We all like using folk stories to illustrate our thoughts: a popular one of Indian origin is the one about the Blind men and the Elephant. As the story goes, six blind men try to understand what an elephant might look like — by touching different parts of the animal — and come up with their own interpretations.
The Indian Railway System is one of the largest in the world, averaging 21 million passengers per day1. At every station, along with railway passengers, are innumerable children, many of whom appear to be homeless. And it is this appearance of homelessness that attracts organisations to come forward to rescue the children, and restore them to their families.
However, many organisations working with children, have observed that the children so rescued—as high as 50% of them—run away from their homes again. In this episode of Design Talks, Dunu Roy, founder & director of Hazards Centre, explains why this is the case.
Yes, admit it. Even you have cried at some point of time while watching a movie. Studies on this subject talk about this ability of humans to empathize, even with fictitious people in these fictitious stories. It’s what makes us human. We wouldn’t have emotions if nature didn’t want us to have them. [Fun fact, those who cry a lot, tend to be happier.]1
In our world, it is easy for us to connect with friends, family and sometimes even rank strangers (or, as in the case of movies, fictitious ones). Why is it that in the context of business, these connections go out the window and all that matters is the bottom line, a few cold numbers on a paper/screen, and the proud poker face that doesn’t reveal a shred of strategy? Is there a way to bring about a shift in this status quo?
Design Thinking has been gaining steam over the past few years. The popular visualisations of the framework seem obvious and intuitive – which begs the question, what is so different about it?
The answer to that lies in what’s different about in our world today. In the words of Eddie Obeng:
“The real 21st century around us isn’t so obvious to us, so instead we spend our time responding rationally to a world which we understand and recognize, but which no longer exists… Companies make their expensive executives spend ages carefully preparing forecasts and budgets which are obsolete or need changing before they can be published.”
We’ve all seen the three lenses of Design Thinking, you know the one I’m talking about. The Venn diagram of Desirability, Feasibility and Viability, and at the intersection, the holy grail of Innovation/User Experience/Design Thinking/(insert own phrase here).
When I first looked at this, I had two questions:
- How is this so different from the way businesses have been functioning thus far?
- How have they survived these past several years, if they haven’t been taking into consideration all these factors?
During our recent session on Design Thinking (and Design Doing) at Makersbox, our goal was to bust myths of Design Thinking that have been perpetuated in the market. And the underlying theme for the session was:
Design Thinking is not design
Gagandeep Singh Sapra, Founder of MakersBox and SproutBox summarises the session for us:
When you hear the word Design Thinking, your mind hears Design and you talk about design and you think that it only a designer’s job; while had that been a different word, you would have thought differently – the meanings that I attached to it would not have happened.
Very often, in this corner of the world, we have freewheeling conversations surrounding design. So why not share it with the world? Enter Design Talks. A podcast series on design. In this pilot episode, I interview Sunil Malhotra, CEO of Ideafarms about Design in Tech for the social space. The conversation kicks off with Design-in-Tech and Design Entrepreneurship for Social impact (DESi), followed by Sunil’s talk for fellows of Aspire Circle and his take on the challenges facing the social sector in India.
The social sector currently lacks awareness of technology exists and how they can use design thinking as a power tool for their own benefit.
If all organisations could come together to radically collaborate, it would likely get rid of all the challenges that the social sector is facing today — raising funds, getting solutions out in the market quicker, governmental support etc.
You don’t need the whole of design thinking, to be implemented in one go; and similarly you don’t need technology to be implemented in one go. Just by changing the orientation of the way you have been thinking and being open to divergent thinking as well as exploration of possibilities instead of starting with constraints, can show a tremendous amount of difference.
Listen to the whole podcast here:
Check out Ideafarms’ Design Thinking practice
Header image: Snapshot from Design Thinking Session at Aspire Circle’s Second Annual Retreat & Convocation (ARC 2018)
One of my most memorable moments during a trip to Sikkim, was on a road trip in the mountainous region around the river Teesta—beside the road, a shallow stream accompanied us, riding on a bed of hundreds of smooth pebbles; the green hills all around were lifting their misty veils.
Over the week-long holiday, we had got used to the natural beauty of Sikkim, but it appeared that there was no way for us to document it through the windows of a moving vehicle. Try as we might, the rough terrain was impossible to capture without looking like a smudge of paint.
It was during one such trip, that one of our drivers, Mahesh, slowed down at a river crossing, and surprised us.
“You can take the picture now! See, I want you to take as many pictures as you can. I want, that when you go home and you see these pictures, you will remember me!”
Mahesh asked us to soak in the view and take our time — something, that we later realized, no one had said throughout any of our road trips.
