International Emerging Leaders Program

at Collegiate School


October 2016

Design Thinking: Experimentation

How can we refine ideas into a clear solution? How can we learn from our failures and view them not as mistakes but as opportunities for growth? That is what we learned during our time at VCU’s Da Vinci Center for Innovation. We started our time at the Center with an informative talk about the future of higher education, the evolution of problem solving, and Design Thinking at VCU from Garret Westlake, the Executive Director of the Da Vinci Center.

We then dove in to the fourth stage of design thinking, Experimentation. As Allison Schumacher of VCU’s Da Vinci Center explained, Experimentation is all about taking the ideas you have developed in Ideation and setting how they will work out in real life. It is a process where failure pushes you forward, and the only really mistake is to not try things.

“Every problem is different. Every group of people is different. Every location is different. You must realize this so when you go out into the world you can focus on understanding the problem through the people it effects.” – Allison Schumacher

She explained the the process and the reasons behind each choice in the process such as  our use of basic materials because people are more likely to give and receive effective feedback on a quick, inexpensive prototype. Mrs. Schumacher also enphasized the value of the cycle of testing, altering, and retesting while encouraging us five right in and learn by doing.

“Fail continuously, fail fast, fail forward, and understand that failure is not the end.”  – Allison Schumacher

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“Don’t be afraid of crazy ideas; don’t be afraid of crazy people. Every idea is equally right and equally wrong so don’t be afraid of failure.” – Mrs. Schumacher



Design Pitch: Ideation

“Talk less, design more!”

-Mrs. Boyd

The third session of Design Thinking is all about transitioning from the discussions of problems and empathy into potential ideas for solutions. Students gathered together into their small groups where they sat in silence for five minutes and wrote down as many solutions, crazy and generic, as they could. One main theme during this session is that there is absolutely no judgment; any idea proposed was embraced and discussed. Through this Design Thinking session, each group honed in on one or two specific ideas that they could later use for prototyping and experiment with as a solution to their environmental issue.

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Global Challenge, Local Context

This morning, the delegates meet with global business entrepreneurs Mark Cross and Dave Ryan. Mark Cross is the founder of Naxos Consulting Group and has over thirty years of experience in Fortune 500 companies. He talked to the delegates about maximizing their potential and the benefits of diversity. Next, the delegates heard from Dave Ryan, Vice President and Treasurer at Albermarle Corporation. Mr. Ryan discussed how to use perspective with business, such as thinking from the view of the producer or the consumer.

“A lot of people ask questions but they don’t listen to the answer.”
-Mark Cross

The delegates were then assigned a challenge by the two: create a package for water while making it practical, sustainable and reasonable for the people of the region to which they were assigned.  There was an emphasis on The delegates had thirty minutes to come up with ideas and plan a quick presentation. While it was challenging, the delegates learned how to work with each other under restricted situations.

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“It was fun getting to work on problems with new people. It was harder than I thought, but very beneficial.”

Learning Outside of the Classroom

Design Thinking: Interpretation

How can you figure out who someone is and what problems they face in their everyday life? How are the problems of one person connected to the larger environmental issues that plague a region? This is what we explored in the second of our five Design Thinking Sessions, Interpration.

“Interpretation is exactly what it sounds like. It is taking the people and the stories you have already learned about and gaining insight from them.”

– Mrs. Boyd

The first step of this multifaceted approach was to ask questions to form a complete profile of your users.  By asking questions like, “What does she like?” and “What does he need?” you can understand how your problem effects your user on a basic, human level.

“When you have different users, and you understand their needs, you have insights.” -Mrs. Boyd

The next step was to think about  each “user profile” we had developed and create insights from each. An insight (or an interpretation of the perspective of the user) allows you to see the problem from the user’s eyes, thus understanding its importance to them and effect on them.

“We focused on the specific needs of the users so we went deep into the problem rather than looking at it as a whole.”

-Gunav G., India

The final step was to to take the many insights we had developed from problems we had found, and choose one or two specific issues that we can dive deeper into. By narrowing down our focus be could begin to completely understand a specific aspect of an issue instead of attempting the impossible task of trying to understand the entire issue of “Overpopulation in India,” for example, in a week. The whole processes of Interpretation allowed us to take a large, abstract problem and condense it down into personal issue with a narrow and manageable focus.

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Living Our Mission

Design Thinking: Discovery

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Design Thinking is a process and approach to solution seeking that the International Emerging Leaders Conference teaches in order to facilitate effective design for challenges of all kinds.

On Monday afternoon, the students had their first session of the Design Thinking process, called “Discovery.” After being assigned an environmental issue from one of the eleven presentations, the small groups split up to discuss amongst each other. Mrs. Boyd told everyone to discard any analytical thoughts and instead just lead a discussion. In Design Thinking, it is important to fully understand the problem and its effect on humans. The human-centered thinking process revolves around a main theme of empathy; relating to and focusing on the lives of people affected by these international issues leads to more effective and personal solutions.

“Talk less, listen more.”

-Mrs. Boyd

Essentially, the process of Design Thinking is to abandon any immediate solution-seeking inclinations, but instead to really communicate and understand the issue at hand. Experts in Design Thinking claim that any problem can be more effectively solved once it is fully understood and discussed amongst a diverse group of people. The international students will participate in five different Design Thinking sessions throughout the week.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

-Albert Einstein

Think. Design. Do.

Andy Stefanovich from Prophet is paid for being provocative – challenging companies through creative disruption to think differently, to know who they really are, what they value, and  what they can do well.

Today, he provoked us to do the same.

Mr. Stefanovich’s unique high energy approach captivated the audience and kept them constantly thinking throughout the presentation.

His use of ingenious exercises like randomly calling on people to ask them one word which describes their life, and making the entire audience of both delegates and faculty stare into a partner’s eyes for a minute kept the audience on their toes while challenging us to learn though doing.

When considering our fears regarding taking risks, he stated:

“It is not nearly as big a risk as you think it is. It is merely an artificial obstacle.”

– Andy Stefanovich

Focusing on “putting more life in your life” and taking time to connect – to really connect – with other humans allows us to see the intelligences in each of us, and all of that matters more than our “big” accomplishments. For the already accomplished students at IELC, it provided a reminder that life and success matters in ways we often forget. “It’s the small stuff that matters because it is the big stuff that will be forgotten,” he said.

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Success and Struggle Go Hand in Hand

Collegiate’s Globar Scholar in Residence, John Dau, spoke to during the Upper School assembly on leadership both in his own life personally and in addressing larger global challenges.

John Dau was born in what is now the Republic of South Sudan, but was forced out of his country when the chaotic civil war in Sudan reached his village. On his trek to seek refuge in Ethiopia, twelve-year-old Mr. Dau was selected to be a leader of approximately 1,220 young boys between the ages of 5-15 who were on the same journey. Eventually, Mr. Dau moved to the United States where he received a Bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and has raised more than three million dollars to fund the installation and operation of medical clinics in the Republic of South Sudan.

“I was not born a leader, but I did not shy away from my problems. Problems are everywhere, but they always come to an end. What you have to do is keep pushing forward. Success and struggle: they are a package deal.”

-John Dau

Students were eager to engage with Mr. Dau after assembly in a more intimate question and answer session afterwards, allowing for deeper dicussion and understanding.

Read the the article on today’s assembly speaker and Collegiate’s Global Scholar-in- Residence John Dau.

The Amazing Odyssey of John Dau– from Reflections with Weldon Bradshaw


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