It’s never goodbye, it’s see you soon!

Reflecting on the experiences of the past year is a difficult assignment. Not because the year has passed without many adventures, but because the range of mixed emotions, unforgettable experiences and amazing people who have crossed my path is simply too hard to express in words, not even 2000 words. Nevertheless, I’ll take the challenge and brace it courageously, hoping I won’t end up flooding my keyboard with tears for the end of an exciting time. If the reader wishes to join me on this adventure, prepare for a truly empathic experience. As stories are what differentiate us as a specie, what unite communities and help us share experiences, what becomes “infectious” (McKinsey, 2011), let me share the story of my year.

Persona

MACE persona

One of the first things that was transferred from my previous knowledge in marketing to design thinking was the need for a persona – a mixture of user profiles from a particular category, describing their demographic details, behaviours and lifestyle choices in order to use it for the development of user experience in testing (Idoughi et al, 2011). So here you are, the MACE persona.

Learning to think all over again

The number one and most enduring lesson I have learned in MACE is: empathise. Empathise with your customers/users as part of the design thinking process to create something innovative. Observe them, without interrupting the flow of their actions. In fact, empathy and observation are closely linked together and design thinkers observe the world in great detail in order to take a human-centred approach (Brown, 2008). And only they have done that, can they start the thinking and brainstorming phase. Because if you create something out of thin air that no one needs, you’ll simply become one of the many companies which don’t make it too far, one of the 85% of new products that fail when they come to the market (Wong, 2010).

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First product idea – a multi-functional iPad case

Lesson number two? Failure is good. Or, if I may rephrase, learning from failure is good –  as prototyping, going through several iterations and incorporating users into your design process means the feedback you receive can help you build something great (Innovation Management, 2011). It’s because failure is the proof that one is prolific in one’s ideas – since they can’t all succeed, failing some is proof that you actually have more ideas. And I learned it on my own in our business group called 42. The first product we wanted to make (among others that failed afterwards) was a customisable iPad case with changeable inserts to suit different lifestyles. It turned out people were quite happy with what Apple had produced. But empathy and learning from failure lead us to Tabli, which was one of the major rewards of the year. It was only when we observed children playing, mothers being busy and having trouble balancing child-minding and household chores that we managed to create a product to keep both of them happy. And it was only after different sizes and finishing processes were tested that we arrived at the finished product ready to put on the market.

Learning to start up

No, I didn’t miss the hyphen in there. ‘Starting up’ are two words that can definitely describe the past year as I had to adjust to a new country, a new home, a new education system, a new university and new, amazing people. For that I had to start up with a new life and it has been very rewarding, exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking, sometimes I just felt overwhelmed and on the edge of quitting. But I’m sure glad I didn’t.

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At the Kingston Market Square Fair using face-paint to attract children to our stall

Now, starting a start-up was one of the biggest challenges that I faced as I would have never realised until going through everything, just how difficult it is. Starting with finding a team which proved rather difficult as everyone was a stranger more or less, I can now say I was lucky to have found the right people. And the struggle started right at the beginning as our group was slightly too large and didn’t comply to the rules. There were times when we weren’t on the same page, time zone or path, but what I would say defined 42 is unity  (‘teamwork’ is used and abused). That no matter how tough it was, we worked on it together, when we were annoyed we ranted to each other, when things weren’t quite right, we brainstormed and found a solution and we welcomed ideas from everyone for everything. An example of this was finding a promotional strategy for our first trade fair when we all put our minds to work and titles like Operations Director, Finance Director or Marketing Director didn’t impact in any way the effort or worthiness of the idea we were bringing to the brainstorm.

Winning £250 prize at Bright Ideas

We had to have titles in order to divide official responsibility, but what I think made us so successful was the fact that when it came to performing any task, we were doing it together. Because we were successful at it, Tabli sold in 48 units, we won a Bright Ideas prize, a Best Sales Team prize and we represented London at the Young Enterprise National Final.

Being part of 42 has helped me personally and professionally as I have developed my direct selling skills, I have gained practical experience in marketing and I now feel more confident in pitch situations and presentations for my desired advertising career. 42 has also inspired me to open my own business one day in the baking industry as I have discovered that with the right people, determination and enthusiasm, rewards soon come.

Regarding the process of creating Tabli, it was much like IDEO’s (2009) Human Centred Design process based on three stages: Hear – Create – Deliver.

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Hear – Create – Deliver (IDEO, 2009, p.8-9)

But even after learning about that, I would have never realised through how many iterations our Tabli would go through to finish the Delivering stage:

  • we first had a thicker MDF wood, so we changed it to a thinner one afterwards;
  • we first gave it one coating but that didn’t really work out and the brush strokes were visible. Then we tried spray painting and noticed it didn’t leave a nice surface which meant the chalk was very visible even after careful washing. So we returned to paint and tried rollers to make it smooth. Then Ray discovered that finishing all of that with light sanding followed by full chalking and washing would result in the smoothest, most effective surface;
  • we didn’t know how to package it so we thought of drawstring bags as the children could use them as a backpack as well but only after ordering them did we realise that just because the measurements fit doesn’t mean the bag will close;
  • we found that painting with black chalkboard paint in a room with a beige carpet isn’t the best idea but it’s something you can laugh at later;
  • we found that people you know are really important as we used acquaintances and friends to have CAD drawings of the product and produce our prototypes;
  • we discovered that being honest is appreciated by our audiences as our presentation at Young Enterprise National Final about our journey was very well received.