Throughout our holiday, we traveled with many drivers, some for transfers, and some for sightseeing. As a driver, Mahesh was just like every one else. Every driver we traveled with, was equally skilled in navigating the rough terrain and guiding us to tourist spots. The difference was that while everyone took us from point A to point B, Mahesh cared about our experience while we were traveling. While some drivers kept calling us to hurry up so that we could complete the itinerary, Mahesh told us to soak in the atmosphere and take our time.
As Design Thinking is gaining popularity, companies are running every which way to train their employees in the methodology and its tools — and that’s a great thing. But at its core, Design Thinking starts with an emotional connect with the end customer. Without this mindset in all aspects of conducting a business, all the tools and methodologies are just jargon. What’s critical is that this emotional connect — call it human centricity or empathy — must permeate throughout the organisation’s culture to the very last mile — especially to the last mile.
Having previously worked within the travel industry, one thing that I observed was that it thrives on partnerships for pretty much everything — transportation, accommodation, sightseeing, recreational activities etc. Customers book their tours with one agency, and interact with other agencies who fulfil the itineraries.
Servicing the end customer may not be your job, but if your partner doesn’t, you lose the customer.
Collaborating with other stakeholders and sensitising them to the importance of ensuring that the customer has, at the very least, a neutral experience, if not a delightful one, is perhaps most crucial for the B2B travel ecosystem.
We loved Mahesh for his empathetic attitude; but even so, due to the overall handling of that tour, after that holiday, we vowed never to take tour packages. With travel advise from fellow travellers and bloggers online, our subsequent travels have been quite fulfilling, all without the involvement of travel agencies.
So how do you (and your partners) treat your customers? Are your employees like Mahesh, or is your entire ecosystem eroding to DIY travellers?
As first-time visitors to the Buddh International Circuit, we stood in awe of the sheer dimensions of the complex. Long before we even reached the entrance gate we were greeted by the sound of tires burning rubber on a warm October morning. Adding to the special atmosphere was the fact that we were guests – that grand treatment for being the mobile app partners of the Vento Cup.
Gasha escorted us to the team’s paddock – ha, that was a new word for us!
“There are the cars and on that side is the pit lane. You can see the action along the straight leading to the start-finish line. And there’s a giant screen up there for seeing the rest of the action. Now I’m going to leave you guys to explore on your own. Don’t you get into any trouble!” Gasha warned me with a mischievous smile.
“Oh! Don’t worry, I won’t run on the pit lane!”
At the paddock, the race cars posed like rock stars, sporting sponsor tattoos, shiny glasses and modified accessories. As we admired the cars, a large horn began blaring warning sounds. A few bikers were riding into the pit lane. As soon as the bikes entered their team’s paddock, the noise stopped.
We stepped on the pit lane to cross over to the fence – a single wired wall beyond which was the race track. Standing at the fence and looking straight ahead, a speeding racer becomes a mere blur, with the vibrating air being the only evidence of his* existence.
“Excuse me, Ma’am” cried a lean heavily tanned man, jogging towards me. His head was tightly gripped by a red cap and headphones, his white shirt read ‘Marshal’.
“I’m sorry, but no slippers allowed. It’s against the rules.”
I stepped back and apologised. He jogged away, blowing his whistle while I stood at the edge of the paddock, and watched at a distance. A little while later he walked up to me and said, “I am extremely sorry, Ma’am, but those are the rules. I just cannot let you cross. Maybe we can arrange for some boots for you.”
I was surprised and humbled, if not a little embarrassed by his generous offer to help me (strangely the phrase pleasant user experience came to my mind).
I managed to arrange a pair of shoes on my own to make it to the fence – yes, I waited for the warning sounds to stop before crossing – so that I could watch the racers speed away barely a few feet from me.
That shot of adrenaline down my throat, I came back to the paddock. The Marshall caught me returning the boots to its barefoot owner and we all shared a hearty laugh.
The Vento Cup was scheduled to start at 11:30 am and we were asked to move to the lounge upstairs so that the cars could be taken out. The drivers, covered from head to toe in fireproof overalls, gloves, shoes and headgear were fastening their seat-belts as we moved away. A short while later, we were leaning against the railing as the modified Volkswagen Ventos began grunting out of the paddock below us.
They went around the track for a formation lap and lined up at the starting grid. The five lights in front of the grid illuminated and went out to signal that the race was on. The cars shot out of sight within seconds – but the sound didn’t go very far away from us. A minute later the sound grew louder and the race leader entered our line of sight. With cars moving fast – apparently the average speed around the track was 133 kmph – it was hard to keep track of who was who. What was clear was that there was a sizable lead, growing bigger with every lap, between the first and the second car.
