Final post, huh? I really didn’t expect this course to went this fast. I still clearly remember my first day, where I sat down in one of the Business School’s rooms and who I sat next to. To my left, this talented graphic designer who loves Asian food, Irene, and to my right was someone I eventually worked most of the time with, Jonas. No, I did not see any of that coming that day. Once more people turned up, Mark asked us to find a pair and learn three things about them, and eventually introduce them to the class. Guess who I got. Mikkel. Yep, little that I know he was going to be one of the people that made everyone laugh so hard—someone who has been keeping our Friday so lively.
Then came the weekend—with special activity awaits us. Some of the previous MACE students came in and helped out. They helped us form our group for the weekend and I was in the same group with Mikkel, Michelle, Julia and Kaitlin. I sincerely think we did a really good job introducing our bike share idea within Kingston University—which I still think KU really need to turn this idea into reality, by the way—but the most important thing from this experience was destiny brought Kaitlin and I together (and no, this closeness is not weird for us, right, Kaitlin?).
We connected shortly and have been good friends as well as team mates ever since. This strong, independent woman brought our team together, adding Aleem, Britt and myself to the dynamic duo, Jonas and herself.
Our first group meeting was right after the afternoon class. We went to the uni pub and discussed about our own personal goals, desires and dreams. Guess what, I’m not lying, we all have a similar long-term goal, which is to have a business consultancy (Kaitlin told this better than I do on her previous blog post). However, we couldn’t actually make a service-based business for this project, so we’ll keep that at the back of our heads, for when the right time comes for us to get together again, and we’ll set the sail right.
It is obvious that I am more than thankful to have had four lovely people in my group—I really do. Our group dynamic and energy, and yes I want to brag about this, was one of the best out of all the other groups in our class. No offence, but we really didn’t have any people-trouble and worked really well together. Good start, huh?
Little did I know, having the right group of people you actually want to work with is not enough within this industry. Having the right product is way more challenging, thus making it a more important aspect. We met up every Wednesday morning and brainstorm ideas as much as we could. We went from our very first idea to make a medicine bracelet to remind people to take their medicine; a Bluetooth light that works like a car-key that can help you locate your bike while it is parked in a full bike parking lot; tenant-landlord-communication mobile application; to Ella—our precious little Ella.
I can say that we did challenge our creativity and did not regret any experiment that we did as a group or individually. As Bateson and Martin mentioned in their book, Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation,
“Undoubtedly, human creativity is a complex and multifaceted set of capabilities.”
“Play involves breaking rules. Playful play involves having fun while doing so. From play may emerge a new perspective or cognitive tool that might be used at a later date, possibly in combination with other perspectives or tools, to solve a new challenge. In their different ways, both of these consequences of play are creative.”
We didn’t have a name at that time, heck, we didn’t even know how it would look like. Luckily, I was reading Creative Confidence, the book that Mark gave us on our first day, precisely at the part where the Kelleys encourage their readers to take the leap; from planning to action. They encouraged us not to get stuck in the planning stage, instead, switch to our “do something” mindset and start doing as soon as we can. The Kelleys quoted John Keefe, a senior editor at Manhattan radio station WNYC,
“The most effective way I’ve found to practice design thinking is by showing, not telling. Rather than explaining what it is, I say: ‘I can get you results next week.'”
And according to the Kelleys, to take the leap from planning to action, we should:
1. Pitch a fledging business idea
2. Build a functional prototype in four days
3. Observe what the audience did
So we did. We went and made our very first prototype. It was made of unused cloth and heavy paper, and it was literally just 15cm long. It was far from perfect, but we took our first step, we made a use out of it. We started to look at the pros and cons, and it surely made it easier for some of us to vision how this baby wedge would look like. Also, it triggers others to come up with different solution and forms of how the ideal wedge should be.
However, I wish we had known about the book called Value Proposition Design by Bernarda, et al. because we could have applied this theory,
“The Value Proposition Canvas has two sides. With the Customer Profile, you clarify your customer understanding. With the Value Map, you describe how you intend to create value for that customer. You achieve Fit between the two when one meets the other.”