Learning to swim in a blue ocean

This might sound weird to some, but most of us are swimming in a Red Ocean: an ocean where companies obey the traditional rules of trade, produce commoditised products, their purpose is to outsmart the competition and they fight like sharks for profits. Blue Oceans, on the other hand, find a niche, define a market, change the rules and break the boundaries (Kim and Mauborgne, 2006). Attempting to do this as a brand might be hard enough, but MACE taught us more. It made us think as a Blue Ocean swimmer even for our own sakes: not to be part of the endless graduates that leave university, not to join just any environment or conform to the rules, MACE taught us that we should strive for more, challenge knowledge more, criticise, discover, never give up and surround ourselves by like-minded people ready to put a dent in the universe.

Learning about people

A major component of the past year has been the amazing, new, supportive and talented people I have known. MACE is a highly international course which helped in giving multiple perspectives of issues discussed in class and a chance for me to learn about more cultures, which is what I have always been interested in. From challenges such as Dragon’s Den to the happy moments like MACE Friday or a well-said joke, I have learned that even when it’s harder to accept the personality of others, each person will give you a valuable lesson about life.

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Part of the MACE class of 2013

Even though adding a new person to my network every day was not possible, I feel that I have understood the value and importance of networking more. I have built relationships with people who will work in the creative industries, just like me, my dear classmates and I hope I will always find some advice and help in them should the situation arise. Just as they are welcome to find it in me. I have learned about emotional intelligence and its components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills (Jane, 2006). But not just what emotional intelligence is, also how you can build it and its importance in my future career should I be in the position to lead creative people. Because this century’s organisation is made by people for the people. Another granted wish were the opportunities to network offered by the university: in class, in networking events, career events or my own efforts, as I had long dreamed of being able to do this. My undergraduate studies in Denmark offered similar opportunities, but these were hindered by my lack of acquaintance with the language.

Learning about value and power

Even though my previous background in marketing communications had acquainted me with some principles of new media and social media and I can feel these media’s power on my own skin, this past year I’ve learned more about the mechanics behind it. So that in order to create value in this social era, you need to stop thinking that the consumer is just the person at the end of the value chain. He is a co-creator now, he is part of a community that, if utilised properly with permission, can help your company grow. The social era is the time when how we organise, deliver and connect is changing and where innovation happens openly (Merchant, 2012).

Learning that school kills creativity…does it?

 Following Sir Ken Robinson’s (2012) TED Talk about the fact that educational curricula and systems tend to suppress creativity within people by placing the accent on traditional subjects like maths and literature, I was at a loss for a bit as to my reason for being still in university after 16 years of education. In the end, Khan Academy (n.d.) can offer education for whatever you are passionate about, for free. So why do we spend so much time in educational institutions, for a paper we receive at the end? But soon I realised, it’s for the social interaction. We need to be around people, to learn from others, both tutors and classmates, in order to be ready to go forward. As for killing creativity, maybe some schools/universities do, maybe most of them do, but there are some exceptions worth the while like the MACE course. Because in the framework it was allowed to work, MACE encouraged, challenged, disputed creativity, ideas, theories and outcomes. So I think it was worth it.

I can’t say I learned everything about design thinking, or about management and leadership, I can’t say I’ve decided on a definition and a list of the creative industries. I probably never will. But I can say one thing: I have learned about myself through learning about life and this is the most practical and valuable lesson I could take away.

References

Brown, T. (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, (June), p.1-10. Available at: http://www.unusualleading.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/HBR-on-Design-Thinking.pdf [Accessed: 15 May 2013].

Henry, J. (2006) Creative management and development. London: Sage Publications.

IDEO (2009) Human-Centered Design Toolkit | IDEO. [online] Available at: http://www.ideo.com/work/human-centered-design-toolkit/ [Accessed: 18 May 2013].

Idoughi, D., et al. (2011) Adding user experience into the interactive service design loop: a persona-based approach. Behaviour & Information Technology, 31 (3), p.287-303.

Innovation Management (2011) Asking the Important Questions: A Guide to Design Thinking And a Better Way to Serve Customers | Innovation Management. [online] Available at: http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2011/05/30/asking-the-important-questions-a-guide-to-design-thinking-and-a-better-way-to-serve-customers/ [Accessed: 18 May 2013].

Khan Academy (n.d.) Khan Academy. [online] Available at: http://www.khanacademy.org [Accessed: 20 May 2013].

Kim, W. and Mauborgne, R. (2006) Blue Ocean Strategy. New York: Gildan Media.

McKinsey (2011) The power of storytelling: What nonprofits can teach the private sector about social media. [online] Available at: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/the_power_of_storytelling_what_nonprofits_can_teach_the_private_sector_about_social_media [Accessed: 18 May 2013].

