It was a sweltering day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. An overcast sky suggested rain, but my team and I were already drenched from the humidity. As part of a design challenge, we were asked to explore the city. Yes, the entire city, or whatever we could manage in three hours. The challenge: experience Phnom Penh using one of our five senses.
These are the kind of challenges that came up in the 9-day intensive Human Centered Design course expertly facilitated by DSIL Global. Perhaps the biggest part of this challenge for me was not knowing what I was using my senses for. Was I trying to design a product or service? Was I trying to take in the experiences of Cambodian life? It wasn’t clear. That’s exactly why this exercise was so important.
Often, when we want to create something new, we try and figure out every detail in our workspaces. We start thinking about the solution before we know the problem. We start creating prototypes before we’ve experienced what’s going on in our environment. Most importantly, we don’t slow down long enough to see multiple truths and multiple perspectives.
Back on the streets of Phnom Penh, I was responsible for using the sense of touch. I chose to lean into the exercise and put my hands on everything. I noticed the heat coming off the glass of a cake shop. I felt the uneven terrain on my feet, and the narrow pathways of the market stalls with my shoulders. I picked up objects from the street vendors and was inspired to ask questions about what I felt as I touched them. Incredible stories were starting to emerge.
It seemed as if I had tapped into an endless stream of curiosity. I no longer wondered if I was supposed to be solving a problem; I was now looking at everything from a different perspective. One of curiosity for the sake of learning, not for the sake of fixing.
I learned far more in three hours using my senses and observations than I would have ever been able to learn if I had gone into it with solving a problem in mind. My focus would have been narrow and my observations skewed. I would’ve missed so much. It was a powerful experience.
I’ve been guilty in the past of trying to come up with services or products for my business by using experience alone. I would get stuck in problem solving mode. I would start researching to get all the information I could on trends in the professional development space. It didn’t generate curiosity, I didn’t experience anything, and that made me feel stuck.
I’ve found through working as an executive coach, this ‘stuckness’ happens to everyone. If you find yourself stuck, stop what you’re doing and take a cue from the design challenge.
1.) Get out of your office, collab room, or place where work normally happens.
2.) Stop looking for the answer to the current problem you’re working on.
3.) Take a walk. Concentrate on using one sense at a time and see what you notice.
4.) Be curious about everything!
5.) Have fun.