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Ep3: Design Thinking as Antidote to Egos with Sean McGuire

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In this episode, I’m talking with Sean McGuire. Sean is a design thinker and author of his own Billboard design thinking method, UX architect, and master workshop facilitator at Microsoft. We will cover recent controversies around design thinking, what meaningful and impactful workshops are like, how empathy and a new setting to bring people together can work as an antidote to egos and many more topics.

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I’m gonna start with, you know, it’s been a while and you’ve been, I feel like, one of the most in influential people for my own development in terms of like facilitation workshops, things of that nature.

So I’m definitely viewing you as a mentor. Thanks for coming on ultimately. And how have you been? What, what’s new of you, Sean?

Yeah, it was nice. I think it was like two years ago when I joined in the London studio. So, so that was really nice. . I don’t know because the good thing, I’m still in business and I’ve been doing nothing else in design thinking workshops or probably whatever I’m doing makes sense for other people. But I think if you do it on a continuous base, it’s like, it’s a gradual change.

It’s hard to actually, it’s hard to actually see what the real big difference is. Also because I kind of, for each workshop, I always collect my feedback and always try to improve one thing, like, because you can’t make everything better. And so actually every workshop is a little bit different and just try to make it better and better.

I don’t know where that’s gonna end. Yeah. And VAs guess like, for everyone listening like that’s your forte, right? Like you, you are like specializing and like, we just had the chat via every week and you kind of said, like, or at least what I got from what you said was like design thinking and workshops and facilitation is the only thing you want to do.

maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but No, it just happened. So it was nothing like that. I chose, it’s not like a pure year where you go and kind of say, Hey, what could I do with my life? And then says, Hey, you’re a perfect design singer. Well, it just happened. And I don’t know exactly why, but maybe the intriguing thing for me is two things, listening and, and meeting people and, and that constant over and over again.

And then I thing maybe as a moderator, because I always sing my trainings, the moderator is the dumbest person in the room. And what I mean is they have nothing to contribute. Yeah. I mean, and you should not be contributing. And that puts you in a position that you’re doing two things. You are observing people and you’re listening to what you’re sharing about your lives.

And that’s always interesting, always in different constellations. But rather than meeting hundreds of people talking about the weather, you are always talking about different projects, ideas. And most of those projects, or let’s say workshops are about people being super enthusiastic about changing the world.

They want to build something that’s gonna make them rich or it’s gonna change the environment or make people happy. But in general, those workshops are always about very positive topics with people trying to help each other or, or build something or change, make a better change for the future. And maybe that’s one of the things that’s really always is intriguing.

So do you see yourself, I guess, more of as a helper than a driver, right? For that change or for those ideas? Or like how do you see yourself as a. If you are in a room and you are there to, you know, to do design thinking or you’re aware to facilitate moderate, like, like what’s, like how do you place yourself, if that makes sense.

Like what, who are you really in that room? Yeah. The way I explain it is, and that’s the way I see myself, is the bus driver. Really, like in all of those, I think I told the story the last time as well, but in, in all of the big cities, you have those red or green buses. Yeah. Like this hop on, hop off buses.

And the way it designed the workshops, it’s always, let’s say discrete or individual tasks you’re doing. And once you’re finished, and this is like the stop and my only job is to bring the people from the question. So the initial question which we want to do X, y, Z to the goal. And that’s kind of whatever we promise to deliver and what I want to ensure.

No one is derailed, but they also are at liberty. They don’t have to care about anything. Everything’s carefree. . So I always tell them what to do. It’s like, it’s the same. You go to Paris, you want to explore Paris, you take your, your, your map. Now you have to go and look for underground, you have to get a taxi.

That’s all a big hassle. If you get into that red bus, you just get in, you know, you sit on the top, you make your pictures, you have to care about nothing. Yeah. And that’s the only thing that I’m doing, bringing them from A to B. But the bad news is, yeah, that you only have one line and it’s the only thing you can go.

You can’t make a choice. You can’t say, oh, I met a Lou, can you please bring me to my hotel? No, and you have to get off. So I’m very strict in the way, but I would see myself as a bus driver. I don’t care too much what the people are doing in the back of the bus is as long as they kind of do their exercises.

But my ultimate goal is I’m gonna deliver them on time at the end of the workshop, at the goal with, with whatever we agreed with the workshop on that we’re gonna deliver. . Yeah. And it’s very interesting as well. Like I, I love analogies as well, and I feel like a lot of people would, like, they’re gonna, well understand this, but it’s war of kind of maybe digging deeper into it, because I guess with a bus, if you are a bus driver there’s usually an expectation from people who come to that bus, right?

Like, we know why, where, where, where to get from A to B, but like, how do you, because it’s a bit more than a bus driving, when you need to set up, you need to, we need to know which bus we are joining ultimately. Right. Like what’s your, I guess from all the different years of experience and like you doing it, like what, what’s do you feel like, I don’t know, I wouldn’t say a secret, but like, how do you actually do that?

Because I feel like a lot of people would struggle with that. You know, they sometimes have workshops and they might come prepared, but. Like there’s, there, there is always a risk that someone is gonna come to it and they’re not just, they’re not ready for a majority or they’re taking, or they think they’re taking a wrong bus.

Maybe for in that analogy sense. Yeah, I think everything is preparation. And I kind of, once a few weeks ago wrote an article if you want to improve your let’s say moderation skills, maybe it’s not about what you do in the workshop, but what we do before and after. So the one thing is in, in that, for me, believe it, you need ownership on customer side.

That means you have a customer, a workshop owner in the way I see have one on the company side from Microsoft. So there’s always one workshop owner on company side, and there’s one workshop owner and customer side. So before you kind of draw that bus plan, huh? You’re gonna be sitting down with the customer and agreeing those are the stops.

So we have those 4, 5, 6 exercises because in reality, no one day. , you have three to six exercises. You will never have tenure or 21 happen. And by carefully crafting it with the customer and then also agreeing, this is the workshop goal. And in most cases, the customers can open, see, this is what we want to do.

I just need to assume that the customer knows exactly what we want to do. The workshop owner, if anyone says, Hey, we’re on the wrong bus here. We don’t want to do it. Job done for me, I’m gonna look at the workshop owner and say, Hey, it’s your guys, it’s your ladies. You brought them in the room. Yeah.

