This year for me was about finding myself, learning about my strengths and weaknesses, and taking every opportunity and risk (Alieron, 2013) I can to get inspired for my future endeavours and meeting new people. Thus, I can say that by starting this masters my goal was to improve my career prospects, and our class ‘Design-Thinking for Startups’ supported me while I was working towards this goal. Since September 2016, we attended many classes that guided us in our journey to create, pitch (a lot of pitching) and sell a product through Design-Thinking processes. This journey with my team Univeau had its ups and downs (but mostly ups) and finally we fulfilled our objectives and achieved our goal, which was the final business report. But actually the journey was what made all the difference in my life. So what did I learn? Now, it is time for a reflection.
Theory and Tools
In our Design-Thinking classes while we were engaging in practical activities, we always had a theoretical framework that was the basis of our understanding and the driver of our actions. In this section I would like to explore these different framework which consist of Dorst’s theoretical explanation, D.school’s view on Design Thinking and the Lean Startup Creation Process Diagram.
According to Dorst (2011), initially, it is important to understand that design practices have been developed to answer a certain need, in other words, to solve a problem. To get to the core of Design-Thinking Dorst takes different settings of problem-solving and distinguishes them into to problem solving types, of which one is ‘analytical’ the other is ‘productive’.
Analytical Problem Solving is used within science to form hypotheses and safely predict results. It helps researchers explain (Deduction) and predict (Induction) phenomena in the world. On the other hand, Productive Problem Solving is used to create value (not a ‘fact’) for others by designers and other creative professions. In Productive Problem Solving, the first equation is Abduction 1, where designers try to find a solution (What: product or a service) to create value while knowing how they are going to do it. On the other hand, Abduction 2, where the ‘how’ is not known, challenges organisations or people to seek new approaches to find solutions. Abduction 2 is the focus of Design-Thinking.
The theoretical story doesn’t end here. To respond to this challenge of Abduction 2, ‘framing’ has to be done, which is our standpoint that facilitates the process of finding a ‘working principle’ to create a value. We do framing by using the equations above, but going backwards by starting from our only known principle which is the ‘value’ in the Abduction 2 equation. So first we do Induction to find the ‘how’, and when we find the ‘how’, we then do Abduction 1 to find the ‘what’. Ta da!
Just to clarify, I will give an example by using an activity we did in the induction week. Our task was to create a prototype of a service or a product, but we had no idea what, so we went out to talk to people about their problems, choose one of the problems and frame it in a way that would help us solve the problem. We used an empathy map to understand the people we were talking to, which looks like this.
After talking to them about their problems each one of us came back with this map and after discussing the problems in class, we chose 4 problems and formed groups around them. The problem my group was working on was to create something that would help Kingston University international students feel like home. We framed this through finding the ‘how’. To do this we did the following: we thought that international students miss home and since we couldn’t bring their families to Kingston, we thought that doing something related to their traditional food, that would be cooked in their home in their country would make give them the feeling of home. Therefore after doing a lot of brainstorming with our how and knowing the value we wanted to create (Abduction 1), we decided to create an app where the parents of students can connect to and submit recipes to restaurants and then students can connect to this app and order the food prepared by the restaurant to their home, and here’s the prototype we did.
It is important to see that Abduction 2 is at the core Design-Thinking processes which are Empathizing, Defining, Ideating, Prototyping and Testing. We were engaged in these activities to create our product, which became Untangled.
Basing on these processes we went through the Lean Startup Creation processes to build our business. It was interesting to see the traditional new product development processes that was shown in class as a comparison to the Lean Startup Creation processes.
Keep Calm and Just Do It
Upon reflection, I can say that this year taught me to keep calm deal with my worries and stressful moments through acting on them and sometimes going with the flow. Frankly, my biggest weakness is that I freak out easily. I think really fast and think about all of the things I want to do in one go, so I feel like it is impossible to achieve and this negatively affects my productivity. This has happened so many times when I got stressed about an assignment or work that I couldn’t really do anything. After living through similar situations, I realised that our worries don’t lead us anywhere and they just block the thought process. According to an article on Harvard Business Review, when faced with a problem, people with a positive mindset perform better (Achor, 2012). But how do we stop worrying? According to Mark Manson (2011), it’s about starting with a small step, and just doing it. Because if you procrastinate, it will be harder to find the motivation and the inspiration you are looking for. I think this learning will help me with all of the challenges I will face in life.
