Last June 10, over fifty young student leaders gathered at Sinag 2018: National Planning Conference for AIESEC in the Philippines. Our Design Thinking Strategist, Leo Lallana and Experience Strategist, Kazumi Shiroma, led the group in a 4-hour Design Thinking workshop wherein the participants learned the basics of Design Thinking and were introduced to the importance of empathy.
The participants of this workshop were members and officers of AIESEC, a not-for-profit organization that provides opportunities for the youth to undergo meaningful experiences through exchange. AIESEC is a global platform that connects people from all over the world to different programs that aim to develop their leadership potential.
Through this, the organization has produced some of the world’s most renowned business leaders, NGOs, and world leaders. This mission is embodied by AIESEC’s motto: “Empowering Young People for Peace and Fulfillment of Humankind’s Potential.”
We took the time to talk to their participants to gather their feedback about the workshop and hear how Design Thinking affected their experience at the planning conference.
Putting the participant first
In the beginning of the workshop, the participants expected a classroom type lecture that dealt with intensive, mind-boggling topics. As Adara Naagas, the Local Committee Vice President for Outgoing Exchange from AIESEC-UPLB, said:
“I was expecting it to be very heavy on rethinking the way we did things. [It would be] a workshop that would teach you to redo the way that processes are often carried out.”
Despite its fast-paced format, the participants had great things to say about Design Thinking by the end of the workshop.
Adara went on to explain that the workshop was effective because it put the focus on the participant. By being very “you-centric”, the moderators made sure that the participants had ownership of their ideas and realizations.
“They always looked from our perspective and coached us properly, rather than citing their own examples and leaving it to us to figure it out on our own. It wasn’t spoon-feeding information but rather asking us more question until we could finally come up with our own answers. It didn’t corner solutions as either “right or wrong” on the spot either; anything could pass as an answer since there wasn’t a “right or wrong” answer–rather which one is more appropriate for the urgency of the matter raised by the group during the workshop.”
The framework was also better appreciated because of the engaging and dynamic format that caught the attention of the attendees and enticed full participation. Claudia Laud, President of AIESEC in DLS-CSB, said that it was the interactive format of the workshop that made it effective.
By being “able to apply the learnings on-the-spot”, the participants were able to see the theories that were being discussed be put to action which Claudia believes “helps with retaining the things we’ve learned”.
Complex problems need creative solutions
The participants were able to harvest new insights that allowed them to appreciate and apply Design Thinking to their daily lives. Among their common key learnings was a new way to tackle problem-solving.
A single problem can be solved in a hundred different ways. That being so, approaching problems with fresh eyes allows a person to explore other possibilities. As the participants set off on this journey during the workshop, they came across the complex challenge of detaching from a “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.
This is what Vincent Millora, Local Committee Vice President for Outgoing Exchange in AIESEC-UST, came to realize during the workshop. He said: “We should not always give a ready-made solution to a problem. We need to dig down and find different solutions and strategies. It is not always the same.”
The rules do not always have to be followed because real-life problem solving is not formulaic. Some situations require a certain level of creativity in order to get a better grasp of the problem and hopefully, find a way to overcome its complexity. This is where Design Thinking gets its power from.
Meg Vilela, Campus President of AIESEC-Davao, shared with us that she believes Design Thinking “has a unique take on tackling problems” because this problem-solving framework “calls for us to tap our inner child and unleash our creativity”. Celina Saquido, AIESEC-UPLB’s Local Committee President added to this saying that “creativity is in everyone, we just need to embrace it more.”
Working as a Team
As a global organization, AIESEC members are exposed to working with diverse groups of people. Sabina Tungpalan, the VP for Customer Experience of AIESEC-Davao, shares that she used to love working solo but it is through AIESEC that she was able to step out of her comfort zone. This was further emphasized during the workshop. “Through this workshop, I was able to fully grasp the importance and effects of working with a team,” Sabina said.
It is imperative to create a safe space among members because this is where collaboration is most efficient. Ultimately, members generate better ideas when they are comfortable in their group and environment. Sabina added:
“My key take away from this workshop is that there are times you need to work as a team. We were solving problems as a team and we were brainstorming as a team, which really helped me understand the importance of being a team member.”
The power of empathy
The true practice of Design Thinking transcends theory and can be applied to behavior. The participants were able to understand the importance of empathizing and applying this to the way they run their organization. Fatima Malate, Local Committee President of AIESEC-Davao, said:
“Empathizing is one important characteristic that a leader must possess in order to understand the needs of their [stakeholders]. After empathizing, that’s when planning and brainstorming [must] happen in order to solve whichever issue the company/organization is facing.”
Joshua Cabrera, National Director for Talent Management from AIESEC-UPD, had a similar realization, saying: “The workshop’s emphasis on empathy, coupled with its personally revolutionizing method of divergence really helped me reassess the way my organization services its customers and come up with new ways to help them achieve their goals with our platform.”
There are moments where perfectionist tendencies surface and so much pressure is given to achieving. But as Joshua went on to discuss, clouding one’s mind to an end goal without actually planning for it already impedes the success of that goal.
Joshua reflected that it was okay to not create perfect output at the first try. By relieving himself of the stress of producing something flawless and embracing that uncertainty, it was easier to focus on his thoughts.
“I will never forget the facilitator saying, ‘minsan, okay na ang pwede na.’ When I kept those words in my head during the ideation stage, ideas flowed out of me like water,” Joshua shared. He also said: “The idea of “how might we” was similarly helpful because it’s a phrase that asks for suggestions instead of going for the best answer right away. It stripped away our self-criticism and helped us allow ourselves to put down any idea that came to mind.”
Design Thinking delves into phases of Divergent and Convergent Thinking, ingeniously pairing activities with certain phases of the process. In some stages, you are called to let your creativity run free in the form of a divergent Ideation while at other time you must deeply analyze the problem at hand and converge to determine the best solution. By knowing when to place and ideation and analysis, one can maximize the time and effort put into a work without compromising the quality of the output.
By the end of the workshop, AIESEC’s young leaders left with a fresh perspective, ready to take their organization to greater heights.