What is Design Thinking?

LISTEN TO this interview Victor Jimenez, a seasoned entrepreneur and popular podcaster, did with DK’s own Akira Morita. The two are close friends, and talk regularly across the world about topics related to performance, learning, being better, and growth.

Design thinking? It’s about what problem are you solving, and for whom. You can listen to the full story, ‘Using Design Thinking in your Business,’ which has already been recorded and uploaded at The Flywheel Podcast at this page: http://victorjimenez.co/tfp-003-using-design-thinking-in-your-business/

Today in S P A C E we’ll discuss. In a parallel conversation that may also take place on this day, we’ll open the comments for the topic of, ‘What is Design Thinking,’ on the comments pages below. Possibly also on facebook, depending on interest there.

Check in on 30 May throughout the day [ICT timezone], to see what’s unfolding. #designthinking

Discovering Origin

A CONTINUATION in virtual space of conversations near and far about things related to ‘fromness.’

Where are we from, what that means to us each individually, how multi-local identities shape who we are.

This is a build on something that we had run online last year, a series of 12 conversation starting prompts designed to open this kind of discussion. It was called ‘Home & Away’. Welcoming back those who participated, inviting those just connecting now to mix, together, in this one-week conversation, ‘Discovering Origin,’ in virtual S P A C E.

Be part of it when you join us with a 7-day pass, here’s how to get it.

The work is in the doing

GOING THROUGH THE EMAIL. Doing the work. ‘N’ work, that is. I have got a new list of invitees to reach out to, an old one to follow up with, and the rest.

Got to talk to more than 100 people if I can find 16 to say ‘yes’ to ‘N’. (Learned this from ‘N’ Phnom Penh and ‘N’ Bangkok last year, phew.)

MAKING ’16N’. This is the biggest project DK has taken on so far: gather strangers in one moment of a conversation, in a space designed and hosted by one of us. In a city that starts with an ‘N’. It’s kinda nuts.

But why? Why even bother?

People do ask this. A lot. Why does this work matter to you guys? Why does it mean anything to get people who don’t know each other to meet, and talk, offline, in real life?

Long story, this. I’ll cut to the chase. Without discovering people and their ideas—of new ways, new to a person, that is—that person can’t grow. Adapt based on new inputs. Learn.

Part of maturing is, sure, about being open-minded.

But you can be as open-minded as you want and sit alone in an armchair reading books and not really having active knowledge of what it’s like to look directly at the eyes and straight through them, into the heart, of the Other.

Other doesn’t have to be Scary.

Other can reveal something to us about… ourselves.

(Enter Jung. Exit Jung).


This is a term that just walked into my world one day in recent conversation with DM. It’s weird. I never thought… But then, of course…. And so….

My Western colleagues and I have been programmed to fear or disdain or isolate ourselves from Others.

Others who think about a different kind of clothing to wear (this as teens).

Others who are not like us in physical appearance.

Beliefs, dogmas (dangerous, this last one, but I’ve said why in 30K words in a book you can find here).

Others who may, just maybe, judge us. Fear.

Fear is put into us because we don’t know.

But physics! Physics at the very small scales is ALL ABOUT not knowing!

‘We have no idea where that bit got off to,’ et al.

The mystery of the universe becomes a fun thing to think about, to conjecture. I talked about this with a particle physicist, SW, who had been touring about in Asia with some kind of software. It was a random encounter and an unlikely conversation, but taht was the upshot. ‘Where did it all start? Where soup did we all come from, anyway?’ More just me marvelling into the cloudy nothing, awed about the whole of the every. (Kind of gets metaphysical, huh.)

No one has to be right. Contrary to all the stuff that we’re taught to believe (getting famous is good, the great genius and his remarkable breakthrough is to be sought, etc), it’s not like anyone can ‘figure it all out’ without any sort of input. And the richness of that input is what invites fertile ground for sowing the sorts of seeds that lead to brilliant blooms.

Getting poetic, now. Sometimes that just happens.

Anyway, the point: No one human being alone can know.

But what if we could know, at least a little, the feeling of Other and the Unknown? Through bit by bit engagement? As in, a little bit at a time of learning what another way is like? You don’t have to take a college course to experience a little bit of, ‘Huh, that’s new.’ You can just have a conversation salon.

NEW DIRECTIONS. Starting things up. In the staged spaces of Designful Meetups. More than anything, the work is about the invitation. Which is why there are so many of these going out, this week and through the weekend. Why?

The invitation is THE most important part.

Of quality spacemaking, that is. Subject for another day.

Unless you feel like you’re personally invited to something, unless you feel like the sender is someone who actually cares if you’re part of the story they’re making, then it’s going to fall on deaf ears. You know what else? Everyone says they’re so busy and stuff, but what are people so busy with? That kind of intentional decisionmaking of where to spend time on what and with whom is kinda important. Because before we know it, our time’s gonna be up.

