Designing Experiences That Inspire & Delight

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Ichi-go Ichi-e, which roughly translates to “one moment, one meeting in your life that will never happen again,” describes a cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people. The busyness we all feel is one of the reasons I so firmly believe that the way we in which we come together matters—it determines how successful we can be as a group and also creates a foundation for relationships that can be nurtured outside of organized experiences. How might we stop and appreciate the opportunities we have to interact with one another?   

Think of all the moments you experience each day. Some are thought out, but many “just happen.” Which experiences do you remember?  What if we intentionally crafted, both large and small moments and experiences for those we lead? YOU have the power to create incredible experiences by learning to be an experience architect.  Whether you choose to use these strategies to redesign a staff meeting or craft a critical conversation, the skills of an Experience Architect will shift how you approach planning any experience.

A mind that has been stretched by a new experience can never go back to its original dimensions.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Four elements to keep in mind when embracing your role as an “Experience Architect”

  1. Planning for the Big 3: Who? Why? Constraints? So many of the experiences we participate in become routine and we forget to really think about the building blocks of the experience.  Who are you creating for, why does the experience need to exisit and what are your constraints? See if you can turn your constraints into your advantage and design around them.  

  2. Break with the Norm When it comes to experience design, routine is the enemy of creating great experiences.  As Tania Luna shared in Surprise, “ We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not.”  The most memorable times of our lives tend to be when we have experienced something new, different or novel.  Businesses that are memorable also break with the Norm. If you’ve ever flown Southwest airlines they break with the norm by telling funny jokes during their safety announcements “Ladies & gentlemen, if you wish to smoke ,the smoking section on this plane is on the wing and if you can light’ em, you can smoke ‘em.”  How might you break the norm of the experience you are creating?

  3. Set the Stage  This may seem trivial or an afterthought, but looking at your space and taking the time to “set the stage” can change the experience. Research suggests you only have seven seconds to make a first impression.  While this research is focused on introductions to new people, I believe it holds true to experieces as well. Think about it. Within seconds of walking into a room, you not only get a feeling about the time you’ll be spending there, you also know what type of role you will play.  Does the room invite you to engage with others or compel you to sit in the back row with your eyes glued to your smartphone? Take a quick inventory of your experience space. What does it communicate? Are you happy with the message being sent? If not, what can you do to change the message?  Consider playing music to build energy or calm the room. Think about your seating arrangements. How will participants engage with each other? Details matter.

  4. The Fun Factor  There should be joy in our work at schools, yes even at meetings. When designing an experience, consider the element of fun. I know some work is serious business, but even serious businesses like banking are looking to incorporate fun into their experiences. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always think “fun” when I think of banking. Metro Bank in the UK is challenging that thinking. Their new tagline is  “Banking, But Better.” They have completely reimagined the banking experience and all of their branches have a Magic Money Machine that counts coins in the lobby. How can you add a fun or interesting twist to the work you are doing?

    Redesigning experiences doesn’t have to take a ton of time but the difference between a good experience and a great experience is the intentionality in the design. Here’s an “Experience Design Planning Template” that can speed up your planning process.  You too can design experiences that inspire and delight others! I’d love to hear about any experience you redesign. Share in the comments below or on social media using #Dt4EduLeaders

Pop Your Bubble! How Might We Seek Out New Perspectives?

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Our family strives to have dinner together every night but with varying work schedules, travel schedules, sporting games, & practices, sometimes nightly families dinners become more of a wish than a reality  As my boys have gotten older, our breakfast time has become more important, travel aside, it is the one time we are all together. It’s not uncommon for us to have the morning news on in the background and I love the conversations we have as a result.  Not too long ago, we had the news on when the entire morning news cycle was consumed by Comey’s testimony. Political beliefs aside, I have been & continue to be appalled by (& apparently outspoken about) the actions of our current President. As we sat and watched the morning headlines, I overheard the comments my boys were making and realized how much they were repeating information they had absorbed from me!  My husband, a Brit but also a US Citizen, has always been able to take a more middle of the road approach when talking to our kids about politics. “No, we may not like the actions of our president, but he still deserves our respect, etc” He is quick to point out multiple perspectives and provides the counterbalance to my vocal opinions. In fact, recently he called me out on how one-sided my views were and he was right. Guilty, as charged.

But, I’m not alone.  It turns out our world is becoming more and more siloed into our beliefs, ideas and perspectives and not just about politics.  So much so, that The Kind Foundation launched a social media experiment in 2017 that challenged Americans to add different perspectives to their social media feeds after learning that only 5% of what people see in their news feed differs from their own personal opinions.  5%!  I found that number to be shocking, especially because I consider myself to be so open-minded and accepting.  I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising given that our natural tendency as humans is to surround ourselves with like-minded people and ideas.

