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What Does It Mean to Be Human in the Digital Age?

Patrice Prusko, instructional designer in Academic Technologies, has been exploring design thinking this past semester. In three design thinking workshops she tackled the topic “what does it mean to be human in the digital age?” In each case the group seemed somewhat apprehensive. What is this design thinking anyway? What could we possibly learn from a question like that?

The question of “what does it mean to be human” is not a new question. A very natural part of being human is wanting to fit in, have relationships, and feel connected. We try to make sense of our role within the social hierarchy, understand stereotypes, and for some, struggle to have our voice heard.

“The workshops I led were one-hour ‘crash course’ sessions, so we moved through each stage at a rapid pace,” said Prusko. “I placed most of my emphasis on the importance of listening to the story and gaining empathy. I advised people to ask ‘why?’ a lot and think of it as a conversation.”

Prusko described that these sessions were filled with positive energy and you could feel how excited people were to have been given "permission to break the rules." Participants were given space, place, and time to ideate in a world with no budgets, no policies, no limitations, and most importantly the lack of the word no.

Matt Klein, who works in CIT’s communication group, assisted Prusko with a few crash courses. “It’s great to see aspects of what some refer to as ‘the future of work’ appearing spontaneously in these sessions,” Klein said. “In this environment, suddenly people start showing greater comfort with acceptable risk, dynamically assuming roles based on skills, and naturally relaxing into a variety of approaches that it’s said are going to be essential for organizations that hope to thrive in the future." 

The majority of these people were in the technical field and problem solvers. “It was initially hard to get them to shift their mindset from problem solver to explorer,” said Prusko. “By the end of the hour they were amazed at how much they not only learned about the person next to them, but how quickly they could gain empathy and develop prototypes, four in four minutes!” By listening to their partner’s story they had gotten to know this person in a way they would not have otherwise.

Some of the takeaways from the workshop included the fear of having what you say be out there forever, the ability to offend someone online, and that social media closely replicated the face to face world.

Prusko urges us to make design thinking a part of our daily life, “taking the time to have a conversation, truly listening to another person’s story, and gaining a deeper understanding of who they are and what they value.”

What impact might a day of empathy have where you work? If you’d like to learn more about design thinking visit: http://dschool.stanford.edu/use-our-methods.

Article by Patrice Prusko and Danica Fisher.

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