Using Design Thinking to Disrupt for Good

As defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, to disrupt is to interrupt the normal course or unity, and in the case of One Stone, an innovative high school in the heart of Boise with a mission of “making students better leaders and the world a better place,” it was illustrated through their first of two yearly Disruption Days.

With a commitment to student ownership and emphasis on the power of voice, the student MCs started the evening with a passionate description of this culminating celebration of a 9-week application of the schools design thinking process through measurable impact on their community. With intentional correlation to Stanford University’s D School, student teams navigate the process in D Labs armed with support from a talented staff and their “map,” One Stone’s BLOB (Bold Learning Objectives). Intentional student centered approach was also communicated through the differentiation for  their “Year One’s” and “Year Two’s.” First year One Stone students focused on “1,000 steps” which was elegantly translated by a a first year student as a focus on “helping our community first.” By exploring impact opportunities with 1,000 steps from their innovative school building, the stage is set to embrace that initial interaction with design thinking and provide valuable insight into their community as they progress. Year twos, as expected, continue their progression and scope of impact to tackle initiatives that embrace transhumanism or, as described by one One Stone student, “bettering the human experience.”

Presentation after presentation, 16 in total, I listened and learned as students shared their outcomes with highlights at each stage of their design thinking process. While shared importance rang through with each phase of the design process, each group truly came to life as they described their initial findings in a mindset of empathy for each user (community partner). Making correlations to their own life or highlighting new insights that were not possessed prior to the D Lab process, every group presented undeniable value in walking through the shoes and seeing through the eyes of another. This foundation of empathy is transparent at One Stone, and articulated by students in a way that triggered emotional connections to many projects that prompted non-mandated continuation well beyond this initial opportunity.

In the lead up to the event, I had the opportunity to listen to practice presentations and speak with One Stone students about the process. I noted highlights of deep student reflection on not only new learning, but insights in the process and collaborative growth as students who have embraced One Stone and its purpose-driven staff as family. In multiple groups, there were experienced D Lab students (second year at One Stone) and students who were completing the process for the first time. Students shared growth as partners in learning and discussed already established goals of how they would continue to support each other during the next round later this year.

From working with the city to support remedies for homelessness to solving increased access for individuals with a variety of disabilities and impairments for the Idaho Botanical Garden, students approached each challenge with a mindset of solution and heart for the people that they were excited to serve. Tackling homelessness and app development motivated by the perils of texting while driving, disruption day was an innovative night of celebration.

In one presentation from a group that worked with the Idaho Botanical Garden to support individuals with a visual impairments to increase access to the public garden, students shared their process of defining the problem with photos of their experiment of walking through the garden blindfolded. As they presented their reflections, it was evident that they were “not designing for the user, but with the user.”

“Being blindfolded was an mind opening experience.”

At this point, I would imagine you are brainstorming where to start and my gift would be relaying insights from these students in providing you with a couple of non-negotiables.

  • Support students as they truly embrace their community and allow them the autonomy to define their role in developing and more importantly, implementing change within it.
  • Have the confidence to learn with students as they grapple with design thinking. The D School resources page is a great starting point.
  • Celebrate the human elements of design thinking with emphasis on the power of empathy.
  • Be fearless in unleashing student resilience upon their local and global world, guiding and applauding them as they “fail fast to fail forward.”

Design thinking and its ability to arm our youth with a solution mindset will define the future of work, learning and life. Whether emphasis is on the art or science of the various approaches, we must land on consensus that learners of all ages will benefit from the ability to embrace their community and our world as the starting point.

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Adam Kulaas

Adam is a learning design consultant. He focuses on capacity building and is known for his work in coaching, learning design and leadership development.

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