Unlike common social media algorithms, the Pop Your Bubble “anti-algorithm” scanned a user’s profile and actively found other users whose profile was LEAST like theirs.  Specifically, it matched users with those who had different demographics such as geographic location, age, and political affiliations. As a part of the campaign, users were encouraged to follow at least 10 new people whose posts would then appear into their daily feed.

Official results of their study haven’t been released, but the data the KIND Foundation has shared is pretty incredible.  In the first two weeks of the campaign, Pop Your Bubble resulted in more than 140 million earned media impressions. But more importantly, within the first two weeks of the campaign, users established over 40,000 new relationships furthering the KIND Foundation’s message to connect people from all walks of life, one conversation, and encounter at a time.  While the Pop Your Bubble campaign is no longer active, The Kind Foundation continues to offer advice on how to get outside of your bubble. Advice that is so relevant to the work we do in education.  

In a time where our world is becoming even more polarized, I LOVE that ASCD is challenging us to seek out new perspectives at this year’s #Empower19 conference in Chicago.  What might you need to do differently to “pop your bubble?” I don't know about you but I am accepting this challenge head-on and am excited to encounter new people, ideas and perspectives that will shape my thinking ultimately making me a better leader.  I am heading to Chicago ready to meet new people, build new relationships and have new conversations! I hope to see you there,

Alyssa

What Do YOU Need to be a Design Inspired Leader?

This week I was reflecting a lot on leadership and more specifically the self-care of leaders.  In one of my recent coaching engagements, I was pulled back into the reality of being a school principal and it was almost as if I was experiencing it all over again. Triggered by conversations I was having, I was flooded with all the memories (good and bad) and the reality of the day to day grind of being a school principal.

First one to pull into the school parking lot every morning, last one to drive away in the evening.  Attending every school function, district meeting, and school board meeting. Accepting the invites I received from students to attend special events.  Carving out time to go out of my way to connect with students, parents, and teachers. Sound familiar?

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This was my life as a school principal and I know this is the life that many of you lead.  It was the hardest job I ever had and yet I loved every minute of it. Upon reflection, I think I would have enjoyed my role as a principal even more if I had practiced a little more self-care.  If I could go back and do it all over again, I would be kinder to myself AND I would be a little more vocal about my needs as a leader. Here are three things I would change to show myself a little more self-love:  

  • Change Your Inner Dialogue:  It sounds so basic, but the inner dialogue we have with our self is the loudest and most prominent voice we hear.  Are you constantly telling yourself all the things you have to do as a leader? Do you focus on your shortfalls? What might happen if you started talking up all the positive things you are doing as a leader?  Think about how you speak to yourself. Is it with love, acceptance, and kindness or is it harsher and filled with critiques? I challenge you to try to quiet the critical voice in your head. Try to let the words of gratitude and self-love prevail - even if you can’t do it for the full day, try it for an hour.  Or better yet, try to start your day telling yourself all of the amazing things you are accomplishing! I try to practice what I preach and still find this one difficult, however, when I am headed into a particularly challenging meeting or presentation I have started to take a private moment, where I can take a few deep breathes and do a superhero pose.  Sound strange? Try it! It makes all the difference!

  • Choose Your Colleagues Wisely: No you don’t actually get to choose your colleagues, but you do get to choose which colleagues you spend time with.  Make it point to surround yourself with colleagues who lift you up and share a positive view of the work you are doing.  Have you ever noticed that negative energy begets negativity? Well, the same is true for positivity. Surround yourself with positive people and you can’t help but notice the difference it has on your mood. I’d encourage you to take this one step further and find a colleague who challenges you in a good way!  For me, this person is a former colleague and school leader, Katie Kinnaman. We no longer live in the same state, but a few calls every month and Katie challenges me to take on new challenges!

  • Negotiate For What You Need:  You are being asked to take on herculean tasks and probably wouldn’t have it any other way. But here is the thing, it is well within your rights to ask for the support you need. What if you actually scheduled a conversation with your boss about the support you need?  I remember all too way, starting at a new school in a new district and thinking YIKES I need more support, but I felt like I was too new to ask for it. It took awhile, but I finally drummed up the courage to set up a meeting with my Superintendent and negotiate for what I needed.  The conversation was so successful, my only regret was that I had waited so long to do it! Try structuring the conversation ahead of time with this easy to use download.

I’d love to hear what other supports you might need to lead more like a designer! Reach out, let’s chat!

Want a Team of SuperStars? Try These 3 Super Easy Strategies!

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.
— Helen Keller

There is so much power in the team you have around you, that it’s well worth nurturing each of the superstars on your team. While the lone heroic leader who takes on the work solo is often celebrated, I believe our work is more effective (and enjoyable) when done as a team.  As the leader, you may be the catalyst, but your most innovative work will likely be done as a team. Improving schools is definitely a team sport that requires the involvement of every member on the team.

