The mission for the day was simple and straightforward: develop a deep understanding of Empathy. We started with jugglers, then discussed the finer points of empathy, and then jumped in to two immersive empathy experiences. These experiences transformed participants’ perspectives on what Empathy really is:
We began our day with professional jugglers from local circus companies. As the participants learned to juggle, they not only loosened up and embraced the creative and fun energy of the workshop but also began to understand how important it is to take risks and that it is ok to drop the ball (metaphorical or literal!) and to learn to recover.
During our first workshop we had a fantastic guest, Morley McBride from IDEO, come to speak to our group about empathy. She provided some powerful examples and was a great addition to the workshop. During our second workshop, we facilitated an abbreviated version of an empathy deep dive focused on a few key stories.
Adapt it: Having an outside expert is fantastic because it added another layer of legitimacy to the work and a different perspective. However, if there are time/people constraints and you can’t get an outside expert, it seemed that the most valuable component of this part was the stories. In both cases participants referred to the stories later in the day.
After an introduction and an empathy deep dive, we headed outside to walk around the block and make observations for experience #1. Unaffected by the chilly Colorado weather, our participants were excited to head outside and determined to see what they could observe. After a walk by themselves, we had the participants join up with various experts for 3 more walks. During our first workshop we walked with an artist, a civil engineer & an architect. During our second workshop we walked with an artist, a landscape architect and a mechanical engineer.
Each time, we saw the same block with a different perspective. Walking and talking with the experts highlighted not only the many different observations that can be made depending on your perspective but also an awareness of competing needs and the tradeoffs that are made in design decisions. “The artist pointed out some really ugly bushes and wondered why they were there but the landscaper told us that municipal buildings often chose those bushes because of safety issues in public places.”
Some of our participants also expressed how surprised they were by how much they missed even when focused on not missing anything!
Adapt it: Had we been faced with a blizzard instead of brisk winter weather; we could have adapted this piece of the workshop by bringing the whole experience inside and walking through the interior of a building with an architect, an interior decorator & an artist; allowing us to take the element of weather out of the equation.
Adapt it: We had a mix of professionals and students serve as our “experts”. While the experience was not quite as smooth in the moment with the student experts, it didn’t seem to detract from the take away for our participants so this is a good option depending on the availability of “experts”.
In the afternoon, we dove into experience #2, to write a review of an IKEA stool. We first tackled this challenge just working from product information. After the initial reviews, we revealed the actual stools (which participants had to assemble themselves).
There was a lot of excitement and some fierce competition to get the stools built. The initial reviews based on written descriptions didn’t have much substance but were deepened as the participants had the actual stool to work with and review. Looking at the difference between validation and inspiration was really interesting.
Adapt it: At the end of the IKEA exercise one participant brought up how the inadvertent competition around which team could build their stool the quickest impacted the overall experience. While it was a great team building experience it potentially led to a different learning outcome - something to keep in mind when setting up this exercise.
Bringing a variety of schools together from the same district allows for a lot of informal networking. At the end of the IKEA stool exercise, one participant brought up the idea of how great it would be to be able to test out furniture and classroom supplies before committing to buying in bulk for their school. It turns out that the district office has some experimental learning spaces so teachers can do just that, but the teachers weren’t aware of it.
Location, Location, Location
Our two workshops took place in very different spaces but in the end it didn’t seem to matter much for the sake of the exercise; walking around a boring office park was just as powerful as walking around an amazing library set in a beautiful location along a creek.
While the location for the “walk around the block” exercise is not dramatically important, it did seem to have a large impact on the group to have the workshop itself take place in a new setting. Getting people out of their “water” enables them to let go and participate in a different and more involved manner. If they already have preconceived notions about the location and the type of activities that take place there (and memories of activities or other professional development they have participated in at the same location), it is easy for them to settle into habits. Being somewhere new changes the participants’ attitudes, expectations and approach.