It’s not my responsibility to convince them. Yeah, please tell them why they’re here. And there are two options. The one is this. This person has, let’s say the mandate and can. , I brought you here. Yeah. Because we are gonna work on that and he’s gonna manage the situation or he won’t. Yeah. But it’s not my responsibility.

I’m really like a pilot. Yeah. So here’s your plan. Fly from, I dunno, from London to New York. Yeah. And it’s not my job to change that someone else is gonna make, but I’m gonna be part of the discussion where we are gonna go and how we’re gonna get there. But once that’s fixed up front and I’ll get a sign off from the customer because before we do the workshop, I’m gonna show them the poster.

We’re gonna walk through all of the steps. I’m gonna say, is this what you want? If to say yes, no, that’s what we’re gonna deliver. Very rarely, I would say maybe one in hundred workshops, there’s gonna be big disruption somewhere in between where we just figure out in the workshop, owner figures out, Hey, actually I wanted to do something else.

Fine. Yeah, we can manage that. But very seldom that will happen. , but that’s very interesting. Like from my own experience and learning and, and kind of driving a lot of workshops, I feel like, like you probably clocked in thousands. probably even more like, I don’t even know. But, but myself, I feel like I had so many workshops where you kind of need to have at least an alley in a way or like, you know, some sort of a person who would.

Would be there on your side if something goes wrong or at least have some support. I’ve been to workshops where people come, let’s say they know that we have to be there. We have some pressures, we have the goals and we know what we need to prepare, but we are still a bit of resistance. And what help me in the past, I guess, is having the decision maker who’s gonna like, you know, work with me or like, like what you described, kind of set the path straight, let’s say, or you know, help out in other ways.

But it’s also sometimes like on a simplest terms, to me, what was really helpful is. to include, I guess, a teammate, especially in the small teams. It could be, let’s say someone who’s maybe a product manager or someone who’s, you know, responsible in shaping solutions together or coming up with some ideas.

But them being involved in the planning can then help out down the road because, you know, it’s, sometimes you need numbers basically to, to kind of work together. And, and I feel like I, I, I kind of. . You know, like I, I feel like it’s, it’s that too, because sometimes you might not even have that decision maker in the actual room.

At least from my experience. It could be that they just, they don’t show up or, you know, they might just be kind of sending their colleagues in you know, in, in kind of war situations. I think what I do, what I use a lot, the poster and visuals, I think visuals are super important to align people. And what you’re saying is like you can always point to a higher authority.

In many cases, part of the poster design will be what’s the company vision. So if someone’s saying, Hey, why are we doing it? Well, that’s your company vision. You want to do X, Y, Z. Yeah. Or it will be kind of connected with a goal that everyone knows in the organization and no one is gonna kind of object.

Yeah. Let’s say if the organization says, Hey, our goal for 2020 threes, we want the grower markets. Percent, 50% in the US and everyone knows it. They have been hearing it like a hundred times from the leadership. And that’s the thing you put on the front of the poster and someone says, I don’t want to do it.

Well, I’m gonna be pointing at a poster. But you understand that your ceo, your leadership, that’s your mandate. That’s the core goal that you want to achieve in 2023. Basically telling them how can you be against it? And even if you’re against it, then please don’t, don’t share that. And and to that point, like there’s an exercise at doing many workshops, is drafting a vision on the beginning now, like I say, for example, how would a press release look like?

And what are do is, or put a picture of Satya and I’ll put a picture of the CEO of the company. Yeah. And it’s like, Hey, we want to help those guys to be successful. And once you wrap your head around that, that whatever you are doing is not only for. solving some Mickey Mouse problem. There’s something behind it that’s really part of, let’s say, the DNA of your company.

Very rarely will any resistance come. Worst case someone really does not want to participate. I I don’t take it personally. Fine, then please go out have your meetings to your emails. Yeah. If you don’t want to be here and you think you want to spend your time with something else that’s more valuable, find makes a difference if one person more or less is in the workshop.

Yeah, and I, I, I, I definitely can echo that. I like that you mentioned the visual side kind of come prepared because, like, to me, and, and because I know that a lot of people who are gonna be listening to this, we are gonna be in UX specifically and we are thinking about product design, which is, you know, it, it, it’s kind of less abstracted.

It’s super technical, but they might come into a workshop and They might come unprepared or don’t have the prototype for collecting the information, or we come kind of, you know, with a fresh slate and just kind of wing it, which to me is kind a, a bit of a dangerous approach to getting someone in, bought in.

So I feel like that that’s, that’s real interesting. I want to follow, like, on this note, I I, I like that we segued here, but one of the quotes I found about you and, and have so many bits of course to discuss, but one of the, one of I guess funny, but I also would like to hear, hear your thoughts about it, was that and I quote you this is, this is from one of the blog posts design thinking templates are for idiots, experts understand patterns.

and this is almost like a bit dissonant because you, you know, you are creating the, like, billboard design thinking has been something, what I got inspired. I, I never kind of used billboard design thinking as a as a standard, but I used elements of it, like, you know, the flow and things of that nature.

It made me a better design thinking facilitator, leadership strategy, facilitator. But what did you mean by that quote? Like what is understanding patterns instead of templates? Because I also presume that a lot of people who are gonna get started with design thinking, they’re gonna use templates.

They might even use one of your templates for the billboard. Yeah. Well, the point is, and, and then people often don’t get it. Like a template is a template and a template basically means you can reproduce it, but you also can’t tweak it. Yeah. And if you don’t understand what’s behind the template, you don’t know how to adopt it.

For specific use case, because unfortunately, like over the time, let’s say I have standard templates, like 100, yeah, but I probably have like 400 different versions I could use. But the point is, the template is just a safe way to have a communication with the customer to make it relevant for the customer.

You always have to tweak it. A very simple example, like you have stakeholder maps, and the way I like to use stakeholder maps is I’ll put the main stakeholder, or let’s say the, the main user in the center. Then around, I’ll put a circle, which is direct connected. That means let’s you have a call center solution.

Customer is talking with a call center person. He might be speaking with a, with a salesperson, a person in the store. So anything where I have a direct contact and it needs also be in real time. So it’s not, email is no direct contact when you get to know the person somehow. And outside from that, we would have indirect contact.

So that might be someone sitting in IT department, a procurement, a lawyer, whatever. That’s also going affect somehow the interaction. But this person’s never gonna know him. Let’s say I’m a customer, I will never know the CEO of a large company, but still going to interact. Another question is people say, great, fantastic.