The horns of the pit lane began blaring again. A car came in – it’s rear wing hanging precariously by one bolt. The pit crew quickly removed the wing and he drove off.
It was in the fifth lap that we identified the Ideafarms car – our car – unfortunately quite far back in the standings, but fighting hard with two other cars.
As the chequered flag was waved, the podium finishers crossed one at a time; the midfield finished much closer. Our car came seventh (hey, at least it wasn’t last!)
With the Vento Cup championship having drawn to a close, we stayed back to watch the Asia Road Racing Championship, with some fierce looking bikers leaning scarily close to the track on the kerbs. More than one biker skidded off. While their bikes were quickly removed by the ever vigilant marshalls, the bikers hitched a ride on rather slow moving scooters back to the pit lane!
During one of the races, one biker suffered a massive accident and lay motionless on the track for an extended period of time. Spectators on both sides of the track ran in the direction of the biker, while red flags were frantically being waved. An Ambulance raced to the biker. It was then that I noticed a large gate along the fence to let the Ambulance take a shortcut through the pits to the medical building behind the paddocks. The Marshal, with whom I had interacted earlier, turned into a traffic policeman whistling out clear instructions for the quick movement of the Ambulance.
Amidst all the adrenaline and exciting sounds around the track, this incident was a rude reminder of the perils of motorsport and it’s not all fun and games on the track.
Early in the evening we decided to leave, and leaned over the railing for one last look at the speeding daredevils performing wheelies and standing up on their bikes while crossing the line at full speed.
Two sounds of a whistle directed our attention to the pit lane below. The Marshall waved at us. We waved back and burst out laughing as he pointed towards his boots and nodded his head in what seemed like a question!
On our way out, we peeked into the paddock where the the cars were getting a thorough checkup and greasing and thanked Gasha for a very memorable day.
We left the circuit in good spirits, wondering when we would return – perhaps not anytime soon. But when we do, and quite likely for next season’s Vento Cup finalé, I’ll make sure I have shoes of my own.
* While the field this year was all male, last year’s Vento Cup featured two female drivers competing against the men.
Sitting in front of a screen ogling simple visuals made by designers from across the seas, I could feel a certain frustration creeping in on me. Having been away for a while from anything remotely resembling a sheet of paper, something had to be done about it.
‘Quick, give me a word – what’s the first thing that comes to your mind’, I asked my colleague.
‘Spectacles’, replied a very amused Eeshta.
I grabbed the nearest scrap of paper and a marker, my fingers unsure of themselves. A few seconds later, I stuck the sorry looking doodle on the wall beside me – a reminder of how far I had fallen behind.
The next day, an unsuspecting intern got the same request from me.
‘Egg!’, said Vaani.
Up went a cracked egg on the wall.
Inspired by an activity given by Justin Ferrell to the participants of the Design Thinking workshop (fast-forward to 9 minutes into the video for the challenge), the challenge to myself spread to Eeshta and Vaani. A doodle a day, it was, then. 10 seconds to draw a random word given by someone else.
Two days later, we asked Sahil – the resident artist – who had been supplying us with words, to join in. ‘No! No! You’re taking too long – no making a masterpeice out of it! Take the pen away from him!’
With the wall of post-its growing bigger, we got the techies, even finance and HR into drawing a doodle. ‘Ha! I’ve done it in three!’ Nikhil said proudly, as he held up a neat three petaled flower.
Where it will go – I cannot say for sure, but its fun and definitely that’s not going to be bad at all!
As is now common knowledge across the world (that we know of), Ideafarms makes it a point to greet everyone during the New Year. This time though, we goofed up – big time.
No, we didn’t sleep it off.
No, we didn’t forget about it either.
It’s not that we didn’t have the resources or the time.
And yet, we didn’t make one.
But the Tenacious Teenagers that we are, we didn’t want to pass this opportunity to welcome sweet sixteen! So we chose to phone a friend. Well, actually, more than one friend!
With the Living Greeting Project, our friends shared their best memories for the world to see; each memory adding to the virtual family wall for sharing further as a personal greeting card. After a few photographs and a dash of sharing and an accidentally added chemical D over here, we were screaming out aloud, “It’s Alive!”
Won’t you hop on over to our lab and meet the collective creation? Say hello to all the awesome people who helped fix our goof up and nurture the Greeting. Add your own name by sharing your memories. And most importantly, be sure to wish your loved ones a Happy New Year!
Oh, and by the way (almost did it again, didn’t we!)
Here’s wishing you a very happy, prosperous and sweet 2016!