11 January 2017
Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless. Thomas Edison
When a designer attempts to solve a problem, they first offer up several options and experiment. They know that the solution to any problem can be solved in many ways. Approaching problem-solving with a few experiments makes “failure” more difficult. Design thinking says that by doing experiments, the right path will reveal itself and the learning will be steep. Three months ago, I deployed this technique on my own life and the results have stunned me (in a good way).
My work requires me to go out of town frequently, and when I am in town, I’m often on the phone or writing. Even though most of my job does involve working with people, very little of it fosters face to face connections. This cycle was leaving me more and more hungry for connection and activity in my own community. To combat this, I designed 3 experiments that I have executed simultaneously to combat professional isolation and build more robust and meaningful connections in my DC area.
1. Pull-in Loose Acquaintances.
I’ve worked out nearly every day for years and years with the same people and I don’t know the first thing about many of them. So, with a friend, I co-hosted a simple potluck with our gym acquaintances. There is now a palpable warmth and deeper connection to those folks since that evening.
2. Build on What I Already Do. Hiking in local woods has always been a part of my routine. In this experiment, I invited people to come along with me. I set up a private Facebook event with a time and location, eliminating schedule wrangling, and people showed up. I’ve reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in years, and people from different parts of my life have had a chance to meet. The simplicity of this experiment was striking – an easy, elegant, and all-around nourishing experience for myself and everyone else, as far as I can tell.
3. Make Better Use of the Kitchen Table. For this trial, I held monthly dinners with 5-7 friends/neighbors/acquaintances. Over a simple, clean meal, we’d go around the table and explore ideas about building more robust careers, relationships, and lives. The conversations turned out to be fascinating, even though almost no one went into the evenings knowing each other. One of these discussions even stretched past midnight on a weekday; the quality of the discourse made everyone lose track of time.
3 months into my experimentation, here’s what I’ve learned:
- I don’t need to ask permission.
- They all worked. (Some in ways I absolutely did not expect.)
- Tiny shifts can yield big results
- When people get together and have space to reflect on their lives, alchemy is possible.
- I feel nourished bringing people I like closer into my life
- I have experienced a big uptick in gratitude
Be wary of any enterprise that requires new clothes. Henry David Thoreau