Yeah, but forgot how should I actually use that template? Let’s say you might have a workshop where you have three major stakeholder groups. Let’s say you’re building an application. So the one would be in-house people. Part of the project. People that belong to the organization Yeah. But do not belong to the project team and then outside stakeholders.

So you would kind of cut it into three segments, but case you could also have four segments. Yeah. Let’s say you work in a sustainability and now you’re thinking about stakeholders. Oh, it’s . It’s the government. Yeah. Then it’s the company you are working for. And let’s say you’re doing some something about green banking, then it’s the banking industry and then it’s the local communities.

And if you can’t figure out that, here’s a template that’s essentially trying to figure out how is your main stakeholder connecting with other people in the world. And then kind of come to the conclusion that you might kind of tweak it and not only have one, one big segment, but three or four or five.

Yeah. . Once you get to that, then each of those templates is, you can have, let’s say, thousands of different versions. In reality, for every workshop you will create a new version. And, and that’s, I think, where many people get stuck. They take the template? No. Oh. It’s like the business canvas. I take the business canvas, just use it for every company.

But then there are questions on that business conference. They’re completely irrelevant for that company or for that workshop. Essentially. You’re just wasting time. Mm-hmm. , so on, on a super practical terms, would you, would you agree that, I guess, , like, like my personal experience, I guess. And this is, you know, I guess it what works, works, right?

Like if you are a practitioner and you can extract some actionable bits and you can, you can get to your goal and results. I feel like you need to do a lot of improvising two and think on your feet because you might uncover something you didn’t know or something brand new. It’s, it’s, the whole idea of design thinking to me is kind of get to something which you, you prepare a lot, but you’re, you are trying to discover something extra or something you, which you didn’t prepare.

You want that kind of like a new thing. But, but like on a practical sense, it’s kind like my personal approach has been always to take the templates and, you know, your templates, let’s say are great. Like, I’ve been using a lot of them, or I, I’ve kind of recreated them or I use just a segment. For a specific session.

But not necessarily s is because I kind of tend to agree that a lot of the canvases or a lot of the templates just might not be relevant or you might need to tell you know, the user or participant of a workshop, but, oh, we need to skip this part. Or maybe you discovered during it, but how it might not have been relevant.

And I feel like we could sense that, you know, you didn’t really prepare that much , if that makes sense. Yeah. I think for me, and like I always try to make everything in every individual world, world on, on the port and also on the template super clear. And that’s maybe the very hardest thing because I think in the endign sinking.

only about asking very simple questions. People can’t answer complex questions. And the way I build the billboards is actually you have one simple question with one visual, and when it’s finished, you do two things. You have a new question and you have a new visual. So even if you’re not paying attention, you understand we’re talking about something completely different.

It’s a little bit like how you go in the supermarket, you can buy everything. People get confused. Oh God, watch kind of buy. If you tell them We’re first gonna go to the grocery store, you’re gonna buy all the groceries, when we’re gonna go out, then we’re gonna go to the butcher. And in the butcher you are only gonna get meat.

And when we’re finished, then we’re gonna go to the candy store. It’s easier for the people actually to kind of focus what they need otherwise to run back and forth. Oh, I need to meat, oh, then I need my dessert. Or if I got the fruits, like it’s not efficient. Yeah. And, and the idea of design thinking workshop be.

Being super efficient, in order to be efficient, asks super simple questions and they have to be really simple. And also the limitations when they design the billboard says on the top line, the question always needs to be short. So it’s tentative. You write along question won’t happen. So it needs to be bold letters.

You have 4, 5, 6 words and you need to formulate that question and everyone can understand it and there’s no misunderstanding. So, and that’s also part of kind of shaping the template, whereas it like templates are free is the question. So the template is an abstract thing, is it’s like covered where you can put in stuff yeah.

Mm-hmm. . But the question behind it and the labeling of each of those boxes, what it is actually makes the huge difference. How are you going to use that template? And if you don’t understand it, I think the template is totally useless. . Yeah, definitely. And, and sorry to kind of segue off, but like, I just remembered one thing we, we chatted we every week, and it was, you mentioned specifically that design thinking is natural.

Right? And, and to me it’s, yeah, it, it is. But if it, if it’s natural, you know, and if it’s, if it is really natural to every single kind of, I guess human being, why do we need design fingers? Like why do, why do businesses actually need, like why, why is there really a need for someone who would facilitate, let’s say, what’s your take on that?

Simple answer. Ego. And, and what I mean is, let’s say people really don’t listen. Yeah. And maybe one thing I learned from the pandemic is since all of the workshops were online, kind of the transcripts in a way do, my documentations is I listen to all of those workshops and extract information from the transcript.

And what gets very obvious, people will be asking questions. They won’t even wait until someone gives the answer and come with the conclusion. Now it’s really about listening. And if you kind of look at, let’s say, the scientific mythology or let’s say the ideal one where you say emphasize, define idiot, prototype and test.

What is it really about? Emphasize is nothing else. Whatever the user is telling me is more important than what I believe I know about the user. So I’m sitting down with a person saying, how do you want to use the software? If I designer have all kinds of assumption, oh, he needs this button, he needs that, he needs it drop down.

Now, it’s very hard for people if they have, especially for creative people, they have a mental model, how the world should look and someone comes and tells them, that’s all crap. It’s completely different, you know? So the first thing from, from those steps is really listen. And that’s so very hard for us.

And in order to orchestra the conversation, like I always try and design thinking workshops. I don’t want to have any discussions. Discussions are a waste of time. Yeah. We, we spend too much time with it. I try to simple questions and then I want every. To share their opinion and everyone else should listen.

And that’s the way I also, why I use the post. Because usually people will be writing things and then gonna ask them, please come up, put your Post-it on front and talk about it. I don’t even care what’s on that post. But what you’re doing is you’re creating this stage and it’s natural. Oh, the person in front standing, everyone else is sitting, putting his poster on the wall.

Yeah. Has something to say. And we are gonna listen. And the tremendous interesting thing that happens in workshops is if you truly listen to what other people are saying. Then it is. Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah. Rather than having it as a place where I’m gonna talk about what I believe. Yeah. Like I’m promoting this stuff and what you need is to orchestrate that In design thinking workshops, the worst thing that happens are, I call them self promoting people in organizations that tell everyone how fantastic they are and all the great ideas that everyone knows it anyway, because that’s the only thing they do the whole day.

