What Bugs You?  Opportunities Might Be Hiding in Your Biggest Annoyances

As you go through your day, you likely have annoyances.  We all do. What if you kept track of things that bug you?  The goal here isn’t to overly focus on the negative, but often times opportunities are hidden in these annoyances. Identifying a point of friction, when reframed, can be an incredible opportunity for a design thinker who is armed and ready to tackle problems. This is a strategy that works across all ages. As shared by Tom & David Kelley in Creative Confidence, adults and students alike can create and keep “Bug Lists” which is as simple as it sounds, a running list of things that “bug” you.  We have seen teachers create a “What Bugs You?” wall in their classrooms where students can place sticky notes or record the things that may be getting in their way of learning at school, then pull these ideas for design sprints, helping students see that within every problem, there lies an opportunity for innovation.

Almost every annoyance, every point of friction, hides a design opportunity.  Instead of just complaining, ask yourself, “How might I improve this situation?
— David Kelley, Author of Creative Confidence

Normally when utilizing design thinking we focus on designing for someone other than ourselves but this doesn’t mean you can’t apply the design thinking process and mindsets to take care of something that bugs you as well.  A 12-year old girl from Connecticut recently turned her hospital annoyance into a new solution that not only solved her problem but will also help other kids undergoing treatments. Ella, who has an autoimmune disease, started spending considerable amounts of time at the hospital for treatments starting at the age of seven and was frightened by the IV hanging bag and machine.  Instead of just accepting the annoyance for what it was, Ella had an idea to cover the IV bag with a teddy bear making the entire machine appear less scary. This idea has turned into the Medi-Teddy, an online business that Ella is now running in the hopes of helping other children have friendlier stays in the hospital. 

We could all take some inspiration from Ella and do something about our annoyances. The summer offers many opportunities to test out the “bug list” outside of your normal work routine, whether you are traveling or spending more time with family you are bound to find things that bug you.  Try creating your own “bug list” and see if you can’t find some opportunities hiding in your list. I’d love to hear what ends up on your bug list, share on twitter using #DT4EduLeaders.

Does Your School Have a Culture of Compliance or a Culture of Creativity?

One of the most difficult challenges in education is our posture toward the possible, which is directly tied to the type of culture that has been created over time in our schools. Take a minute and think about the culture of your school or district.  What one word might you use to describe it? Now think about the culture you want to create within your school or district. What one word might you use to describe the culture you want? If there is a gap between the culture you currently have and the culture you hope to have, take comfort in knowing that  (1) you aren’t alone and (2) there are intentional things you can do as the leader to start shifting your culture in the direction you want. Anything that has been designed, can be redesigned including your school’s culture. And while we have likely inherited a culture, the way we lead can have a drastic impact on the culture moving forward and permeate every aspect of our school or district.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to assess the current state of the culture of your school with a quick culture audit.  Where does your school fall on the continuum between having a compliant culture or a creative culture?

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So how do you build a design inspired culture—an environment where the mindsets and practices of designers are shared and become the new normal?   Put most simply, culture is a way of thinking, behaving or working that exists in a place or organization. When we are trying to transform our schools, our culture can be a huge barrier to change.  I firmly believe that our imagination and posture towards possibility is bound by culture.

The culture of school is radically at odds with the culture of learning necessary for innovation.
— Tony Wagner, Harvard Professor

Like any work viewed through a design thinking lens, we begin with empathy.  Why? Empathy serves as a catalyst to transform your culture. The very definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It might sound very soft but empathy allows individuals to bring their experiences, their world views, their very lives into the workplace and create ideas for a better world. That same empathy allows their teammates to hear them, to see them, and to help them craft that vision. Without empathy, innovation is merely an empty idea. We cannot see our way to the future without our ability to see each other. If you are feeling the need to dive deeper into empathy work as you work to transform your culture check out “Putting the Human in Human-Centered Design.”  

Keep in mind that changing a culture isn’t something that happens overnight and it isn’t something that happens alone.  Getting clear on the culture you have and the culture you want is a fantastic first step!

Designing Experiences That Inspire & Delight


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?


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,


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?


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!