When people get together for ‘N,’ for example, when they meet to talk together—16 people per city—and talk on topics that start with an ‘N,’ it starts to be clear.

The arbitrary nature of constraints like ‘Has to have an N in it (the city, the venue)’ and ‘You have to get a ticket ahead of time, since I want to really make sure this is going to happen and not just let’s just talk about it)’, these.

These are frames.

To design a space.

To hinge a great dialogue—but maybe that’s too heavy a word—a great conversation jam upon.

The secret? It doesn’t matter WHO comes or WHAT happens in the box. The point is that it HAPPENS. Which means all the work of designing ‘N’ is, quite honestly, in the drudge work of slogging through email and making tons and TONS and EVEN MORE invitations. Because I’m looking for the magic set of 16. Sixteen in each of 16 cities, eventually (2 have happened so far), who will say, ‘Yes.’

If you’re a new invitee, I get it. You don’t know me from Adam. Don’t know what’s involved. And I’m asking you to just trust the process. Walk into the unknown.

When it works, it’s cool. I love it.

A wide mix opts in, I’m noticing. (Gotta start with 100, though.)


That means no cliques, clubs, or preaching-to-the-choirs. It’s hard, this, because everyone is programmed to think, ‘Wait. Is this about ME? Or is this something ELSE? Is this OTHER?’ Which makes it kinda tricky.


Okay, yeah.

The box.

You get enough framing up (date, place, time, people) and you have a bounded box.

A safe space.

You step into that space and meet.

We meet.

Guests and me. Their hos for ‘N,’ for example, and other conversation salons, workshops, commissioned facilitation thingies, and so on.

BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE LEARNING for DK has been to discover that whatever happens IN the box isn’t the point.

All salons and events—for commission or for fun—are about gathering people in spaces where they might feel a little out of their usual routine, meeting people they might not have otherwise have met. Most consistent feedback is, ‘I had so many great conversations. We talked about __, but I never thought about  it that way before.’

You get a lot of molecules together and they start heating up and guess what, they get ‘excited.’ That’s what we called them, in science class, in seventh grade, didn’t we? Molecules are getting excited. Excited states are fantastic. You get amped. Wait, no. That’s voltage…

So what am I doing today? Making the invitations.

Emailing like mad.

The new invites.

For ‘N’.

London, Copenhagen, Ha Noi, Bologna. The work is in the doing… We have to get 16 per city… That means 100×4… 400 invitations…

It’s gonna be a little busy, hunkering down over the internet these next few days.

Making my way around the world, looking for people to play 16N.

There is no perfect

The Achievement Conversation I HAD NO IDEA these conversation salons were so large in quantity and varied in theme. Stayed up a little too late drawing lines on a large piece of paper, making highlighter marks in yellowgreenblueorange, connecting some boxes, trying to categorize, see where the threads are. Looking at a lot of data, you could say. Thinking about the story. The arc, that is. And in some weird and intriguing sort of way, ‘a-ha!’, it popped right out. And I found it.

The thread of the conversation series, which so very many people in the last ten years have asked me all about in various phrasings (‘What is it? Sounds interesting, but I don’t get it’ or ‘WTF?’ or ‘What is the point of it, though?’ or ‘What do I get from this?’) have made me search deeply to find an answer to, I think it comes down to one thing.

The Achievement Conversation
The Achievement Conversation. Curious? Ask >
TOTTING THE SERIES OF THINGS DK HAS DONE SINCE 2005 when we started in Seattle, I discovered a whole slew of conversation salons.

Yes, conversation parties. People stop checking their phones, and no one buys drinks because they’re too busy talking. (Venues don’t like me much). Sort of a mix of workshop and cocktail hour, or sometimes more focused with real worksheets and things. Just in 2014-15, we have hosted a series of conversations (Origin, Beauty, Math+Jazz, N, Value, Hello August, and most recently, Ennui). A recurring theme is ‘achievement.’ What are we doing in Phnom Penh: what brings us, what keeps us here, where are we going with our careers?

Really? Salons? Achievement? What gives? I thought we were a design studio? Something has shifted, dramatically, in the last 10 years. We’re no longer talking about our past work in brand identity design.

On growth and the process of shift

I HAD NO IDEA these conversation salons were so large in quantity and varied in theme. Stayed up a little too late drawing lines on a large piece of paper, making highlighter marks in yellowgreenblueorange, connecting some boxes, trying to categorize, see where the threads are. Looking at a lot of data, you could say. Thinking about the story. The arc, that is. And in some weird and intriguing sort of way, ‘a-ha!’, it popped right out. And I found it.

The thread of the conversation series, which so very many people in the last ten years have asked me all about in various phrasings (‘What is it? Sounds interesting, but I don’t get it’ or ‘WTF?’ or ‘What is the point of it, though?’ or ‘What do I get from this?’) have made me search deeply to find an answer to, I think it comes down to one thing.

