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"Thursday Thinking"

©2019 by Weaving Futures. 

  • Carolyn Stuart

Ideas that work

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

My last couple of posts have explored creating space in which it is safe for people to discuss and share opinions and creating your own thinking space for personal growth. My next few posts are going to explore what to do with these great ideas including how to execute on them in ways that work.

If you are someone who works with people you will be constantly balancing what your users (i.e. the person or people you serve) tell you they want, and doing what your professional knowledge and experience tells you is best. The dilemma looks a little bit like this:

The problem with doing exactly what the user wants is that more often than not, when given exactly what they say they want, people change their minds about what it is they actually want! This happened to me many years ago when I was a stay-at-home mum and I constantly told myself and others that what I wanted was a part-time job. Then one day, someone completely out of the blue, offered me a part-time job, and it was exactly what I had been saying I wanted. Only it turned out that once I had been offered it, I didn’t actually want it. But being offered the job was good though, because it prompted me to think about what it was I really wanted. The answer to this question was to go back to university and finish my degree which is what I ended up doing.

At the other end of the balance is assuming, and then doing, what you as the professional think is best. As professionals we have a lot of knowledge and experience but executing our ideas in isolation of our users is classic doing it ‘to’ rather than doing it ‘with’ the people we serve. I love this powerful whakataukī that has come out of the Christchurch rebuild:

“Whatever you do for me but without me you do to me.”

So how do you go about ‘working with’ people? The first thing you need to do is to gain empathy for the people you serve. Brene Brown (2018) describe empathy as being the most powerful connecting and trust-building tool that we have… and that empathy is at the heart of connection.”

What is also important to understand is that empathy is not the same as having sympathy for others, I love this diagram below which I use when helping people learn about and practice gaining empathy with others.

Once again we are looking at the impact of ‘with’ vs the impact of ‘for’.

There are three main ways of gaining empathy with others.

By observation. This is taking the time to observe others going about their daily lives, taking time to stop and really see what is going on.

By immersion. This is immersing yourself in the world of others. An extreme way to do this might be to confine yourself to a wheelchair for a day to understand what it is like to navigate life as a paraplegic.

By conversation. This is the most common strategy I use to gain empathy. An empathy conversation seeks to uncover what really matters to someone. It is not a conversation that directly asks people what they want but rather digs deeply to find out what people value and find helpful. For example, if a school wanted to gain empathy with their community about what information parents wanted about their child’s learning, an empathy conversation would delve into what information about learning parents find the most helpful, what things worry them about their child’s education, and what activities they find enjoyable. It would not ask parents outright what they wanted their child’s report to look like.

It is helpful to map empathetic insights, gained from observations, immersion and/or conversations into:

  • Jobs

  • Pains

  • Gains

And to identify:

  • Connectors,

  • Contributors

  • Influencers in a community. Gaining these insights is the first step in ‘working with’ people as we navigate the tricky space of change.

My next post will look at how you can use prototypes to refine your ideas into solutions that work.

‘Till next time


Brown, B., (2018). Dare to Lead. New York: Random House

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All of the strategies mentioned in this and subsequent posts come from the field of Design Thinking. Design thinking is a human-centred framework for problem-finding and problem solving, It is a disciplined approach to innovation, balancing the needs of users with possibilities derived from professional knowledge and experience.

If you would like to find out how a Design Thinking approach could take your organisation to the next level then let me know you are interested by filling in this form or email me on [email protected].