By Raunak Chaudhari (Coadjutant Lab Master, DoLAB)
Umes Dai (Right Brain, Empowerment Academy) asks a participant during Teach Lab “Why do you look so low?”, to which the participant said, “ASK, don’t ASSUME”. And that is what we have been reminding the participants throughout the workshop. At this point, we as organizers of the workshop have been focusing most of our attention on helping participants question their assumptions and more importantly, validate their assumptions. We felt working on the basis of assumptions is wrong so naturally that we nudged participants constantly to base their decisions on facts and interviews, not assumptions.
A month or so later, we’re standing in front of a very messy whiteboard with hastily stuck post-its clinging on to dear life – screaming for attention. One post-it is the center of all attention though and it reads ‘minimal behaviors’. The discussion around this was that design thinking as a process attempts to create a structure out of our behavior. Take this case for instance:
I open my wallet and notice I have run out of cash.
Do I go to an ATM and withdraw cash?
Do I take my phone out, open maps, search for an ATM, walk to the ATM and press buttons on the machine?
If you think the second description of me using an ATM machine is more to your liking, you are thinking in terms of ‘minimal behaviors’. Think of the design thinking process as a sequence of minimal behaviors towards solving problems.
For example, let’s say you can’t turn on the screen on your phone. You would likely try to explore what the problem is (Understand/Empathize). You press a few buttons and realize it isn’t making any sounds or giving you any other kind of feedback either. You then decide the phone may actually have a dead battery (Define). Maybe then, you start looking into how you could solve this problem (Ideate). One way would be to try and plug the phone into a charger (Prototype). Look back a few minutes later (Test) and when you realize, it still won’t turn on, you would go back and reconsider whether it is only the battery that has died (Iterate). Sounds like something you do almost every day, doesn’t it?
So this brings me back to the response Umes Dai got. Why were we so terrified of assumptions? And despite our fears, why do almost all the participants in every workshop walk like zombies right into their own assumptions? Short answer – minimal behaviors.
Here’s the long answer. It is only natural that we base our actions on our assumptions. We have survived all this time on the basis of our “knowledge”. We think we know. We have the right to be stubborn and arrogant about ‘knowing’. That’s inevitable. We always act on assumptions until we have no more assumptions left to test. Really. Have you ever planned something? There. You assumed things would go a certain way and you planned for it.
So what does this mean for us as designers and for design thinking? Looking at our processes from the perspective of minimal behaviors, everything still makes sense. Since people (and for us, our students) will inevitably work with assumptions, we should work it into the process as well. The idea here is to admit that assumptions exist. Now the question is, how could we be more aware of this and more importantly, work in ways that help reduce the influence of assumptions in our decisions.