Merchant, N. (2012) 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era. Harvard Business Review Press.

Robinson, K. (2012) Do Schools Kill Creativity?. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sir-ken-robinson/do-schools-kill-creativity_b_2252942.html [Accessed: 20 May 2013].

Wong, E. (2010) The Most Memorable Product Launches Of 2010 – Forbes.com. [online] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/2010/12/03/most-memorable-products-leadership-cmo-network.html [Accessed: 20 May 2013].

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Life 39 floors above

It’s 9:30 am but it feels like I haven’t slept at all. I’ve been twisting and turning and dreaming about nasty judges. I don’t know why though, as we have rehearsed countless times both our pitches and we are prepared for the worst questioning. You’ve guessed it: today is the Young Enterprise National Final where Tabli is representing London together with Ferox. I get dressed and head off to meet the rest of my team and our supporting advisors: Bracey, Fazl, Janja and Gerry for breakfast at Carluccio’s in Canary Wharf. A coffee and croissant sounds nice right now, but the anxiety is building up.

After taking the wrong exit at the Tube stop, I use Reuters as a guidance to reach the square in front and meet everyone. “Ah, here she is!” It appeared I’m a bit late but everyone is smiling and happy and positive, so that calms me down a bit.

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I sit and think: wow! I’m in such a nice place. I’m not the one to be excited by buildings, but Canary Wharf has this energy that just pulls you in. As someone would later say that day: It makes you feel important.

So after a quick bite, we head to One Canada Square, the second largest building in London, to get our badges to go in to level 39. Little did I know at that time that L39 actually deals with entrepreneurship and is highly involved in supporting people in that respect. So we get there and as soon as I see the windows, I run to get a closer look. The view just leaves me…breathless.

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I never thought London could be so awe-inspiring. I am quickly pulled back to set up the stall and we are informed of what is going to happen throughout the day. We were lucky 42 was selected to do the investor and the public pitch first, I hate having to wait for these things to happen. For the stall, we decided to go with a childish theme integrated with our branding which would make full use of Tabli.

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And Ferox styled it up with an unusual stall, yet highly fitted to their stylish Tagline.

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Seeing everyone formally dressed all day, in such an elegant and fancy building, so high above that people were really really tiny, the cars seemed to be toys and Thames merely a little stream, I felt strangely confident. Confident that having made it so far, I’m finally prepared to be part of the professional world. We had a great team of advisors who kept our morals up all day and when it finally came to it, everyone could see the amount of work we’ve put in. You could tell which teams were the Kingston University teams, and the crowd loved our presentation.

And then the awards ceremony came. Unfortunately, 42 didn’t win any official award, though the judges stopped by to tell us that we had done an exceptional job and it was hard for them to make the decision. We were pleased that Ferox received the award for best presentation, although there was a shared feeling that they would have deserved more.

And as quick as it came, the day passed. So did the clouds on top of London. And all that’s left is the memory of the success we shared for even being there, for seeing how loved we are – as some of our MACErs came to support us – and for the people we made proud. Sadly, the night ended with goodbyes as Ray and Janet have gone to other paths in their life, but there’s always September to look forward to.

Tabli Chapter 3 – An unexpected twist

Remember in the previous chapter when I said that I’m really excited to see what happens next? Well, I promise you this my dear reader, you’re in for a treat!

After the Kingston Market Square Fair, where we won the Best Sales Team prize for our guerrilla marketing, the next challenge was going through the Dragon’s Den organised by Kingston University. A day of terror, anxiety and excitement to show what we have done to make Tabli an amazing product and what 42 has achieved as a company. So here we are, right before the pitch, ready to go in and face the Dragons.

photo-2It appears 42 did an excellent job at selling Tabli, not only to our customers, but also to the Dragons. Our introducing sketch in which I played the annoyed little sister to my older brother Ray conveyed the message clearly about who we are targeting and what Tabli is good for. Then Stine wooed the judges with our impeccable finances (done with the help of our clever MD) and we worked so well together as a team that … *insert drumroll here*…we were selected to pitch again in a face off with Ferox and two undergraduate teams (out of the 19 teams competing). We conquered that battle as well and we are now representing London with Ferox at the Young Enterprise National Final!

I have to admit I was really overwhelmed by all of this at the beginning as that would entail a whole new report, a whole new presentation, another Dragon’s Den and a whole lot of preparation. After all, we can’t disappoint the judges with the honour that we’ve been given.  And so far, we’ve done quite well. Our script is written and our business advisors are pleased with us, we just have to prepare, prepare, prepare! But our enthusiasm for Tabli will keep us energised. 

And then this week I also had my beloved boyfriend’s birthday, I had some issues with my dissertation and the proposal, I had to move out of my house and continue working on my projects as deadlines are fast approaching. And on top of everything we had our last classes yesterday which made me extremely sad. The geek in me loves learning things and going to uni and meeting amazing people and friends, and now all of that is gone, leaving a daunting dissertation instead 😦 

One thing’s for sure, these are times I will never forget.

Coming up next…

Wednesday is the Young Enterprise National Final and my next post will tell you all about what will happen there. Exciting times ahead so watch this space.