I Want Your Absolute Worst Thinking

“I want your absolute WORST thinking…”

The other day I was co-presenting a session to educators that focused on why design thinking is needed in K-8 classrooms. We talked about the need for empathy, for designing a new future, for “soft” skill development, etc. You know how it goes… you sit and listen to a presenter talk about why their idea is going to revolutionize education, and you get all pumped up and ready to take on the world.

Then I led them through a brainstorming activity in which I asked them to quickly brainstorm all the WORST possible ways to introduce design thinking in their classroom. They stared at me. Surely I had misspoke. “No,” I clarified, “I don’t want your best thinking. I want your absolute WORST thinking. The most TERRIBLE ideas you can come up with…” and off they went.

The ideas they shared were eye-opening. Some were:

  • Present design thinking as a worksheet
  • Micro-manage every aspect of the design thinking process
  • Use a K-W-L at every stage of design thinking
  • Grade them on their final product
  • Provide no direction whatsoever and expect them to figure out what design thinking is
  • Make it a mandate

And so on… from those terrible ideas, we were able to springboard into great ideas because underneath every bad idea is a great idea just waiting to get out. It was a fun activity, yes, but a meaningful one as well.

Then today I read an article called “How You Can Get Better at Predicting the Future”  Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, discussed the importance of a premortem before making an important decision. Opposite of a postmortem, a premortem figures out what killed a person before the person actually dies. It has fantastic implications for the edu sector.  In the premortem, you take your decision, or planned course of action, and describe how it proves to be a “catastrophic failure” in two years time. Why was the idea so terrible? How did it fail?

Johnson explains that this forces people to look at their decision from a different angle. Usually, we ask, “Do you foresee any issues with this idea/program/solution?” and people say, “No, looks good” and we move forward with the idea. But when you ask people, “Okay, invent the story of how this path ends up leading to disaster,” they see flaws they might not have seen otherwise.

How many school initiatives or even classroom lessons have been failures because we didn’t conduct a premortem? Even our best laid plans have room for improvement.

Next time I conduct my “most terrible idea” brainstorm, I think I’m going to switch it up and also ask them to brainstorm the catastrophic failure of their best plan so that the plan can become even better. Maybe then, we can eliminate some of our silver bullet solutions and dig deeper for a real edu revolution.

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