Yeah. What you is to get out, the other people sitting behind the desk somewhere. Often people with brilliant minds that don’t have a place to actually share their ideas and no one wants to listen and simply have given up. And when they go out of the workshop, people say, oh, fantastic ideas. Well, all of those ideas probably were already, were in the minds of the people before they.

the only thing that you did is you gave them a place to listen and you forced the other people to listen by the way that you’re doing that. And I think that’s the reason why we need moderators to orchestrate that conversation. Otherwise, the highest ranking person or the people person who speaks the most or the loudest, and the other people who also have a lot of stuff to share and won’t stand up and say, Hey, it’s my turn.

Yet, you need to help those people to also get a place to share their thoughts. But do you think this is, I guess it, it sounds like quite disruptive, right? Like if you have someone coming in and, and, and creating almost this environment to put ego away for a sec and contribute and share but do you like, why do you think the teams, let’s say, without it, , like, like why is that ego even exists?

And I guess, you know, it’s, it’s maybe a bigger question of a Phil, like more philosophical take, but I feel like it, it’s, you know, design thinking to me has always been that there’s always someone, like, like a lot of people practice it. They might not practice it struc in a structured way. There is of course a lot of people who would come in, let’s say as a consultant or as a third party to, to kind of share, to, to, to, to make that environment, to drop the egos and share.

But like, why do you, if it’s natural, and I’m not, not kind of challenging, but I’m trying to kind of like, if, if, if the design think is truly natural, why wouldn’t the teams or the squads or organizations, cultures kind of start with design thinking, I guess. Like where does that ego come? . And where does the design thinking come?

Yeah, there’s a problems, a contradiction because the way we, we live in the right societies, so no matter what you tell me about this is a startup, they have no hierarchy. It’s not true because the one guy drives a Ferrari and the other one does not. And that’s also hierarchy. Yeah. And in the point is you need Hira in order to be organized and to work efficiently.

And that’s good. So you have top managers, middle managers, you have employees, they have different roles. So in a day-to-day life, you need to structure, otherwise the company can’t work. Now the problem is if you’re gonna get people from different, let’s say parts of organizations, and even, let’s say if I have a conversation, let’s say Microsoft, with a customer, with different organizations, we have different goals.

We’re rewarded with different outcomes. Yeah. Then what we will do naturally. Yeah. We’re gonna kind of defend our, our turf and say, . This is, let’s say our mandate, and this is what we’re responsible for. This is our goals that we want to achieve, which is all always egoistic things. And that’s not bad. Yeah.

Because let’s say the way I see, for example, any employee is rated and rewarded for the work he’s done, and that’s his job. And that’s okay. The only so I, as an employee, let’s say if I’m working is as a design thinking moderator, my goal is to deliver great design thinking workshops. And that’s the only thing I care about.

Now the problem, in order to unlock the creativity, I need to tear down all of those organizational structures in the workshop. Why? Because, and, and this is the example of always give, let’s imagine you’re in a big room. Yeah. You have the co, so SAT is standing in front of you. Say, who is a great idea? Yeah.

Like what’s gonna be the next innovation that’s gonna grow for or triple Microsoft’s revenue and the next five years? . So who’s gonna raise his hand? Who’s gonna be so crazy? Because typically the things will happen is, oh, that guy just wants to show off. He just wants to show how smart he is. Yeah, you might be offending, let’s say your line manager, oh, it’s super simple.

We just have to do X, Y, Z. And the CO says, okay, that really makes sense. So why is my high paying manager not figuring that out, but this guy over here don’t? So there are many threats that you’re doing so you can defend people, you can ruin your career here, you could promote yourself. But the ideas, and this is all based on the hierarchy.

Now in the Design Thinging workshop, essentially what you’re saying is, I don’t care what your rank is, if you’re the c e o or if you are just joined the company two weeks ago, you are all equal. And that’s the way it treat the people. And they also understand it. And they accept it because it’s just for a short duration.

It’s four, four hours for, for a day. And what you often observe in this organization, which is interesting, is before the workshop starts, oh, that’s the ceo, that’s the vice president, and so on. And there’s a, a natural distance. When the people have the conversation in the workshop, people, employees will be brutally honest.

Yeah. They’re gonna look at the CEO and say, do you know why our productivity is slow? Oh, we spend 30% of our time with administrative stuff. Something he will never say in any other circuit because now we are asking them. So that’s the way you break down the structure because you are asking everyone to share the information.

But the second thing that you are also ensuring is there are no politics. And what I mean with that, you standing in front of a crowd. Yeah. There are 20 people of your organization, you’re not gonna come up and say something that’s not true. , you won’t survive that. Like everyones can say that’s not true.

Yeah. So and instinctively people understand this. This is a, we’re gonna work together, this is an exception, so we’re gonna break down the structure. But the moment the workshop is over, you can immediately observe. Yeah. Everything goes back. Oh, that’s the co I’m not gonna approach him. Yeah. Click. He will see people sitting in the workshop with the CO on the same table.

Workshop is over, they go out to the coffee machine. You can observe they have a different behavior. Yeah. And that’s, can’t imagine you giving them, so that’s what I mean. You break down the ego because you don’t have to defend your turf. But the goal is to solve a problem together. And that’s what I tell the people is you get no reward because you wrote the great at idea under posted.

It’s a team effort and mm-hmm. only the team can kind of solve the challenge. Any individual cannot do it. So, I think that’s part of the magic, but you also have to understand, and I always say you can only use it again, homeopathic doses. Yeah. You can do it once a month or every two weeks, but if you’re gonna do it every, every day, yeah.

Then those hierarchies are gonna kind of be infiltrated into your design thinking workshop, and it’s not gonna do the magic you want to do. Mm-hmm. , there, there is, there is also, I guess you as a, you kind of create your own hierarchy in a workshop as a, as a moderator, as a facilitator, but you become more of like a servant leader, I guess.

Because it’s about the actual workshop team. And again, you, I guess as a bus driver are carrying them on, you know, towards that destination. But that’s fascinating and, and it, it, it’s kind of like very interesting, like how did you see the things you know it as, as someone who’s had so much experience in it.

But you, I remember when, when you kind of hinting at it as well here, but also we, we talked about that before is when you said about design thinking being, I guess all about conversations too. Yes. But I feel like myself, you, you know, and this is maybe my personal pain point when I tend to facilitate different workshops, like there is, I guess, a good standard of how many people you should have in a workshop so that you have enough time for everyone to speak, but.

