages 3 through 8th grade – visit www.magellanschool.org.

Sources:
THNK School of Creative Leadership, https://www.thnk.org/
Change by Design, How Design Thinking transforms organizations and inspires Innovation by Tim Brown with Barry Katz
The Inevitable, Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future by Kevin Kelly
Creative Confidence, Unleashing the creative potential within us all by Tom Kelley and David Kelley


Also published on Medium.