You will see concepts from design thinking percolating into my writing and work more and more as this powerful tool becomes so evidently productive. I thought it might be interesting this week to offer a couple of prompts (homework assignments really) to connect you with two key components of Design Thinking.

1. Collaborate with Others

I follow Bruce Kasanoff on LinkedIn … along with a picture illustrating this story, he recently wrote, “A few years ago, our daughter made us four beautiful stone coasters. Ever since, we’ve kept them stacked [on top of one another] on this coffee table. Last week, a house-sitter stayed here and un-stacked the coasters. It’s so much better… why did I never see this possibility? People say you need to think out of the box, and so on. That’s superficial advice. What you really need is to interact with people who see the world differently than you do, and take the time to occasionally see through their eyes.”

While the aesthetic affect of this tale is maybe lost without the photo, the point is not. The old adage of “walk a mile in another’s shoes” is potent; in design thinking it’s critical. Seeing problems from multiple perspectives helps us uncover ideas and new angles. Even more profound, bringing a small team together of diverse individuals to tackle a problem, allows each team member an opportunity to see the world differently, and it allows for innovative solutions to emerge in ways you could never imagine alone.

Prompt 1: Take a challenge you’ve been working on alone for a while: maybe your job search, maybe your website and social media messaging, or maybe how to landscape your yard to make it more water efficient, and facilitate a conversation (30-minutes to an hour can do wonders) to brainstorm possible solutions and new ways of thinking about the challenge.

2. Prototype Even Mundane Challenges

One of the aspects that I love the most about design thinking is “bias towards action.” Generally, I feel like many of us stay pretty conservative when it comes to decision-making. We have an idea, but we are afraid to try it out or build it until we’ve cycled on it over and over. In Design Thinking, we are called to prototype ideas early on, as the actual act of trying the idea out, (who else out there learns by doing?!), teaches us a great deal.

After watching the documentary “Minimalism,” I was compelled to re-think several underutilized or even mis-utilized spaces in my house. For instance, I use several square feet of counter space everyday for drying dishes to sit … and dry. Meanwhile, by the time we get around to cooking dinner, we often feel a little claustrophobic in our galley kitchen and we always comment about needing more counter space. You can see where this is going. And you might be asking me why I waited eight years to do what I did next. But that’s similar to Bruce stacking those coasters and not seeing the opportunity to display the designs in a more aesthetic way.

So the next day I prototyped my idea: what would it mean to clean those dishes off the counter every morning instead of leaving them until the post-dinner dishes that night? Could I turn it into a daily routine, a way to wake-up and meditate while clearing space? Would I stick to it? Would it change the look, feel, and space of our kitchen?

It’s been a month since I tried it out, and most days since we’ve enjoyed those extra square feet of open counter space when we need it. The small shift has changed the flow of our kitchen dramatically. And I wonder too why I lazily overlooked that for eight years; all it took was a simple bias-to-action prototype.

Prompt 2: What small areas of your life could benefit from a quick design makeover? How might you use your work space to feel more at peace and more productive? Is there a part of your living room that could use a lift? Is there a project or an assignment at work that you could try approaching in a different way? What are some low-risk ways you might practice the incredibly beneficial act of prototyping that idea you’ve been sitting on for far too long?