Design thinking is an ideation process that was developed at the Stanford D School, a college whose focus is around empathy. The process features five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Although it is a linear process, some steps, like prototype and test, involve more back and forth.
I didn’t learn about design thinking until my junior year of high school, when I participated in an event called the 24 Hour Think Challenge hosted by an organization called One Stone. This event took place at the CenturyLink Arena, a local hockey arena, and yes, it did involve sleeping in the arena overnight. Some students even pulled all-nighters.
One Stone had put its own spin on the design thinking model. For the “define” phase, they use the model of “how might we…” statements, which invite conversations and ideas to build solutions. For the “ideate” phase, they use the concept of “51,” where the first 50 ideas are the obvious ones that have already been thought of, and the 51st idea is where the breakthroughs begin.
The Think Challenge posed the following question: “How might we reinvent learning to be relevant in the 21st century for Idaho students?”
After my first experience with design thinking, it has continued to play a critical role in the way I view the world. After these 24 hours with One Stone, I ended up spending the next two years, before I entered college, as a team member, and later a Board member and the Governance and Planning Chair. I grew to know the design thinking process like the back of my hand. I learned to appreciate not only the beauty, but the frustrations that came with each step. Additionally I began to see that the only way to really develop solutions was to understand people on a micro level. Gone are the days of hypothetical inferences. Now, there is a dire need to dig deep and understand people holistically, and to step into their shoes.
I began to see that this use of empathy was a common theme across most people I met in my generation. With an edge of bluntness and specificity, we like to get to the point, and for lack of better words, cut the bulls**t.
When we were building empath worldwide as a pro bono public relations agency, I began to see this model of thinking intersecting with my chosen field of study: communications. When I came to college, the innovation and experimentation I had incorporated every day at One Stone became lost. It wasn’t until the middle of this pandemic, when Jim Joseph (formerly BCW’s global president of brand solutions, but now currently at McCann Health as North American president) highlighted the importance of empathy in the role of communicators’ work during the first webinar of the PR Council’s Agency Ready Certification Program. When my friend and peer Maya Malekian reached out to me with the idea of bridging the gap between the needs of small businesses and nonprofits affected by the pandemic with the skilled communicators of this generation who are craving a place to offer the things they have learned, I knew this was the answer.
In the initial days of client outreach, where Maya and I met with people who were potentially interested, we had nothing but an idea and a team to pitch. With a new name, which the team agreed upon, we pitched our idea with the promise to make waves. Of these initial client outreach meetings, the one I remember most vividly is that with Divya Samtani of Savvy Sapiens. When I found out that her work was in design thinking and its intersection with young people and their lives, bells rang in the back of my head. I knew that meant we were finding people who believed in the same thing as us, that this model of thinking and problem solving was what was critical and necessary to respond to a future that nobody could plan for.
The most special part of empath worldwide and its correlation with design thinking, however, is that as I take a step back, I see that from the initial phases of talking with mentors and fellow peers about our idea, we were empathizing with those at the heart of the field. By defining the issue of the gap where communicators have a plethora of skills to offer, but no place to go, we began to ideate the structure of our organization and how it would work. And from there, we did exactly what I would consider the most important part of the model is: prototyping and testing. As empath worldwide grows each day, roadblocks and lessons are noted, so that we can refine our process. Someday down the line, I know that when reflecting on the journey of empath worldwide, I’ll want to truly say that we made waves, created ripples, and made the world a better place, even in the smallest way possible.