Doing some Design Thinking

We’ve been working with Villgro to identify opportunities for process improvement, and decided to conduct a Design Thinking workshop with their employees. We had a limited time and only 8 people due to much of their team being at a conference in Mumbai. It was a challenge to come up with a mini version that would give us the information we need for our report while also building a foundation for them to design better processes and systems. This could either go very well or completely tank.

The group was terrific. A number of them had experience with Design Thinking, but we started from scratch so that those who were new to it could have contribute equally. Public speaking is not something I will ever be completely comfortable with; am very grateful that they were a friendly and fun group. It got my past my nerves pretty quickly. I often joke that it is easy to tell when I’m nervous because I sound like a chipmunk on helium. My voice gets higher and higher until I fear that I might hyperventilate. Luckily with such a great audience, the chipmunk did not make an appearance. And even luckier, the a/c was working well so I didn’t melt in a pool of perspiration.

Several Villgro team members had taken a 6 AM train from Bangalore to Chennai to join us. They were such troopers! That added a little pressure; I was worried they would fall asleep if I didn’t keep it moving along quickly. Usually we begin these workshops telling the attendees to be bold. Not an issue here. I didn’t even have to say it. They dove right in and came up with great ideas. Typically we would have leadership in the session alongside the employees, but I think it worked in our favor that the leaders were in Mumbai. It really opened up the employees’ confidence and frankness. We focused on structure for an integrated system (wish they could afford SAP!), a reporting dashboard, and their mentor program.

Why I wanted to write about this: as I mentioned above, I don’t feel comfortable with public speaking. I’ll do almost anything to avoid it. It is occasionally part of my job and I find ways to survive it, yet that doesn’t mean that I get much sleep the night before an event. I tend to lay in bed thinking of all of the things that could go wrong, how dumb I could sound, how I wish I had more confidence and a better presence. So this may be one of the few times in my life that I willingly agreed to be the presenter. I’m not sure what the heck I was thinking at the moment besides that we had some conflicting feedback and gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to do some design thinking. It probably didn’t occur to me that I’d have to be the leader. When I realized it, I went over all of the possible excuses I could come up with to avoid it. I could tell my teammates that it would be good experience for them to take point and I would help them. Or I could suggest that the customer lead it. I might have even considered pretending that my stomach was acting up and I had better not try to stand for four hours. But how could I want the customer to be bold in their feedback if I couldn’t be bold too? My two teammates took point on an exercise so they could practice; that helped me feel less exposed. Bottom line is we did it and I’m so glad we did! I’m going to lead two other workshops next week with a smaller audience. Look out – this comfort zone of mine might finally expand!

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