There’s always that dynamic where not everybody can actually contribute fully. And I dunno, like if you have any, any tips maybe, or any advice for myself or ev anyone else who’s listening in of like how to actually quickly break that ice so that people can actually contribute, but also being cautious that, you know, as you mentioned, if someone is actually very, very outspoken or has very bold ideas could actually shut down someone else.

Like how do you actually manage, like how do you as a orchestrator, as a fat bus driver, for lack of a better term, do that? Well, the two things I do in, in all workshops at least if the number of let’s see. Participant is not more than 20. I’m gonna have name cards. I’m gonna ask you, please write your name now.

So, , I’ll be able to call the person out on the name. So that’s important. I use that. That creates some kind of familiarity to the question, how do you actually get to start the conversation? What I always do, the first exercise is actually always combined with doing a presentation. So I don’t do any icebreakers.

It’s a waste of time. Yeah. They have colleagues, oh, they’re gonna draw a cat, and then we see everyone draws a different cat. Well, I knew that before anyway, . But the point is, workshops, the biggest problem is time constraints. I I, I’m not gonna sacrifice 20 minutes for everyone to stand up and say, my, I’m the head of the procurement department I work with, blah, blah, blah.

It creates no value. But what I always will do, I’ll bake it into the first exercise. And the first exercise almost always is what a call is alone together. So I’m gonna ask a question and it can be simple as what does project success mean for you? and then if it’s a larger group, I’ll say Everyone one Post it.

Yeah. Think you have three minutes time. You know, take, I do everything completely. Time box. I always will have my stop boards running. After three minutes to two minutes, I’m gonna say one minute left to three minutes, I’m gonna look at one of the name cards and say, Hey Frank, do you want to start sharing?

So two things. They understand everyone in the room is gonna share. Yeah. So the first person stands up, comes up and says, oh, my name is Frank. I’m head of procurement and working for the company for the last 20 years. And success would mean the following. So two things that you’re doing now is, first of all, everyone’s gonna be able to introduce himself, but you also understand if he talks about success, The role, what does that mean?

Because success for the head of procurement might be something completely different. As for, I don’t know, a manager of the finance department or employing the call center. And that’s the way you break the ice because people essentially are interested in other humans. And now everyone has to kind of share something about yourself.

In conversations, when I share something about myself and make myself vulnerable, because you can say, Hey, Sean said that. Yeah, so I can call him up. How did, why did you say that? But the trick is everyone has to share something and then everyone is comfortable. And this is why in every workshop, everyone has to do something.

And if someone’s sitting in the back, that’s not permissible. They’re very rare exceptions where you can have some, because that would mean someone sitting in the back listening to everyone, but not sharing anything about themselves. So the way you get everyone engaged and it can be something very short.

So you have a workshop about sustainability. What’s your sustainability contribution? 2023 people come and, oh, when they eat less meat or want environ electric car gonna put solar panels, whatever it is. Yeah. That makes it human. And then when you are interested in the other human, what they’re saying that’s done.

So after 10, 15 minutes people get comfortable. That’s interesting. I’m working with that guy for 20 years. I never knew that his goal is actually to eat less meat. Interesting. So, and it also break it, that brings you to the end of the workshop. It also, I guess, gives that water cooler. Topic, you know, sometimes I guess it gives an opportunity to small talk if you need to take a break or have a follow up.

You know, it could build relationships, but, but I, I do like that I’m, I’m quite interested, you know, eyes breakers are not doing them as quiet, controversial. I see your point. Like, I, I feel like it’s spot on because sometimes it works, sometimes people feel like they’re wasting time. It’s kind of good to keep it focused, something which contributes and is quick.

But it, it kind of segues to one of the things which I wanted to pick your brain on, and it’s the controversies of, of design thinking. And I don’t know what, what are your thoughts? And if you have any of course, or you kind of, and if you observe the same patterns, but they’ve seen themes of people.

in ux. You know, I feel like, I think there was a quote from Don Norman previously where he said that modern design thinking and I’m paraphrasing of course, is, is, you know, it, it it kind of went too far in a way. It’s not useful, it’s too business focused. And there is of course, UXers who are doing like, you know, the sounder UX capability, service designers, everyone in between.

And it’s like, I feel as someone in the industry that there is almost like this transition where design thinking is, is, is viewed as a separate thing in a way, or it’s viewed in a, in a darker light when it used to be. Have you observed anything like that yourself or, or I don’t know. I had an interesting conversation.

I was invited to do a presentation in interactions South America a few years ago, and I, I , I figured out people were kind of really raging around design thinking. That’s really rubbish. So I spent a half a day, said, okay, this is interesting. We have, let’s say a few thousand designers. So I sat down and say, Hey, you have 10 minutes time.

Yeah. What do you actually think about designing? Was the interviewing people and actually many UX designers, designer actually said, design think . And there was also a person she was running an agency design. She said, the one thing I know if a client comes in and says, can you help me with design thinking?

I already know that this person has absolutely no clue about design. And she was telling me it’s a total waste of time. And I think that people are mixing up two things. Yeah. Design thinking is a fashion, let’s say it’s idea what’s promoting is, oh, we are getting super creative. I don’t think that is, that is really about that.

As I said before, it’s about putting people, knowledgeable people in a room and I would see more as a brain surgery to figure out how are those people thinking. But you are also orchestrating because those people usually don’t spend time with each other. So the real art of design thinking is to create or craft, I say craft human conversations in a meaningful way, but also in a structured way.

Because you’re constrained. It’s time. Yeah. Now what you want to do, and that’s the reason why you use the poster, is here’s an exercise we’re gonna start. And often people say, why are we. , I’m gonna be pointing to two things. Well, that’s a question because your manager, whoever is the owner of the workshop, said, we need to solve the problem and this is going to generate information.

And by the way, once we figure that out, it’s gonna help me answer the next question in the next one. Because on the end of today, we want to go home with, let’s say, three great ideas for MVPs and everyone understands that. And, and I think that’s the overall trick. Now the question is different flavors of design thinking.

What does it mean? Who cares? It’s a tool. It’s like discussing, can I take a hammer only to kind of put a nail? Or can I actually use it to squash a tomato? Can I use it for something else? Yeah, you can do infinite things. Yeah. Humans are super creative. Like it’s a tool. You can do whatever you want. As long as it creates purpose.

