Yes, Design Thinking Can Make You Uncomfortable — And That’s a Good Thing
February 15, 2019 | Design Thinking
by Luke Brodie

Yes, Design Thinking Can Make You Uncomfortable — And That’s a Good ThingDesign thinking workshops are known for making people uncomfortable. These are not places where you can sit quietly in the background, listening passively while someone else does the talking. You have to participate, even if the activity takes you completely out of your comfort zone.

This annoys some people. Since high school, we’ve been programmed to be serious and studious, to “act our age,” and to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. These are useful lessons for a some classrooms, but they aren’t going to work in a design thinking workshop — and for good reason. When design thinking facilitators ask participants to sing a song, draw a picture, or build an idea out of pipe cleaners, we aren’t trying to embarrass you, or to make you act silly just for a laugh. These activities play a vital role in the learning experience — for you and for the rest of the team and learning to be comfortable with discomfort helps build creative confidence.

So for anyone who’s ever questioned why they need to partake in activities they haven’t considered since primary school, here is your answer:

  1. Why we draw. There are very few adults who confidently raise their hand when I ask “who in the room likes to draw?” The rest cringe at the idea of having to draw their idea and share it with their team. But they are all missing the point. When we ask people to draw in design thinking workshops the goal isn’t to create art. It is to help participants connect with a different part of their brain, which is a vital part of the creative process. As Tim Brown of IDEO has said: “To draw an idea accurately, certain decisions must be made that even the most precise language can overlook.” Going through the drawing process helps us shape our ideas more precisely, take them in new directions, and share them in new ways. So if you want design thinking to work for your team, you have to be willing to draw without apologizing for the outcome.

  2. Why we craft. When you come to a design thinking workshop, chances are the tables will be littered with clay, pipe cleaners, tape, and other things that you are likely find in a primary school art room. Again, the goal is not to craft a masterpiece, but to make connections between your brain and your hands while transforming your ideas into three-dimensions. As with the drawing process, building a 3D prototype of your idea can help your teammates understand and engage with your concept in new ways, and to see opportunities to make it better. Rough prototypes also provide something to put in a customer’s hands to get feedback on how to improve an idea.

  3. Why we play. Most design thinking workshops begin with an interactive icebreaker that forces everyone to stand up, get loud, and compete with their peers. Yes these activities are meant to be a fun way to get everyone up, and engaged, and learning everyone’s names, but that’s not the only reason we do it. Games can encourage us to let go of our need to win, which is an important step in the collaboration process. For example, we might start with a rock-paper-scissors tournament, where half the group is eliminated in every round until we are down to just two players. Finding a way to cheer for someone who just beat you is a powerful team building exercise in letting go that reminds us that innovative ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, regardless of role or level.

  4. Why we build. In brainstorming there is a concept called “building” in which one participant offers a way to make another’s idea better. Some people are overly cautious about offering builds because they don’t want to seem to be stepping on someone else’s creativity, but this is an important part of the process. A brainstorming session is a creative scrum, where everyone works together to generate as many ideas as possible. Building on others’ ideas helps to make them bigger and better, it inspires others to go off in totally new directions, and it foster a collaborative culture that is a necessary part of the creative process.

So yes, you will almost certainly be made to feel a little uncomfortable in a design thinking workshop, and you will probably act like a kid in ways that you haven’t in years. Rather than fearing that experience, why not embrace it? This is a safe place to test your creative boundaries and to innovate, so don’t let your fears of looking foolish hold you back.


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Luke Brodie is an enthusiastic Master Facilitator with ExperiencePoint. He energizes groups of business leaders through spirited deliveries of award-winning ExperienceInnovation and ExperienceChange workshops for Fortune 500 companies. He also empowers training partners to scale their impact around the globe. Luke holds an MBA from the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and has worked internationally in a variety of professional roles including airline management and as a professional musician.