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If you came up with what you expected, why did you work with other people?



This week I was invited to attend a design thinking workshop with Adjunct professors Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn from Stanford University’s d.school (Design Thinking School) hosted by the Lendlease Innovation team.


I wasn’t there to participate but to present a challenge on behalf of my friends at R U OK? The aim was to brief the group on a complex issue (with minimal detail) so they could then brainstorm it using a specific design thinking methodology.


Earlier in the week the Lendlease team and I discussed the challenge and pared it back to how, in their local environment (the Barangaroo business precinct), they could support young men to talk more openly about how they’re feeling about life’s struggles.

In an ideal world, young men who are struggling or in crisis would feel confident and empowered enough to ask for help. However, statistics reveal that two thirds of men don’t. We also know that men are more likely to talk to mates before a health professional. This is where R U OK? comes in. 


Based on Dr. Thomas Joiner’s theory of belonging and the fact that by being connected we can be more protected, R U OK? focuses on the help-giver, those around the person who is struggling. R U OK? promotes community-based intervention, acknowledging that friends, family, and the community can have a larger impact on mental health than specialised care. 


By encouraging young men to act when they see signs that something's not quite right with a friend, colleague or loved one we hope that this will not only normalise checking in with someone who appears to be struggling but also open up more opportunities for men to talk comfortably with each other about their feelings when they need help.

So how can we do that? This is where the group think came in. Here’s a few things I took away as an observer and sometime nosy participant:


If you came up with what you expected, why did you work with other people?

This was such a simple, yet powerful point stated by one of the Stanford professors during the exercise.


Pairs of attendees were placed into groups of four to come up with a motto using fast paced word association. Now if you were put into a group of people you didn’t know and told you need to come up with a motto – in this instance about friendship – how long do you think it would take you?


These people again had 90 seconds and just had to say one word each in turn. They had a choice at that point. They could give into the group dynamic and play off each other’s words or they could keep thinking as an individual.

Ours was “A smile will always win”. Not bad I thought!


Say “yes and” instead of “no but”

The workshop itself ran at less than an hour with every exercise moving at significant pace. For example, pairs were given 90 seconds to come up with big ideas on how to solve the challenge I presented. At this stage volume was encouraged over creativity.

Following this, groups merged, and each person briefly described their idea. Instead of a discussion, they were then greeted with “yes and” which led to further forming of the idea. That thought was then greeted with “yes and” to encourage the idea to develop a step further. And so, it went.


Not only did this cause lots of laughter but was also a fantastic way to help an idea evolve in a way that did not involve months of scoping and research. It was very interesting to see where the original idea ended up after a few iterations.


Don’t shy away from delight and disruption

The small team at R U OK? is always keen to innovate but close to the end of the hour workshop, I have to be honest, my eyes widened at the prospect of assessing the feasibility of the pages and pages of big ideas in front of me.


Thankfully this wasn’t the d.school professors’ first rodeo. They suggested two questions to ask when narrowing your selection of ideas:


Will it delight your target user?Will it disrupt your industry?


This made me smile as I realised this is what the founders of R U OK? did ten years ago. They invented a brand that now resonates with more than 80% of Australians. However, it was also an industry disruptor at that time; thankfully these days a most welcome one.


So, was the challenge I posed solved today? I won’t say “no but.”


What I will say is that I was inspired by the methodology and the enthusiasm of the people from diverse businesses coming together to attend today’s workshop.


I will also very much enjoy going through the big ideas they selected as being ones that R U OK? would do well to look into in more detail.


Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say one day in the near future that something we’ve implemented from this workshop has helped young men see the signs in others’ struggling with life?


That idea may just be on one of the workshop post it notes, the brain child of their colleagues and peers who chose to step up and step out of their comfort zone.

Thank you to everyone involved in the making the workshop happen.


In the lead up to R U OK?Day on Thursday 12 September 2019, R U OK?, is urging all Australians to Trust the Signs, Trust your Gut, and Ask, “Are you OK?” to support anyone who may be struggling with life’s ups and downs.


To increase people’s confidence, R U OK? have embarked on a nine week ‘Trust the Signs Tour’ travelling around 14,000 km to every state and territory. The Tour will culminate in Sydney on R U OK?Day having engaged 24 communities in an educational experience that explores the signs that indicate someone needs you to ask, “R U OK?”.

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