Creativity Summit encourages students to be ‘design thinkers’

“Design thinking?” What is that?

That very question motivated Karen Tilstra, co-founder of Florida Hospital Innovation Lab (FHIL), to visit Salem on Nov. 1 for a series of class visits and community events speaking about her work in design thinking, the process that helps individuals identify the right problem and the right solution.

Tilstra spoke to hundreds of students and community members over the course of several public events at Morning Star Community Church, Career and Technical Education Center, Chemeketa Community College and Corban.

Tilstra focused on the need for empathy of designers, and how they should prioritize how the “end user” of the product or service feels. She emphasized five stages that are crucial in creative problem solving:

Empathy: This is the first step in the design thinking process. By putting ourselves in the shoes of the consumer, we can find spoken and unspoken needs. Empathy is all about listening to the end users and understanding their emotions and seeing into their world. If we do this, we will learn, and, by learning, we can create better solutions to frustrating problems.

Define: After gathering the “empathy,” we start defining the problem. This is the time where we figure out if we are focused on the right problem. For example, when people miss their trains, did they miss the train because they were running late or because the ticket station took them through a long and strenuous ticketing process? Using only the information in the empathy stage is crucial to defining the correct problem.

Ideate: This is the stage where we start to brainstorm ideas. This is a time where we rapidly fire off wild and crazy ideas. This stage is for quantity, not quality. For this stage to be successful, we have to suspend judgment. No idea is a bad idea, especially when we’ve listened to and gathered information from the end user.

Prototyping: Prototyping is taking ideas and making them tangible and visible. Think “show, not tell.” This can be done using simple and cheap materials. This way our end user can interact and give us feedback on our ideas. This is the stage where most people cop-out, but this stage lets the creative juices start to flow in parts of our brains. By creating our ideas, we get out of ourselves, which can be very beneficial to creating the perfect solution.

Testing: To test our ideas, we simply bring our prototype to our end user, so they can give us feedback. We can then take the feedback and improve our prototype.

Every stage goes back to the empathy stage.

“If empathy isn’t gathered, then the rest of the stages have the wrong meaning and direction,” she said. The design thinking process is very helpful, but it has to be taken seriously and each stage has to be done correctly.

“The information on Design Thinking will benefit our students the rest of their academic and professional lives,” English professor Marty Trammell said. “The workshops led us through a design thinking strategy that works well for all kinds of things: organizational improvement, instructional and assessment design, personal growth, conflict resolution, and others.”

More of Tilstra’s thinking can be viewed on her Ted Talk titled “Two words that can change the world, YES AND:”

Tilstra believes everyone is creative and has leadership potential. If everyone embraced this, the world would be a happier place, she says. Until the “culture of innovation” is complete, she “wants to help anyone who’s interested learn how to develop their inner wellspring of creativity.”

About Karen Tilstra:

Karen Tilstra has a Ph.D. in Innovation and an Ed.S. in Educational Psychology. She created FHIL in the hopes of teaching people how to solve frustrating problems in a creative way, but mostly to “creative a culture of innovation” Tilstra said. What is a “culture of innovation?” Walking people through the design thinking process and allowing them to solve problems in a creative way is something that can be used in any scenario.

Tilstra and her FHIL team have facilitated over 510 Design Thinking projects for over 37 international companies and more than 22 hospitals; 3,747 healthcare professionals, educators, and university students have come through FHIL, and 1,560 university students received training at FHIL.

Tilstra and her team have earned three innovation awards for their work in the last seven years.


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