Learning how to manage big ideas

Big Ideas Fest offers a fresh perspective on problem solving, bringing a design thinking framework and an intense workshop format to an excited group of people working in education. It challenges the idea of conference participation and expects attendees to step up in a big way. ISKME hosted the event, making sure it was packed with problem-solving, positive thinking, creative people, and improv exercises.

Before we arrived we were divided into groups, called Action Collabs, based on a theme we selected during registration. That was the last part of the event we had control over.
Not surprisingly, this process was hard! Over three days, nine newly-minted collabs and their facilitators explored educational challenges; tasked with using design thinking to identify an opportunity to innovate, then to collaboratively iterate on a solution. We explored interviewing strategies, did some improv exercises, brainstormed potential solutions and narrowed our options to an idea that was workable and (ideally) the start of something bigger.
Organizers agreed that even seasoned design thinkers would not easily have a solution before the conference ended, but encouraged us to let that goal give us momentum.
Ultimately Big Ideas Fest was about learning a process and experiencing how challenging and rewarding design can be. It was intense to collaborate with strangers, and most of us have spent years working in ways that contradict the methods we were learning together. This made for interesting lessons – mainly that design thinking can’t be about you. You must work together and remain open to new things, including:
  • New goals: During the design process we were encouraged often to reflect on project goals, not our own. It sounds counter-intuitive but being goal-focused makes it easy to contribute and recognize innovative ideas.
  • New measures of success: Problem-solving isn’t about being the first, the smartest or the best; it’s about respecting the wisdom of the group. Taking ownership of ideas inevitably creates friction, and it’s easier to be creative when you put the pressure on solving the problem – not on yourself!
  • New behaviors: Be thoughtful and deliberate in the things you say, because having too many ideas can nominate you to be in charge of sorting them out. Though I was well-intentioned, I learned this lesson the hard way.
  • Confronting challenges: Working through challenges is a hands-on exercise for all involved – including the group facilitators. Participating thoughtfully in a collaborative group can be difficult, and managing the many needs and perspectives of a group is even harder. Facilitators work with participants on the most important job – balancing the process, managing time, and resolving conflict.
This event was really hard, but equally rewarding. I was surprised by the progress strangers were able to make in only a few short days, and, in the end, I felt confident knowing we had an idea that was guided by our goals and collective intelligence and designed to address a specific challenge.
This post was first published at workingexamples.org.