164. To be, or not to be inspired — is not the question

01

Let me ask you. If you were to secure your physical property (your house) from any fire related damage, electric short circuit or electric appliance malfunction, what would you do as a precaution?

I’m sure, this is what you would do. You’d make sure that everything’ gets designed and fitted 100% accurate while constructing your house. You’d also get some sort of smart alarm system installed. And you’d probably also get insured.

And, you would probably contact us because we have a company called “Safemandu”.

That was an idea we could bank on.

Well, that’s what we thought during the 4-day workshop on “Inspiration, Iteration and Innovation”. And we were so damn wrong.

The workshop, organized as a part of BUCSBIN project, was a super squeezed 4-day version of what happens in a 4-month semester at the Oamk LABS of Oulu University of Applied Sciences, Finland. Two Lab Masters Janne Karjalainen and Ulla‐Maija Seppänen were facilitating the workshop participated by 30 academicians and practitioners from a wide range of faculties.

The main objective of the workshop was to give us (faculty members) a sneak-preview of how students go through a human centric design process in a lab setting and come up with innovative ideas to solve real problems of the society.

Drawing from the philosophies of Design Thinking and Lean StartUp, the program is designed and conducted to make multi-disciplinary groups of students work in teams, align their personal goals with team goals, and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They explore the problems and issues, get validations, design solutions, get validations, test, fail, test, reiterate, test, refine. Go through the loop. Learn through the process. And at the end of the program, they acquire the skills and attitudes to be self-directed and self-motivated professionals ready for the 21st century.

02

What happened:

On the first day, Janne and Ulma divided us in 10 teams and assigned each team topics like “Healthy sexual behavior among teenagers”, “Retaining talent in the country”, “Security in the Urban area”, “Financial Independence for Elderly People”, “Promoting Gender Equality”. Very vague. Very broad.

We were to discuss in our team, brainstorm as many ideas as possible, and keep our minds open for more perspectives. Janne and Ulma repeatedly reminded us to go deeper and wider. “Your opinions are the best ones. And they don’t mean anything”, Janne emphasized. We had to therefore go out from the venue, find at least 10 people, empathize and interview them. Then get back with more ideas and understanding of their real needs and desires.

On the second day, we had to pitch our ideas in 3 mins. They call this — Gate 1 presentation. Some ideas get through the gate, and some get thrown away.

Safemandu — our team’s idea didn’t get through. We were crushed, emotionally. And, I got depressed for almost 11 minutes.

What did they say?
Identify your users. Go talk with them. Find more perspectives on the issue. Try to understand their needs, wants. Their beliefs. What they say. What they do.

What did we do?
As soon as we got our topic, we quickly switched into our “analytical” heads and started prescribing solutions. Worse, we got into defensive mode.

What happened?
We got kicked out during the Gate presentation. And we had to attend the funeral session of our idea. That was heartbreaking but a humbling experience.

What did we learn?
Don’t jump into pre-conceived solutions without understanding the real needs and desires of the users. (Also, hear the instructions properly.)

The feedback circle after the presentations was sweet yet brutal.

Anyways, I quickly got assigned with one of the remaining teams. The problem focused on creating a platform for teenagers so that they can have meaningful conversations with their parents about sexual abuse and harassment. And we had to go through the same process. Understand the problem. Understand the user. Understand their needs and wants and beliefs and behaviors. Brainstorm — good ideas, bad ideas. Pick one that seems feasible, viable, and desirable. Go out once again and get validated. For the next day, do more research. And finally, come up with a prototype, along with a business plan.

05

Next morning, we continued working with our prototype and business model. And also prepared a 4-minute presentation for Gate 2. And, surprise surprise, the judges for Gate 2 were four people who had no idea what was happening in the workshop. Two foreigners. Two Nepalis. More pressure on the presenting teams because we had to make sure the judges understood the context, problem, solution, prototype, and the business model — everything in just four minutes.

After the presentations were over, Janne and Ulma made us sit down in a circle. Two minutes of self-evaluation. Two minutes of our evaluation by another team. And, two minutes of evaluation from the two lab masters. And once again, this was a nerve-wracking experience. Feedback sunney baani chaina ni ta 🙂

On the final day, Janne and Ulma unpacked what happened throughout the previous days. They talked about their belief on learning through the process in a team with members from diverse academic backgrounds and interests. They also stressed on trust and accountability — both on individual and team level.

06

My reflection:

Inherent in the workshop (and in the four-month program back at the Oamk LABs) is the focus on experiential learning. These guys have figured out how people learn. I could see Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle as the structural backbone of the entire workshop. Experience. Reflection. Conceptualization. Application. Feedback. Over and over again.

My whole teaching methodology (and philosophy) is largely guided by Kolb, and seeing these guys mix the essence of experiential learning, design thinking, and lean startup made me realize the limitless possibilities of fulfilling the gaping holes in our teaching approach and education system at large. Specifically, at business colleges. We could do so much.

Back in December 2017, representing BUCSBIN project, we had a great opportunity to visit Oamk Lab and Oulu University of Applied Sciences in Finland. We got a first-hand experience on how the lab masters there are re-defining teaching methodology and curriculum by focusing more on the learning process than on the outcomes/grades. (May be one of the reasons why Finland’s education system is considered the best in the world at the moment.) This 4-day workshop reinforced my learnings from the Finland visit and my belief on experiential process.

The purpose of this workshop was also to enable the faculty members of the BUCSBIN project run our own versions of Oamk Labs at King’s College and KU School of Management. This has given me (and hopefully to all participants) enough confidence to conduct such workshops, idea incubation and development programs.

A huge respect to Janne, Ulma, and also Kimmo Paajanen for your no-nonsense facilitation and amazing support. You guys are the best.

Lastly, to be or not to be inspired — is not the question.

It’s the only answer.

The workshop was organized by Building University Capacity to Support Business Incubation in Nepal (BUCSBIN) partners: King’s College, Kathmandu University, Idea Studio Nepal, Oulu University of Applied Sciences and YoungInnovations. April 24–27. At Summit Hotel, Lalitpur.

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