Here are 3 strategies to harness, fully utilize and nurture a team of SuperStars around you:

1 - Identify Superpowers & Kryptonite  The Justice League, a fictional superhero team appearing in American comic books, is powerful because each member has their own unique superpower. The Flash has superhuman speed. Superman possesses the power of flight, superhuman strength, x-ray vision, and heat vision. You get the idea. These superheroes are powerful on their own, but the collective power of the Justice League is amazing!  What are the superpowers on your team? And equally as important what is everyone’s kryptonite? (essentially what brings them down in a group or kills their superpower.)

Try having everyone on your team claim their superpower in a group and identify their kryptonite.  Even if you don’t have time to do this as a group, you can start to identify the superpowers on your team by watching people in action and asking questions. “What do they do better than anything else? What do they do better than the people around them? What do they do without effort? What do they gravitate to without being asked?”  Identifying the superpowers on your team, not only helps you build a stronger team, but it can also help you connect people to opportunities and establish the right level of support for them. Lean in to the superpowers of everyone on your team.

2- Create Team Norms Teams that are successful are successful because of the ways they have chosen to work together.  The team’s norms are a greater predictor of success than the actual composite of the team. So in some regards, it is less about who is on the team and the ways in which members interact with one another. In their simplest form, norms are informal understandings that govern the behavior of members of a group.  Norms can be unspoken or explicitly expressed—either way, they have a profound influence over how a team works together. What norms do you have for your school or district?  Do you encourage teams to actively talk about and set norms?   Below are a set of norms you can use as a starting place but make sure to co-create and personalize the norms with your team.

  • Assume best intentions

  • Be a learner, not a knower

  • Bring your authentic self

  • Take risks and choose to engage

  • Respect confidentiality

  • Play (& work) hard!


3 - Clear the Path & Get out of the Way!   Education has traditionally relied on a top-down model for decision making but a top-down leadership structure can be detrimental to our teachers. Remember that everyone on your team was hired to do a job for which they are well qualified.  Sometimes we need to move aside and let them do their jobs. As leaders, we may have ideas of how to improve our school, but our teachers have ideas too. We need to trust them and acknowledge that we may not be the smartest person in the room.   Teachers are our greatest asset. Empower your teachers and give them a chance to share their superhero power!

What other strategies have worked for you as you nurture a team of superstars?

Invest in Innovators, Not Innovation

“What is your plan for innovation?” this is the question I was asked a lot when I was working as the Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships for the Los Altos School District.  I guess it’s a fair question, but we didn’t have an “innovation plan” per se we had a plan to create more innovators. Innovation within an organization happens when you invest in people, providing them with the tools they need and creating a culture that supports innovative thinking and behaviors.   

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Unfortunately, this is where I see so many well-intentioned leaders go wrong.  They want more innovative schools and more innovative experiences for their students, so they focus on implementing more innovative programs—project-based learning, a new iPad deployment or even design thinking projects just to name a few.  They heavily invest in products and training and then wonder why a few months down the road they aren’t seeing the results they hoped to see. I would contend that they entered the change process at the wrong point. Jumping straight to behavioral changes may feel that you are embracing a strong bias to action, but these efforts will likely not yield the results without first focusing on the mindsets of every adult in your school or organization.  Mindshift work is hard and it’s certainly not sexy but it is what leads to behavior change and in many cases is what leads to innovation.

So, how do you invest in your future innovators?  Here are 3 suggestions that I have found successful:

  • The Power of the Possible:  Continually share examples of teachers, schools, and districts that are approaching their work differently.  As educators, we are the only profession where our internship started at the age of 5! It isn’t easy for even the most well-intentioned teacher to unwind all of their beliefs and practices without seeing a different way.  Need inspiration? Check out Edutopia or Education Reimagined stories of what is possible.  Share these stories any way you can! And then keep sharing!

  • Create Short R&D Cycles:  Empower teachers who do want to try something new with students.  Work to create a culture where risk is minimized and testing out new ideas is celebrated.  Have any discretionary money? Create a mini-grant, where a teacher can apply for money to support a new idea with the caveat that they share their learning with a broader team.  

  • Invest in Learning: Don’t limit learning opportunities for adults to professional development days or staff meetings. Flood your team with opportunities to learn.  Sure you may not be able to require their participation, but at the very least you can create awareness of opportunities. Why not do a whole staff book read?  Need a suggestion? I may be biased, but Design Thinking for School Leaders is a great place to start.  Or send a few teachers to a conference, there are some great ones around the corner—Learning & The Brain (Educating with Empathy), ASCDEmpower19 or SXSWedu.

I’d love to hear how you are investing in your team!