Start with the Heart
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) “I have gained understanding from all my teachers.”
There is a thunderous quietude in the Zebrack Design Lab (The ZDL). Conferences and summer trainings are winding down for teachers and administrators; summer camp and activities are closing out for students. The maintenance staff has left the ZDL sparkling, new materials have been ordered and put away, and the space that is usually buzzing with students is lying in wait for the promise of a new school year and a new beginning.
As I sit in the middle of the the ZDL and plan for the students’ return at the end of the month, I am working to remind myself to slow down and to not fill the quiet space with my own thoughts, ideas, and assumptions.
One of my favorite things about the design thinking (DT) process is the way it invites all learners to have moments to excel and moments to slow down. DT provides a jumping off point for learners who do not know how to begin, a methodology for learning how to delve into research, and (the tactile learner’s dream) many, many systems for hands-on experiences.
As a learner, I have always been an idea generator. The part of the process that comes most naturally to me is the “ideate” phase. This is the phase in which the designers throw as many ideas into the world as they can without worrying about any limitations. All ideas are welcome. No ideas are too silly or too challenging.
However, my favorite stage is not the one that comes the most naturally. Rather, my favorite stage is the one that I find the most challenging: the “empathize” stage. I find “empathizing” to be challenging because the process asks me to stop myself before jumping to solutions. I need to be human-centered rather than idea-driven. I need to conduct interviews and observations. I need to ask the right questions. I need to, as the floor of ZDL 1 reminds me, get out of my own head and “start with the heart.”
Jumping to solutions too quickly cuts out the most important part of a design challenge: the people for whom we design. There are so many examples we can point to that show the danger of being idea-driven instead of empathy-driven: governments which do not consider the people they represent, businesses that think more about the bottom line than the customer, exams that do not think about the learner.
Starting with the heart– empathizing– provides tools to enlist the ethical partnership of the “end user:” the person, community, and/or situation that is affected by a problem or a need. Only through discovering the human-centered cause of a problem can we thoughtfully engage in the work of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.
I am fortunate to be joining Adat Ari El Labowe Family Day School for many reasons, one of the best is that I have the privilege of working with a team of incredibly dedicated and courageous educators.
The faculty ended last school year with an introduction to “Creative Confidence,” a book we are all reading over the summer, and this launched us into a conversation that has continued over the past few months. Although most of our teachers are physically off campus, they have never been very far away. Through their emails, calls, and on campus visits, I have learned about our school’s history, students, families, and the amazing things that our teachers are planning for the coming school year. This has helped me keep the needs of our students and school in mind when stocking the lab and thinking about lessons to re-engage our students with DT.
I am also fortunate to have an additional partner in getting our space ready and creating environments that inspire creativity. As you may have already heard, Adat Ari El has partnered with Stanford’s d.School, one of the world leaders in DT. Ariel Raz, an educator from Stanford d.School’s K-12 Lab, has been working with me all summer designing coaching models for our teachers in order to take our DT practices to the next level. Ariel is a thoughtful, creative Israeli who is a master of making the creative process tangible and actionable. He and his colleague, Devon Young, will be leading professional development on our campus twice during this academic year and will provide ongoing, virtual coaching throughout the year. This amazing collaboration between the d.School and ADAT’s own intrepid faculty fill me with joy and kavana, purpose.
But the quietude still hangs over the ZDL as our most important asset has not yet returned: the students who will fill this space with the buzzing (and sometimes banging) sounds of their hearts at work.
With our students in mind, I am slowing myself down from creating specific design challenges. Instead of jumping in with challenges and problems that I see in the world, I am holding back, allowing the silence to grace the ZDL for a few weeks more, and leaving a question hanging in the air for our students when they return.
“What are the biggest problems that YOU see in the world that YOU want to solve RIGHT NOW?”
I am grateful in this ever changing, noisy world full of flashing lights, traffic, and unpredictability that our educators at ADAT are raising up students who know themselves, serve others and act to improve the world.
I cannot wait for our students to return from summer break renewed and ready to stretch their empathy muscles and to begin with their hearts!