The Thread and the Importance of Listening

Image Credit: Via Twitter 8.31.16 @buffyjhamilton

Image Credit: Via Twitter 8.31.16 @buffyjhamilton

As our faculty team designs the Lab Atlanta experience, the design thinking cycle has become more and more natural to us. The broad strokes of flares and narrows are observable patterns as we ideate and prototype, reminding one another of our check points as we circle back to consider our user (10th graders) and why we are designing (our Mission). In fact, I would suggest there have been some moments of seemingly elegant design, when the connections between the disciplines come spiraling together and the real world collaborates to signal, "yes, this is right; this is what we're after." Indeed, these are magical moments --"moving days" as a colleague wrote previously. 

But, every day is not such smooth-sailing. The design process is inherently messy, and collaboration requires attention to not only the task at hand but maintenance of the group dynamics--especially, the giving and receiving of feedback and of listening to one another. For the first time this week, with a group-imposed deadline on the horizon and individuals working on various pieces of curriculum,  aflare arose inside the focus. As we workshopped one another's prototype for various elements of our "courses," there was a moment when we found ourselves holding onto our own ideas (mine included), not clearly aligning our work to our stated mission, and our own critical feedback disrupted what we now recognize as "our honeymoon phase." 

So, how did we work it out? A time-out. Transparency. Important 1:1 conversations. Laughter. Naming the issue(s). Sleep. Reframing the criticism as "yes, and." Listening. And, we had a conversation about low-resolution prototyping, not holding too fast to our ideas, more rapid prototyping, less formal presenting, and falling in love with our user. (Admittedly, that last one still needs some unpacking...)

By week's end, we were able to release the pause button. We were able to flare as a group as we worked with our branding designers and city design partner.  And, we recommitted ourselves to the work towards our deadline. I hope we each came away with an understanding and appreciation for the value of our connectedness, the importance of all the relationships we are forming with each other and externally, and a reminder offered so beautifully here by poet William Stafford that there is a thread we are following. Might be hard to explain it sometimes, but it's there and it keeps us going. Yes, Natasha Trethewey, poetry does invite us to listen with our whole selves, to mediate the world and language that can be divisive, to find that thread, and to breath in "yes, and" instead of "yeah, but." 

Laura Deisley, Founding Director