The last thing I want to kind of hone into, you were saying like the quoted, oh, it’s to businesslike. I always say, and I firmly believe design thinking are only one thing. It’s only a business conversation because we need to connect two things. What do you want to build? What is the value that you are creating for someone?

It can be an end user for an organization. What does it cost? What’s the risk? And who should pay for that? In the end of the day, you can have the greatest idea in the world. If you can’t figure out who’s the sponsor and who’s gonna pay for it, guess what? It’s gonna be a dreams. Nothing is gonna happen, you know, and I don’t want to spend my time for creating fancy dreams where people say, oh, we’re super creative.

I come back after half a year. Did something happen? No. Why not? Oh, we didn’t have a sponsor. We had no money. I’m, I’m wasting my, my time. And that’s why I think in every workshop, mandatory, no matter what you’re working on, if you can prove to business value or value for society or whatever, you’re wasting your time.

So just ask a question, make it part of your workshop. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. I’m, I’m, I’m with you. And I’ll also feel like design thinking is just a tool, just like, let’s say using any other, if you would take something like Design Sprints, which also has collected a lot of bad wrap over air, I feel like it’s. It’s only bad or it’s only, you know, there is of course maybe competition and egos to me is a big aspect of that.

And maybe some specialties feeling like we are threatened a little bit by someone who might do, you know, solutioning faster. Let’s say, even if, let’s say, you know, it requires more effort perhaps. But I feel like there’s, for each challenge you have to pick the right tool. And I feel like it’s not, it’s not rocket science.

It’s such a common sense, but we are missing that sometimes where, you know, we’re having conversations. What’s right to do is design thinking, right or not? And one of the examples for, yeah, I’m sorry for interrupting, but no worries. That’s a stupid question. Is it right or wrong? The question is, I need to solve a problem.

I’ve got a tool. Can I solve the problem? If you can solve the problem, it’s the right tool. It’s simple as that. If you can’t, and it’s the wrong tool. . Yeah. And as long as you also can frame a problem, that’s, that’s another thing where you have to start the fact. But what I was saying is really was that example, which I picked up and I don’t know where I found it.

I’m not gonna give it the right credit as as it deserves, but it was, I think one of the consultancies trying to solve the issue of establishing new wealths in Africa, in, in one of the tribes in one of the communities. And we did that remote. And of course, I’m, I’m paraphrasing it, there is a lot more detail to this, but we did that remote in an office with a client who had to establish swells.

And I think the backlash to that, if I remember correctly, was that, you know, it wasn’t the right thing to do. You had to interact with the users or the actual people involved. You had to interact with the communities because you cannot just. , you know, ideate, let’s say, or try to emfa em, apply empathy remotely.

You kind of need to talk to the real people to do that sometimes. So I feel like that it was a bit of that where in the end, if you come up, if a, if you just shut the doors in a closed room, you talk to the stakeholders, but the stakeholder who is a human being is not involved and it’s, it’s a very far shot, if that makes sense.

And that’s where I feel like there is a bit of misalignment there. Yeah. Well, yes and no because reality is, you don’t always get the people that you want. You know, like say if I mm-hmm. , if I designer workshop or design a workshop and I have a, that’s part of the preparation or say who is gonna be participating.

And I want to ensure that the people who are in the room can answer the questions. It’s a very simple example. Let’s say I’m doing an mediation about, Fantastic. No app that I want to sell. Yeah. And it’s mandated to talk about, let’s say, what’s, what’s the risk and what’s the, I don’t know. The market value question is who in the room can answer it.

If it’s only developers, guess what, they won’t be able to answer them. So you need to frame the problems to the people who are in the room and can answer the question they said. You can ask questions about where you don’t have experts in the room and their assumption is always gonna be much better than what you know.

So your example where said, oh, we’re doing workshops for people who want to create better wells in Africa. Yes. We didn’t have the farmers in the room. Nevertheless, you probably have local people probably have a much better knowledge than you sitting in the UK or wherever that is. So while I will always try to have to write people in the room.

I will before I kind of kill a workshop, except there’s no one there that has knowledge. I will trust that the people working in the domain, knowing the organization will have something to share. Let’s say if I work in the sales department, yeah, I probably in in large factory might have no clue how they’re building their cars, but I heard things about, let’s say problems with supply chains, whatever.

They will be able to contribute and if you’re trying to solve a problem and you have no clue, then even murky information’s better than nothing. So I would not disregard and say, oh God, we didn’t have farmers so we were not justified to do it. Well. It probably created some kind of information that was helpful to drive it on and then you can say, Hey, this is as far as we got, that really looks good in order to go the next step.

let’s please go and get a few farmers and have that conversation. But at least you have something on your table rather than saying, sorry, I can do nothing. Just walk away. Yeah. And I feel like I’m, I’m with you 100%, but it, it kind of comes down to that looking at everything as either black or white or white, it’s kind of like a very bitter review.

But to me it’s like if you take something like, you know, the biggest part for you in UX for myself, let’s say, is UX research. Like you, you need to understand who you are dealing with. So the solution is right, so you truly understand what pain points you solve. But UX research is all about forming the right hypothesis.

And I feel like everything you do in let’s say design thinking or. would naturally feed into that. Because if you use it as a learning opportunity and you get the stakeholders in, you know, together, you come up with something which is informed enough for you to then go and explore and do UX research, let’s say, or explore to see exactly strategically that sound enough.

If you can actually kind of link those two pieces together or a few pieces together and variables, and then, you know, do all the different whatever it is, is the services, is the product design. But I feel like there is all like, it, it’s, it, it, it’s, it’s a tool for a challenge, right? Like, and it has to be the right challenge.

Yeah. I think think if you say, talk about user research and, and the belief, actually design thinking workshops are user research, even if the user is not in there. Because in order to build a product you need two things. Mm-hmm. , you need a demand. That means an end user has the real need or you. Can do a lot of adverting.

So then user believes that it’s a need. Who cares? That’s another. But the second thing you need is an organization that’s actually gonna execute. So what you can do in design thinking workshops and what’s often underestimated is, oh, where are the end users? And they’re not invited so we can’t do it. But what you’re actually doing in that workshop is you’re doing user research with people from the organization.

So when you leave the room, you understand how the organization works and if you understand how the organization works, you have the opportunity to shape the program, the project in a way that they can execute it. And that’s equally valuable for actually solving the problem. So they might have a very clear way, this is what we want to want to build this new consumer app.