Your Team Matters
In the Young Enterprise Celebration Event, at the end of our Design-Thinking classes, one of the industry professionals said that when an investor would evaluate a startup, while deciding to invest in them or not, the most important thing they would look at would be: the team. I heard the same in TrueStart, a London-based investment hub, that team was more important than idea. And lastly, in our visit to Silicon Valley, when Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, was telling us about his journey to founding Reddit, he said that even though their first idea (which wasn’t Reddit) was turned down by the investors, the investor called them and wanted to invest in their next idea (which became Reddit) because the investor liked him and his friend. Why did I tell you all of this? Because I think Univeau, made up of Lulu, Luka, Nora and I was a great team. We took advantage of our diverse cultural backgrounds, skills and personalities and worked hard to achieve our objectives one by one. How did we do this? First, we trusted each other. According to Alison Coward (2015), the problems that arise in teams comes down to trust. We achieved trust by getting to know each other and spending time outside class. Second, we communicated well, especially by having an open environment (Catmull and Wallace, 2014) where everybody could say what they wanted. And when we realised we haven’t been communicating well, we decided to have a meeting where we just talked about what we thought was going wrong, and what we didn’t like seeing in each other’s behaviours. This meeting made our friendship stronger and our teamwork more efficient, because we understood why we were behaving in certain ways that decreased our productivity and efficiency. Working in teams, have enhanced my goal of improving my career prospects by helping me develop my teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills.
Fail Fast, Learn and Move on
Failing fast was one of the reoccurring sayings in our Design-Thinking classes. But what does it mean fail fast? Here’s what it means: test your idea, test your prototype, test your minimum viable product and test your product with possible users. According to Eric Ries (2011) the author of Lean Start-Up, if you cannot fail, you cannot learn. Therefore, every time you fail, you learn and this opens doors for you, new possibilities, new opportunities, new pathways. Here’s what happened with Univeau, we had this idea of a bag organiser that could fit in different bags, solving the problems of not finding your items in your bag, or after changing bags forgetting items in the previous bags. We asked people if they liked the idea, some did, some didn’t. When it came to pitching our product, the judges found it hard to understand our product because even though our prototype looked nice, it was hard to produce. After talking to some tailors in Kingston, we realised it would be expensive to produce and the product wasn’t as practical as we thought it would be, since fitting the product in different bags would be really challenging. We learned that the ease of the production process mattered, which led us to pivoting. After some brainstorming we thought of a card holder, Untangled, where headphones could be wrapped around, solving the problems of difficulty in access to Oyster card and tangled headphones.
Another time, when we were showcasing our products in the First Trade Fair in Kingston Business School, as our display, we created a big poster and stuck it on the wall with (a lot of) tape, which didn’t look as great as we had expected. After getting feedback from judges, we improved our display in the next trade fair in Bright Ideas competition. As Tom and David Kelley (2014, p.51) said in their book Creative Confidence: “You have to figure out what went wrong and what to do better next time. If you don’t you’re liable to repeat your errors in the future.” We also learned that even though winning sounds great, it is not about winning, it is more about experiences and what you get out of them. These learnings I believe have been really beneficial for me and will be very useful in the future.
Know Your Purpose
I realised that life is all about purpose and to have purpose you have to know what you want, in other words your strategy. If you are doing things just for the sake of it, then you will get things that you didn’t really wish for. I think in our Untangled social media account even though we had nice photos of our product and users, we didn’t have a certain strategy and had a hard time reaching our target audience. I think we practiced “provide and pray” (Bradley and McDonald, 2011) which didn’t really help. The term “provide and pray” means having a social media account, and praying for a community to form and interact. Many 3D printing companies commented on our posts, but our main target market, commuter students weren’t really reached because there wasn’t a commuting society group on Facebook and finding them out of all the students in Kingston was really difficult. As Craig and Snook (2014) point out we should have envisioned our impact as a result of our purpose. Because for us, being on social media and posting interesting and entertaining content was enough, but if we weren’t reaching our target market we weren’t actually going forward. This is true for every aspect of life, if your strategy is not clear, your actions will lead you to places that you weren’t really expecting to be in and you without actually wanting it. Even though being spontaneous is sometimes good, working towards a clear goal is important. This learning I believe will support me in my future career prospects.
Believe in Yourself
In this life, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. To believe in yourself you have to trust your ideas and respect yourself, which makes all the difference when you are making a point. Because life is all about convincing people about a point, or selling ourselves, our ideas. When applying for a university, we wrote a cover letter to show how and why we were interested in the subject or when applying for jobs, we have to convince the employer that we are their best bet. But if we aren’t confident about ourselves, then convincing people gets difficult. This is also valid for businesses when selling a product or a service. With Untangled for instance, we believed in our product and we weren’t afraid of talking to interested people, even though we didn’t know them. It is also important to point out that selling is not about pushing people. It’s about explaining the benefits to the potential users and giving them the “most attention, the most energy, the best attitude, and the highest level of service” (Cardone, 2012). With Untangled, we tried our best to be energetic and have a positive attitude and we saw that our energy was attracting people. I believe that believing in myself, being energetic, and having a positive attitude will help me improve my career prospects.
This year I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to meet great people and learn so many things. Thank you to everyone who was part of my journey!
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