Welcome to the d.school

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, called the d.school, is a big deal. It's Stanford's design thinking school (design thinking is basically a methodology that channels creativity to solve problems). A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article called "Forget B-School, D-School is Hot." It's still true. Most students try to take classes in the d.school; they're all application based and very competitive to get into.

Today was the first day of my first ever d.school course, called "Creativity and Innovation," taught by Tina Seelig and Rich Cox. Rich has worked with a lot of big, powerful organizations and companies to create better "people, teams, and cultures." His past clients include: the Clinton Global Initiative, Istanbul 2020 Olympic Bid Committee, Mozilla, Google, Cisco, and JP Morgan Chase. Tina has written 17 books, she's given TED Talks and spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and she has two videos on YouTube with a quarter million views. These two are the real deal -- and to he honest, a little bit intimidating.

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The first day of class was awesome. One of the best first days of class I've ever had -- basically what you wish your entire education experience was like. Fun. Engaging. Challenging. Social. No wrong answers.

There's no lecturing for more than ten minutes at a time, and even then it's not what you'd consider lecturing. There's no note-taking, no laptops. We're moving around all the time. We start and finish class in a big circle, we get a snack in the middle of class, we take pictures. It's all interactive. The class is structured around experiences that we do together, either as a class or in our teams, and then we think about it and talk about it and debate it and figure out what we can learn from it and apply it to other things. What's really cool is the diversity in the room: all different majors, undergraduate students, masters students, Ph.D. students. Older people, younger people. International students from all over the world. 

I knew I was going to like Rich when he said this: "Anyone who says, 'I'm an ideas person.' Great. See ya later. I want an action person." The whole class is about ideas and thinking and being creative -- but the thinking part doesn't have much value if you don't actually do something with it. This is one of the most important things I learned from Gary Vaynerchuk's podcast -- execution is everything. I'm not at Stanford so I can just think about stuff -- I want to figure out how to solve problems and then actually do it. 

I knew I was going to like Tina when she said this: "Fall in love with the problem before you fall in love with the solution." This was in the context of her teaching us to "framestorm" before we brainstorm, a really interesting idea that I've never considered before. It was an expansion of Dean Dan Schwartz' advice from last week: "Don't presuppose the answer in the question." Tina was more blunt: "If you don't question the question you're asking, you're screwed."

The example that we used in class was first trying to figure out how to create a better suitcase. We could have spent hours talking about, planning, designing, and developing a better suitcase. But after a few minutes, we stepped back: Tina asked if the question is: "how can I carry my stuff when I travel?" or is it really "how can I arrive at my travel destination with everything I'll need for my trip?" Two very different questions. The latter yielded ideas like Air BnB for top fashion brands, a 3D printer for clothes, and airlines renting out laptops and selling toiletry packages -- all totally different from the results of the first conversation, and not even possible in the original frame we were using. 

I've never started a brainstorm session by figuring out what the question actually is; it's such a simple, valuable, and practical tool. I know I'll be applying it, and whatever other design thinking tools I can pick up, on my studies in the ed. school -- and beyond.