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Design Thinking in a VUCA world

We were invited to run a workshop at a creative coaching conference. Other sessions focused on the lighter, more glamorous side of creativity, so we wanted to give attendees a taste of solving problems in today’s business world. A world that’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Young creatives are idealistic, and often unsure how to be effective the corporate world. We wanted to deliver a visceral experience of collaborating on a real-world design-thinking problem.

A volunteer “client” from the group provided a challenge she was facing back home at her job. The scenario was hazy and politically complex; it conflated several challenging problems at several levels in the organization. Initial attempts to narrow down the problem with our client were unsuccessful. So, we threw everyone into the deep end!

Groups of 6 were given 25 minutes to (a) define and (b) solve the client’s problem. The least successful group never got past agreeing on the problem, even with intensive coaching. The most successful group brainstormed additional questions to help the client clarify their own problem. The rest of the groups had degrees of success tackling different parts of the problem. Many found the session chaotic, confusing, even a little frustrating. VUCA achieved!

In the debrief, we discussed the importance of agreeing on the problem space, guiding clients to greater awareness, as well as learning to pick your battles carefully, while also daring to explore constraints creatively as a team. A dozen participants came up after the session to discuss important questions it raised for them, or share further observations and insights. This event generated a lot of buzz, and opened a few eyes to the complexities of modern business problems.