Yeah. And the problem might not even be that we don’t, I dunno, let’s say we’re building front bank people, so people who have no access to banking. Yeah. So we understand the problem. They need to deal with money. They have no bank. , the biggest problem might be the manager sitting in a Swiss bank. Yeah. They don’t understand how they’re gonna bring it through their organization.

So what you’re doing in the workshop is you’re doing research on the organization that’s doing the workshop to figure out how you can shape the project so they can actually do it. So in the end, design thinking workshop is always use of research in some way, either with the users or with the people in the workshop, because that’s going to help you understand, and it’s gonna give them a structure that they can actually build what they want to achieve on the end of the day.

definitely. No, I’m with you on that. I’m definitely with you on that. Another quote and, and sorry to get, get back to that and, and kind of break a bit of a loop, but I just, you know, like, just to pick your brain which maybe is quite relevant, but even with from your book of moderator training, but by the way, for anyone listening or watching this podcast, make sure to pick it up.

I feel like you condensed a lot of KnowledgeWare and a lot of your ideas, like almost every page has something which you could kind of clip, you know, clip off and, and kind of put aside and, and there’s a lot of those quotes, but even in, in the beginning of a book, you were kind of stating. Design Thinking is all about creating wait, sorry, I’m, I’m, I don’t want to butcher it.

The only purpose of design thinking workshop is to create organizational value by creating revenue or saving money. Yes. But that’s, that’s kind of like the end result, right? Like, that’s how you feel. Like if you would apply design thinking and you go through that process and you talk to people, you’re gonna end up there.

Or like, what’s, what’s your thinking? Because I know for sure that every ever listener or everywhere, ever viewer who’s gonna watch it, they’re gonna be like, oh, but design thinking really is just about the human being. There’s almost like the commercial side is not really there. Like, but, but from your perspective.

Yeah. But like it’s all commercial ridiculous side. Yeah. But that’s totally ridiculous. And I had , my former company, were work, we had a lot of discussions. They had linked it in, they had, let’s say, Hey, we can speak about design thinking 15 minutes. And it was like top managers from all of the organization.

So it was in, in Finland, and we had a long discussion, said, Hey, what you gonna go out? You’re gonna be talking about money. Why? Yeah. Why should we be talking about money? Well, reality is no one cares about those fantastic ideas. They’re all worthless until you find the structure. Someone who’s gonna support you do it.

Like, do we actually have a problem if we have people starving in the world? Is it a technical problem that we can’t give them food? No. It’s a money problem. Yeah. And that’s true for everything. And life is really short. You don’t want to waste your time building some ideas that can be kind converted into real projects.

You will always need someone who’s gonna support you. That can be society. Yeah. And in the end, if you think, for example, about sustainability. Yeah. People go and have demonstrations, they complain, they make all kinds of noise. What are they actually doing? They’re creating enough traction that every organization and every government in the world says, Hey, we’re gonna reserve at least 10 or 20 or 30% to do something against climate change.

And as long as they have no money, nothing’s gonna happen. That’s reality. True. And, and, and that’s why I’m, I’m kind of obsessed. If we can’t figure out the business value Yeah. Then it’s just a dream. Yeah. And let’s go and ask those questions. The nice thing about it, and that’s the positive aspect, is there are many great ideas where people have real problem articulating the business value.

They go to their managers, Hey, we want to do that, that’s fantastic. Blah, blah, blah. He’s gonna say, yeah. , I have my stakeholders, my shareholders, whatever. How should I finance that? Yeah, yeah. If they can’t give the answer once happen, if you can give them the answer, you’ll say, great. So I can help you. I can do some business.

I can save the world is through all of that at the same time. So I don’t seek this disconnect. And what should be bad about saying I need business value to actually make the project happen? Definitely. And I feel like this is, this is, I, I, I don’t know, like I, I feel like a lot of maybe more growing designers, but become with this expectation that, and, and it also forms these, I guess, unhealthy dynamics where, let’s say UX or researchers, strategies, designer, and then business like to me it’s also realizing that you are there for a reason.

It doesn’t matter if you do design thinking, if you’re exploring in through service design or maybe you are diving into a specific app, sure you are doing it for the user and that’s your skillset, that’s your expertise and forte. But you’re there for a reason usually, you know, unless you are. But even then, if you are part of, let’s say something like a non-profit or like something like a green, you know cause let’s say or something to do with sustainability or forward facing type of activities, you’re still there to generate some sort of value because you have to sustain that.

And I. In total agreement with you that you can have projects if you’re not commercially viable or you cannot have, let’s say you could have a cost, but still everything comes down to the monetary value because that’s what, that’s the currency we kind of communicate and exchange the value and try to invest and, and you know, double down on the things.

And solutionize, I guess. I mean, the other thing that you often see, and what I don’t get is like people say, oh, we don’t want to talk about money. It’s evil. Yeah. And we are founding the startup, we all need list. And then eventually capitalist comes and says, Hey, you’ve got half, 500 million. Oh, thanks. I’m gonna take it.

Yeah. Yeah. So what entitles this person to give you 500 million? Because that’s a business oriented person. He believes in your idea. Yeah. , they’re happy to accept that, but they don’t want to talk about the business value of, of what they’re creating. And, and I don’t get it. So I don’t think there’s anything evil about talking about money.

Yeah. There’s nothing evil about actually earning money. The questions, what you’re gonna do with it is a different question that proceeds nothing bad. And, and we use designers. I don’t, I often see designers that say, oh, business is not listening to us. My question is always, well, what you understand about business?

Well, we don’t know. Well, it’s your job to sit down and you have to be able to think like a business person. If you expect a business, people are gonna be thinking like designers. Then first, do your job, job, your due diligence. You try to understand their part of the view before you ask them to kind of opt in and see everything from the design side.

Definitely. And, and, and that’s also maybe a. Just to extract one bit. I feel like it’s gonna be useful for those who are just getting into design or even, I get a lot of questions from people who struggle to get to senior roles or more strategic roles, and I feel like there is a big chasm to cross because this is where you need to start thinking very, you have to become organizationally minded.

You need to understand exactly how business operates and how do you actually make money because you cannot become a senior. You cannot even be promoted to, you know, to those roles. If you don’t, if you don’t, you know, if your contribution doesn’t kind of expand and affect how the business operates, you know, but, but that’s another topic.

