My best-worst workshop experience

How a workshop that "turned wrong" helped me learn more about myself and helping people ground their ideas.

Sometimes, even though we plan everything to the last minimum detail, the unexpected can sweep in and force you to rethink your whole strategy, and this is exactly what happened to me while doing my first week-long workshop in a foreign country.

It is hard to take into account the unknown, how to manage cultural differences, how to be precise in another language (even if you know it very well). As there are no formulas for success, I'll just be clear into what went wrong, and how to adapt.

First mistake: I planned everything to the last little detail. Usually this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when you need to adapt quickly and your planning is so tight, there is little room for mistakes. I made a beautiful excel with all the activities timed to the minute, and when the client started to have issues with the exercise, moving away from something that was so finished, so timed and so constructed became a problem. We had to really change the dynamic from thinking about problems, creating products and an economic model for a specific product to directly choosing a product option and designing functionalities for it. The service design portion was postponed to a later phase.

Note to self: Planning is good, but getting the dynamic right for a client to be able to work is even better. If the workshop does not go according to plan just adjust fast and keep going. Perfectionism is your worst enemy (or at least in this case, it was mine).

Second mistake: When the client hasn't necessarily done lots of workshops where everything needs to be created from scratch, provide clear examples. Some might think that putting post its in advance will bias the exercise, but also blank slates can be a blocker when the subject to be treated has many facets. As designers we are always scared of bias or suggesting stuff from our perspective without really realizing it, but if the examples are pertinent and add value, we can see it more as inspiration than bias.

Note to self: Examples don't necessarily bias, they ground how information or concepts should be to be able to work on them after. Think about the format that will help your client work, but also help you process information later.

Third mistake: I underestimated the importance that words have for my clients culture. From where I come from, you can be less precise while writing but you will need to be more precise while talking/acting. The client could spend 3 hours perfecting one statement. Don't get me wrong, being precise is important, but we had time constraints and needed to move forward.

Note to self: Don't be afraid of telling people when to stop if you see they are getting into a never ending loop that probably won't have much impact in the overall answer to the problem. Assure people they will be able to get back to it later. Sometimes we need time to diverge or think about something else, and then look at what we were doing with fresher eyes.

It is hard when you are trying to lead a group of people you have never met and the dynamic does not work as intended, but allow yourself to iterate, even if people are aware of it, our ability to adjust will always be appreciated (and its kind of what we do regularly as part of our daily job). We tend to forget this very easily, as we think that being a consultant is having and giving all the answers. It may be so in the end, but during the process, our ability to change our perspective and way of doing is our more valuable asset, and ultimately why people call us.

Senior Strategic designer, passionate about design and creativity applied to Service Design, UX and Strategy. (Paris/Argentina)

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