The Most Boring Piece of Design Thinking Advice

Image by steve snodgrass

Channeling my inner 8-year-old, I found my Christmas present early. I had asked for a used violin, as I’ve wanted to learn to play this instrument for years now, and there it was in its cute little violin case.

It’s been many years since I learned a skill that was just, well, so NEW for me. At work, I am faced with new situations all the time, but, really, they all fit cozily within somewhat of a familiar realm. Minutes after resting that violin under my jaw, I was struck by what a fascinating experience it was to learn something so new as an adult.  I immediately thought it would be an interesting reflection for a blog post. Maybe a post around creativity and new neuropaths being awakened! Maybe about having more empathy for my clients as they learn our toolkit of entrepreneurship & innovation for the first time! Or maybe I could dissect my personal approach to learning  — read the book, or just start playing?

After learning which strings were which notes, how to arch my fingers around the strings and hold the bow, I was excited to stumble onto my first “advanced” song: the chorus to Jingle Bells. It is literally, just 20 notes or so long. I played it once — awful. The 2nd time, even more awful. The 14th time, still horrible. The 20th time, the first 3 notes were slightly bearable, followed by ... still awful.

So, what was my big exciting reflection for this blog post?

Practice, practice, practice.

Wow, how boring! You don’t hear many FastCompany or HBR articles on this earth-shattering principle. Yet in this era of short attention spans, constant job changing, and constant digital consumption of information, this simple mindset is often overlooked. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, noted in this recent HBR article that one of the biggest challenges in design thinking is that many people aren’t doing it effectively:

“What worries me a little bit is that we have a lot of people out in the world who think of themselves as design thinkers without any of the actual skills that it takes to do design thinking effectively.”

So if you’re learning design thinking, what’s the trick? The best Coursera class? The latest book or article? I believe it's putting your head down and doing it, over and over again. Find any personal or professional opportunity  you can to practice the toolkit – find your Jingle Bells – and good luck!

When the last time you learned something really new? Message me: @natalie_s_foley