Discomfort in discovery — Part 3 from the Stanford D School — aka DP2.

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Why do we make assumptions? What is it about them that gives us comfort? The shortcut of digesting popular opinion from ones immediate circle of news, friends and experience creates them, but why do we give them so much weight?

Furthermore, why does testing them, or having holes blown straight through them, make our skin crawl? It should be part of a cumulative learning we’re happy to gain? Right?

I wanted to test my assumptions, about assumptions, going in to the next phase of my research here, and it made me feel all kinds of ways.

After cracking the proverbial shell on my ethnography in DP1, like most things in my life, I was exhilarated and wanted more. THIS is learning, why didn’t I do this 10 years ago, look at what I’ve been missing! Giving myself a break, I reflected on the 9 brick and mortar businesses we were busy creating and vowed to use these tools on everything going forward, if I could keep caffeine and passion in check.

8 interviews turned into 20 and rapidly turned into 40. I spent 80+ hours with people, meeting them where they were and getting an even deeper understanding of the landscape and systemic issues that have created the current crisis.

“If there was a f*cking tornado here tomorrow and 3500 hundred people lost their homes, the national guard would be called, FEMA would drop from helicopters and we’d get them housed.” Chuck Jagoda’s words hit me like a gut punch from a grade 5 bully. This IS a crisis, so why are we treating it like an insurmountable societal norm?

The work in DP2 is know in the design thinking world as “Synthesis”. Synthesis, from my learned experience, is the unpacking of all the research and prototyping into learnings. It is plastering post it’s in shotgun patterns, finding the nuggets out of the mass amount of words and then moving forward on the pieces that need further testing. Yeah, it’s a lot, but it’s amazing.

I often speak about the relationship with our Ego and how it holds us back from interaction with those who need us. What if they were to ask us for something that we aren’t comfortable giving? What if we felt something? What if it piled on to the guilt the majority of people I spoke to on the empathetic side, already have?

Fake a phone call, cross the street, pick up your pace, pretend to look intently at something just past their shoulder, shake your head hurriedly “I have a meeting, I’m late, sorry!”.

If this has you nodding or pursing the corners of your mouth, that’s OK. You are normal, empathy hurts. A lot.

The thing to remember is that YOUR conversation and acknowledgement of another human being, who may be struggling, is a gift. If you can’t help the way that’s been asked of you, help how you’re comfortable, and speak truthfully.

It’s of note that after ten plus years in the streets of Gastown and the DTES of Vancouver, I still struggle with this.

With ethnography, that engagement is much deeper and as I dug into the interviews with people on the ladder of homelessness, I forgot to take breaths. “I’ve been abused since I was 9 and take 8 different pills a day to get through it”. “My parents died and I got a DUI cause’ I got drunk and crashed the car. I got addicted to painkillers and here I am”. I could physically feel the cumulative on boarding of the information and emotion at the end of each day. What was important was learning how to unload it. Then came, synthesis.

Synthesis is like telling somebody how you really feel after carrying it around for months. The weight that pours like sand off your shoulders with getting clarity. If the problem has you spinning and feeling like it’s too big then push all the edges and make sense of them by unpacking, through process.

In the research, between the heart breaking stories, was data. Insights into commonality that hasn’t been looked at as potential solutions. The “a ha’s” that turn the hurt to hope.

If advocates were the number one cause of upward mobility in homeless populations, what are their secrets.

Next up was hours driving, walking, and talking with real change agents. The outreach worker.

If you want to see what modern day heroes look like, I found them, again.

I accompanied them under overpasses, to church meals, court proceedings, circles of trust. I was a gopher for coffee, pens and an empathetic ear at the end of 15 hour days where the ball moved an inch. That inch was celebrated like a Superbowl touchdown. This is the reality of the day to day of outreach.

“I tell them, straight up. You either want to meet me half way, or don’t waste my f*cking time.” Those words continue to resonate.

I wake up energized and optimistic in the challenges ahead. The white space is becoming clear and synthesis is the tool that has aligned emotions and learnings.

As my focus on PAL tightens I am both proving and disproving assumptions through the work. The path they have set has led me to a partnered experiment that has me elated.

I feel not only that we’re going to play a part in solving this, but that I have a superhero tool belt to go to, like the one I always wanted. Thanks team.


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