building-Victoria-Falls-bridgeRecently, Scott Witthoft and Scott Doorley from the Stanford d.School, designers behind the book Make Space, were collaborating with Mount Vernon on a future design project. The d.School has been such an inspiration for us. With their recent presence on campus, it has caused me to reflect on the design thinking journey we have been on at Mount Vernon.

I first heard about this mindset called “design thinking” when attending a workshop at the National Association of Independent Schools 2010 conference in San Francisco. George Kembel from the d.School and Kim Saxe from the Nueva School captured my attention with this powerful process and hit me with a blow I was not expecting towards the end of the workshop. George and Kim ended the presentation with the design thinking story of Embrace. Representing various disciplines, “the Embrace Warmer started as a class project at Stanford University when a group of graduate students were challenged to design an intervention for neonatal hypothermia that cost less than 1% of the price of a state-of-the-art incubator.”

With that inspiration, I was curious if anyone at MV was familiar with design thinking.  To my discovery, no one had heard of it. I thought this would be an exciting opportunity to ship this idea together. It is amazing how a one-hour experience can change your trajectory and possibly the trajectory of the organization one represents. Bringing this unknown, never heard of design thinking idea back to MV has transformed our students, teachers, and parents. Hundreds of design thinking challenges later, students and teachers have impacted their local and global community. This idea has birthed the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation, annual design thinking fuse conference, Council on Innovation, innovative space redesign, and even a toolkit called Playbook.

Most importantly, design thinking has fostered a way of being for us (MV Contiuum). While I cannot take any credit for the how this idea has shipped, there have been many people, over the years, directly or indirectly involved in our design thinking iterative process. I refer to them as a corps of engineers: Stanford d.School, George Kembel, Kim Saxe, Mary Cantwell, Bo Adams, Shelley Clifford, Chip Houston, James Campbell, TJ Edwards, Trey Boden, Greg Bamford, Meghan Cureton, Chris Andres, Grant Lichtman, Ryan Burke, Scott Sanchez, Jenn Chan, Nicole Martin, Katie Cain, Emily Breite, Allison Toller, and many others I am forgetting. Most importantly, I am grateful for the cast of characters of MVPS teachers, students and even parents developing, iterating, and producing an empathetic approach to people-centered problem-solving. Thank you.

Five years later, we have design thinking examples from age 2 to 18. Designing something exceptional, I am looking forward to the journey over the next five.