Ask Like a Designer offers ways to innovate better. You’ll learn about design thinking, service design, learning design, leading and building high-performing teams, and ways to develop as a design-driven innovation practitioner. 

Ask Like a Designer explores some of the same concepts as my Design Thinking 101 Podcast. Here we will expand the conversations in the podcasts, and you will find lessons to build on the teachings of the podcast as we explore further our guests’ stories and ideas about design-driven innovation. I’ll share methods, templates, and ideas that have worked in my practice and teaching. 

Six people — designers — in different roles, and their favorite questions, drive how I serve clients, teach, and develop as a designer. You’ll hear their voices in Ask Like a Designer, a resource for those who see meaningful problems, create effective solutions, and then guide those solutions into the world with focused action — people who see, solve and act. You’ll find stories, frameworks, and step-by-step approaches to design thinking, service design, facilitation, learning, collaboration, and innovation leadership. Each article explores ways to help you get better results.

I call this Ask Like a Designer because I love questions. Much of my work focuses on empowering people to get things done by helping them find and ask the right questions at the right time, effectively. Good questions focus both individuals and teams on how to think and act, providing ways of evaluating progress while considering how well each question has been answered. Explicit questions pave a path to develop an approach to finding problems and solving them, effectively

Please meet Builder, Scout, Tinker, Facilitator, Traveler, and Pro, the six designers who help me — and will help you — create and grow as a designer. They interrupt us, slow us down, and force us to think. They will be with us on every client project and in every classroom. They are small and light, yet loud and energetic. They share space under our skin. They replicate easily, so once we know their favorite questions, they travel with us, too. Their voices are behind much of what will appear in Ask Like a Designer

Builder — Favorite question: How might I act?

Builder’s favorite question is really a 2-in-1. Builder oscillates between two thoughts: “What problem am I trying to solve?” and “What should I do next?” Builder looks for the problem it might be solving as a first step so no action is wasted, and Builder keeps things moving, while also demanding evidence that its action is connected, always, to the problem at hand.

Scout — Favorite question: What do I know?

While Builder wants to know just enough to act, Scout wants to be sure it really knows what it thinks it knows. Scout scans the territory around the problem to find the limits of its understanding of what’s happening, and why. Scout will dig deep and wide to find data supporting, and sometimes data refuting, ideas, concepts, stories, and assertions. Scout will work to identify and label assumptions, fictional knowledge, and unexplored territory that might yield valuable knowledge — or distract from it.

Tinker — Favorite question: What must I learn?

Remember that kid who takes everything apart? And how about the kid who takes everything apart, and then puts it back together, and… it works! Tinker is that second kid. Tinker is constantly breaking down problems into smaller problems to learn how they really work. Tinker mines reports from Scout to find what it needs to learn about the problem, possible actions, and useful (and good-to-avoid!) options. The other five designers devour reports from Tinker that detail what they can learn to get better at what they do. When it’s time to create, Tinker guides Builder, and Builder restrains Tinker. It’s a tricky, necessary balance at which they excel. 

Facilitator — Favorite question: How might I lead?

Facilitator sees leading as helping people do their best work. Facilitator structures the work, sometimes slowing down Builder long enough to make sure Builder is using the right tool for the job. Builder, Scout, and Tinker are prone to biting off far too much of the problem at once. Facilitator breaks work down into smaller units that are easier to complete and evaluate, making sure everyone knows what problem they are solving and helping them adapt as their understanding of the problem changes.

Traveler — Favorite question: What do I wish I’d known?

Traveler is Tinker’s best friend. Traveler is unstuck in time, wandering around playing with alternative timelines where it has better knowledge or different abilities. When Traveler spots something to learn that will help the team get better at seeing, solving and acting, Tinker steps up to make that learning happen.

Pro — Favorite question: How might I practice?

Pro is all about performance. Pro scans everything for new actions and experiences to fold into a daily, weekly and monthly practice schedule. Pro is brutally honest about how well actions generate outcomes and whether a particular approach or practice is working. Tinker wants to know what to learn, and then wants to know what to do to make the learning function as a reflex — automatic, fast, and effective. Pro, in architecting what, how and when the other five designers practice, is a smiling commander of blood, sweat and tears.

Builder, Scout, Tinker, Facilitator, Traveler, and Pro. You’ll see their influences and energy in everything appearing in Ask Like a Designer. Play with them. Listen to them. Let each one grab your brain’s controls occasionally. To help you do that, I created an Ask Like a Designer Thinking Tool that you can download here for free. Future Ask Like a Designer articles will provide Thinking Tools — templates, checklists, guides, and resource packs — that make these processes “step-by-step easy” for you to find new ways to create, solve and learn. Enjoy.

Ask Like a Designer Thinking Tool

Ask Like a Designer Thinking Tools make it easy to apply what you learn. Download the Thinking Tool for this article.

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