The third of our 20 Leadership Lessons Learned in East Africa: immersing ourselves in different perspectives builds deeper empathy and better design. How can we understand other points of view if we don’t get out of our comfort zones and get our shoes a little dirty?

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Get Your Shoes Dirty with Human-Centered Design

Photo by Aaron White

Sitting is the new smoking.

We’re way too comfortable in our office cubes, climate controlled temperatures, and ergonomic chairs. How can we possibly understand the needs of our clients at a deep level if we don’t get out of our comfort zone and experience a piece of their story?

This is our challenge here in Africa, too, although our clients are of a different demographic. We work with large NGOs that try to shape and directly improve the lives of thousands of rural families.

In order to create innovative designs, we first go out in the field (literally) and start listening to people we’re designing for. Trying it out, starting with a beginner’s mindset and asking “dumb” questions allow us as designers of leadership development solutions to build deep empathy. Observations and experiences lead to a collection of stories from which key themes, challenges and insights arise.

A balanced team of age and sex is great for this exercise, as is a team with a healthy mix of experts, non-experts, and people from different fields and cultures. With a diverse group, we’re able to tap into creative abilities that are often discounted by our normal patterns of problem-solving.

The process of human-centered design is inspired by people, their behavior, and their natural context. For us, it is a method to enable our team to inspire desirable solutions from difficult challenges. We believe that good design, inspired by people, can lead to innovative breakthroughs in leadership development—especially when we start in a farmer’s field.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • What are some of the challenges of immersing oneself in a different environment?
  • Why is it important to be mindful of one’s privilege and influence when entering other spaces?

Tell us your big ideas in the comments.

<< Our previous big idea | More to come!

Leadership Beyond Boundaries - Center for Creative Leadership logoThis series, 20 Leadership Lessons Learned in East Africa, was brought to you by CCL’s Ethiopia office and Leadership Beyond Boundaries, an initiative by the Center for Creative Leadership to democratize leadership development and unlock the power of human potential around the globe.

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