There is no perfect


That is, personal growth.

That is, development.

I used to think ‘development’ and ‘growth’ and even the overmany syllable word ‘innovation’ were just too used. They’ve become cliches. Truth is, most of me still thinks so. I’ve avoided this in my diction for the sheer reason that training in news journalism makes you want to delete all jargon, and fast, and hard. So you don’t see me talking about ‘growth’ out loud here on the blog. You see ‘N+1,’ of course, because what’s the problem with using mathematics? Nothing. But that’s my way of saying ‘growth.’ There’s a lot more to say about that, but I’ll leave ‘N+1’ for another post (or series).

Development is another thing. You see people who really, really want to do something. Creatively, I mean. They think taking a weekend painting course (have you heard the expression, ‘Sunday painter?’) is going to be a good creative outlet. They think that if they had a whole week off from some day job somewhere, they would do their thing that they’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it’s picking up an instrument. Maybe it’s a poetry workshop, a mountain, or installation of a chandelier.) What doesn’t happen in our world of creativity and innovation and growth and development is that honest and true thing that one simply must—MUST—find one’s way to, either by some link, or just the fact of having done a lot of things that don’t work and having to come to terms with where one is, and how it will work, and what it will become. What I’m talking about of course is the creative process. Which starts with the blank page and opens up to all possibilities and then, as luck would have it, begins to make itself into a pattern that the person who is making begins to see. Observing clearly is the work of all science, and all art is making meaning of it.

The journey is all there is

AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN? It means the creative process in and of itself is the personal growth work. It means that starting to start is the beginning step (I call this concept of intention setting, and the nudge, ‘N + 1/infinity’). It means that nothing is going to happen unless you commit to diving in, and going deep, and staying a while, with the process. Our old blog used to have a category, ‘Trust the Process.’ I had no idea that this was the whole crux of Design Kompany. Making meaning is up to each of the people who join us for a time, do a gig with us. I don’t mean interns or employees—I mean clients. Clients come into the ‘sandbox’ and play for a while with us. It’s a jam. It really, truly is. When we discover our way to the pattern someone will note it. It’s best when it comes from a place that’s honest, true (and I was going to say brave and Hemingwaylike, but none of those elephant shootings and arm wrestlings are necessary). What IS important is trusting the process. A lot of people want to skip all the hard work of the journey from N to N+1, and just go ahead and publish, or print a CD, or make a t-shirt, or whatever else. But usually the first thing that comes out is complete rot. You have probably noticed when you are writing, and then you go back and edit, that the entire first paragraph of a first draft is probably dispensable. [I’ve just deleted the first paragraph of this story.]

What happens then? You have to do the work.

You have to get into it.

This can take a very, very long time.

It can hurt. It can twist and shove the ego back to wherever the ego comes from. It can agitate, delight, sing, dance, and puncture. You are wounded when the flow doesn’t come up to your standard of liking. Then you might change your mind altogether about what it is you like anyway. Maybe you hate Jane Austen and you can say that out loud, all that era’s chauvinism and silliness, or you can admit to never having read The Naked Lunch, sorry, no, and you can get to a point where you decide esoteric theater really isn’t your thing. You know you’re supposed to like things that you spend a lot of money on for tickets, but you’re still okay with getting up at halftime and walking out the door. Life gets you thinking, experiences teach, and you adjust into a person your younger self would look at and go, ‘Huh. That’s me in 20 years??’

You know what the real work of achievement is? Knowing that the person you are now (N) and the person you are becoming (N+1) will both be cool with the learning that has to happen between one point and the next. It’s the achievement of the journey itself, not the ‘winning’ that might come from an external validation source. That source might be dead by the time you get to N+1. And then who’s gonna pat you on the back?

You know it’s really like that. Starting to start is the big work. But how?

That’s the question each of us has to answer for ourselves. But maybe it’s not so much the answers that matter, but the starting to start thinking in this vein that is the trick. How do you know what interesting is? You feel it in your bones. When a thing is good, when a work is right, when the creativity and the process become a joy and not a slog, that is when you will discover your own thread, your own pattern, your own distinct momentous ‘a-ha.’

Best of luck, and yeah, we’re all on that vector, and so, as you venture, may the force be with you. —DK

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Jai Ranganathan: ‘Sharpen and heighten’

OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.

Conversations about sharing discoveries inspired this interview with Jai Ranganathan.

DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.

JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.

DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?

JR: Sure.

  1. Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
  2. Give your product away so people want to know more.
  3. You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
  4. Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.

DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?

JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting.

DK: But what about talent?

JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!

DK: How do you do that?

JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make that your own is key.

DK: How did you get into this?

JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.

DK: What can others learn?

JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.

First published in S P A C E