5 x 5 - Workshop: A Tool for Change, Joan Ball

Interview with Joan Ball, PhD, Founder of WOMB Service Design Lab

By Thomas Brandenburg

The goal of the sessions is to equip participants in a variety of contexts to approach change efforts and other transitions as opportunities to experiment and innovate rather than challenges to be feared.  

1. What is the simplest way that you can describe what you do in workshop related activities to an audience that isn’t familiar with it?

Despite general agreement that change is a constant, many people struggle with the ambiguity of transition. Whether a student moving from college to career, a social innovator conceiving and launching a new initiative, or a leader reimagining their organization against shifting market dynamics, navigating uncertainty requires imagination, creativity and resilience that comes easier to designers than it does to individuals in other fields. In my workshops, I introduce design thinking and service design techniques to non-designers. The goal of the sessions is to equip participants in a variety of contexts to approach change efforts and other transitions as opportunities to experiment and innovate rather than challenges to be feared.      

2. What are some key lessons you have learned facilitating and planning design thinking or service design workshops since you started?

Two key lessons come to mind. First, most people are confident that they already know all they need to know about problem solving. Second, as a result of lesson #1, design thinking principles and service design methods are best understood when practiced. When I first started introducing these concepts in workshops and the classroom about 5 years ago, I would begin a session with an overview of a variety of models and then move to hands-on exercises. This often led to confusion or defensiveness on the part of participants who were not convinced that they needed a better problem solving mousetrap. I’ve since learned that the most direct route helping people to embrace the power of design thinking and service design tactics is to get them designing for others with little or no instruction. This allows me to observe their work and choose frameworks for presenting new principles in a way that enhances rather than replaces their chosen problem solving approach.   

3. What are the biggest obstacles a leader may face then trying to establish or advance a design movement within their own organization? What might be some approaches to  overcome them?

I think the best way to start a design movement in an organization is to abandon the notion of starting a design movement in favor of starting a problem-solving movement. Nobody pushes back when you show up and start solving their problems in creative, cost-efficient ways.  

4. What habit or pattern of behaviors may be important to unlearn for participants as they go through your workshops?

Most participants I encounter are quite confident that they have properly identified the problem(s) they hope to solve and have little patience with taking time to confirm before moving on to solution finding. Ideating is fun. Taking time to define problems is frustrating for many people, so they dig in their heels rather than explore possibilities. Despite the challenges, this is my favorite part of the process in a workshop. Even the most skeptical participants become true believers in a moment if you can help them see the problem they are trying to solve in a new light.

5. What does success look like at the end of an engagement?

I design my workshops to be transformative. For some this means seeing the user or customer in a new way. For others, redefining the way they approach problem or seeing the value in a three dimensional prototype to better understand a potential solution. Since everyone comes to a session from a different place, there is not one single change I hope to see in my participants. Instead, I hope they have at least one aha moment that makes them to ask themselves: “if I was limited in my thinking about that, what else do I need to rethink?”

Check out other 5 x 5s at the SDN US National Conference Blog