Like we could, we could talk for hours and not one thing. What I wanted to really, really hear, you know, from you is the future of design thinking or workshops specifically. Through pandemic. And I feel like we are getting back to a bit, a bit of a hybrid in office in person type of working patterns.

But I’m sure you had a lot of learnings from going totally virtual or, or doing things remote. Like where, do you have any reflections on that or maybe even, even false of ideas of like, how could we do better going forward? Or like, what’s gonna be different? Well, two things. I think. First of all, it’s not gonna go away.

Yeah. Let’s say before the pandemic, I would’ve refused to do a virtual workshop and have done about 300 during the pandemic. It, it was crazy, but it was also an interesting learning. But the one. Clearly can see. Yes. The problem is that in virtual workshops, you build no human connections. And that’s a big problem because design thinking workshops have multiple, let’s say layers.

So in many cases, let’s say in the start of a large project, you have a design thinking workshop. What you’re actually doing is it’s a test if the relationship can work. So imagine Microsoft we’re coming, we’re doing a large project with a customer. We’re putting 20 people in a room, spending one day. What are you gonna figure out in the end of the day on the human level?

Do they match? Can they work together as a team? So positive experience, hey, we can actually solve a challenge and could be almost anything. Who cares what it is? But we can solve a challenge from two different organizations. and that creates a human bond. Yeah. And that’s something you can do in person.

Now, in an abstract level, in, in a virtual workshop, yes, you can solve problems, but you don’t create the human connections. I had a lot of design thinking workshops as one customer, even 15 workshops where and it was like worldwide with people from different countries. You have no clue how those people are.

And even if you would meet them in, in, let’s say in the subway or somewhere, it’s not like, you know, that person. So that’s the one level. But the second level is many of those workshops are built about creating corporations or let’s say project. And there’s a business aspect to that. Now, you’re not gonna buy a product, you’re not gonna sign a 200 million deal with someone you just met online.

So you can use design thinking workshops in a virtual space for let’s say, specific problem solving. And what I say is you can extract information, but it, what it’s not going to help you is actually sign a deal, get to know someone else and build trust, which is super important for successful projects.

Because the one thing is scoping the project, knowing what you’re doing. But you also need to create trust and bond because a project can be a multi-year collaboration, and it starts with people sitting in a room and agreeing, we want to do it. We trust each other. No matter what happens, we are gonna figure it.

Little bit like getting married and that won’t happen online. So, so that’s the one ob observation. And the second observation is, and I would maybe compare it between the. if you love music and you go to a real concert and it makes a difference. A real concert, a classic concert, no one can tell me, standing in that stadium with 40,000 people is exactly the same thing as putting my earphones on and listening to that music.

Yeah. So it is two different things. So the music is the same, but it has two very different objectives. And no matter how good my earphones are, it’s never gonna be as if I’m in the stadium listening to that concert. And, and you just need to understand that the one thing is just a part and it won’t ever substitute the other.

They will never Beautiful. Yeah. It, it’s totally different experience. I have, I have to say, and it’s, you know, I also wanted to ask you about if you had any thoughts about metaverse and doing design thinking in vr, but I feel like you kind of almost answered it because. It’s like the medium also shapes your experience.

You ultimately, as a, as a facilitator or design thinker, you are creating an experience for someone like a workshop experience. And if you do it remotely, it’s gonna, it’s gonna be different. Like someone is gonna sit at a table, their experience is gonna be very different. They’re gonna be even holding the mouse from a UX perspective.

They’re gonna look at their screens, their lighting. Lighting might be different than someone else’s. You know, all the different factors have to be considered of from ergonomics to a specific, even pen usage or their keyboard or like so many things you cannot anticipate. And you have that medium where you are, let’s say, on teams or, or let’s say Google meets or something else.

It’s very different from being in one room. And it would be even totally different if you are at VR because it becomes more about interacting with a screen or interacting with an avatar. versus interacting with a human being. Like, that’s my slick take. Which you feeling with? Yeah. I think interacting with our avatar makes no sense to me.

And, and the reason why is because , I’ll be very open on that. Yeah. Maybe people don’t want to hear it, but the point is, it’s very hard to understand humans. Yeah. Like even if you’re married with a person or you’ve got, got a relationship for many years, you know this person, you meet them every day, it’s still very hard to understand that person and everything.

Yeah. If I’m talking with you, like I can see your face. Yeah. I see your reactions, your smile, or kind of like your wrinkle, or whatever. Like the reaction, the express is super important. Now you’re taking away one more information channel that I need to understand what you’re talking about. So, so why should I, why should I want to do it?

Is it gonna happen? Yes. Huh. But for me, for me, that would mean. Physical workshops with people is like here, can extract the maximum number of information, virtual workshop with cameras on or not. At least I can hear your, your your voice gives me less information. But still, if I’m gonna go into the metaverse now I’m kind of abstracted or confused with additional visual clothes.

It’s not gonna help me understand who you are as a person. And in the end I can’t even figure out like, how do you really look like, yeah, you could have an avatar that you, I dunno, you’re super muscular. You’re two meters 50, you’re basketball player and you’re completely the contrary your way around. So it will happen, but maybe I’m just told for that, but I don’t see the point.

No, I’m, I’m with you again. It, it’s, it’s also, you know, the concept of ontological design too, of where even our behaviors shape are shaped by the things which surround us. So people behave differently in the office. People behave differently at their desk. They are gonna behave differently in a concert or a metaverse.

Like, there’s always like, like the, our environment literally shapes who we are in a way. So that, that’s another thing. But yeah, I, I mean, this has been extremely valuable for me, and I’m sure people who listened in, you know, they be gonna benefit from it. Where can people find more about you? Like what, what’s the easiest way to, to find you, to connect with you?

Yeah, I have a, have a LinkedIn group. That’s the only social media since I scrapped Twitter since my Musk took over. So that was the second channel, but I don’t use it anymore. But the only thing I have is LinkedIn group. Yeah. And and that’s billboard design thinking, right? Yes. Amazing. Well, thank you Sean.

It’s been a pleasure and I hope to have you more, you know, on, on this podcast and, and connect with you in the future. Thanks a lot. It’s always interesting talking with you and kind of sharing and listen to your thoughts. Awesome. Happy design thinking is, I always say hope to see you in a workshop somewhere in 2020.

Win person. Preferably. Yeah, likewise. Cool.


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