At this stage, other groups might already have their acting captain. By saying that, I’m referring to the chosen group leader. For Little Steps, we do things differently—all of us stepped in as the acting captain at some point in the last seven months. The five of us knew what our strengths and weaknesses are, and more importantly, we were also aware of each other’s. So there wasn’t a time where Jonas would forced me to do creative writing for Ella’s promotional video story board because he knew that it was not my expertise—it was most definitely Kaitlin’s. And Kaitlin wouldn’t have asked Britt to design Little Steps’ branding and identity, because I was the graphic designer of the group. I think we all get the point. All of us had something to contribute and we delegated tasks accordingly. That was quintessential.
In his book, Leadership, Brian Tracy mentioned 21 traits of being a good leader. One of the traits was “Power Through Cooperation”—which I think was well applied within how we do things in Little Steps:
“Leaders recognize that they can’t do it all themselves, so they are always alert to enlisting competent men and women who can help them achieve their goals. Leaders recognize that the greatest single limitation in any endeavor in human society is talented people. So leaders are always seeking out talented people, one way or another.”
“Good leaders are able to find people who are strong where they are weak; that way they can concentrate on developing their own strengths to even greater heights.”
Moving on… Product development. This is where we put most of our effort into, and maybe that was our first mistake, too. We were so focused on creating the perfect form of Ella, we forgot to actually tested it to our target market. On top of that, we were also not in the best environment to be exposed to our actual target audience—first-time pregnant women. We did try our best to find relatives or acquaintance with baby on the way, but luck was not on our side. Britt and Kaitlin had the most connections, unfortunately, they were all back in the States. So we couldn’t meet them face to face to test Ella. However, we tried to be positive and still take advantages from this situation by explaining Ella to them and trying to find user insights and asking for feedback.
At the same time, I realised one very, very important thing (and made it very clear on my previous blog post) that, in order to have a successful business, one must live, eat, sleep and think about it 24/7. So basically, you have to devote and commit your time 110% to it. You’ve got to be extremely passionate, engaged and ready to tackle all bumpy roads ahead in your business in order to drive it to success.
Then came our first Dragon’s Den. Luckily, we are all confident people by nature, who don’t really have much difficulties talking in front of a large group of people. We went last and received lots of feedback—some constructive, some were genuine concerns, and one said by someone completely irrelevant who seemed to have much hate on Ella—which we put into our account. We were quite shaken up after we did our presentation, I remember because it was unusual for us to be so faithless and distant from Ella. We did receive constructive feedbacks, but something that night took away the fire within us. We decided to shake it off, keep on looking for inspirations and do more research during our winter break.
We went back with better energy and understanding of our product, but unfortunately, the passion was gone. I’m honest, and straightforward, and I just think it is important to acknowledge what actually happened. We started to see this as “one of our Postgrad projects from one of our modules” instead of our creative business idea. Don’t get me wrong; we still made lots of effort to get Ella into her best form. We went to Wales and talked to our manufacturer, we experiment with more wedges shapes and made more prototypes, but deep inside I think we all knew we were partly detached from it. It was sad but I am very proud of our team because no one backed out. We understood too well that we were all in this together, and for sure, we were going to walk towards the finish line hand in hand. Katie, Jo, AJ, Britt, if you guys are reading this, I meant every word I said–so, thank you.
Then came the trade fairs. We were required to join two of them and try to make a selling. First problem. We’ve got nothing to sell. Second problem. We’ve got nothing to sell. That was a tough one, really, but if we did want to make a selling, the only solution for us was to have produced Ella in China to be able to sell it with our ideal market price and… that was nowhere near feasible. Another lesson learnt. Everything is made in China.
However, we considered ourselves as a bunch of creative people, so we made the most out of what we’ve got. We equipped our trade fair stand with laptop, showing renders of how Ella should look like; we brought the prototypes; we bought helium ‘It’s a Boy, It’s a Girl’ balloon; we printed flyers and business cards as part of creating the right atmosphere within our branding and identity. The first fair was… okay. The second one… I made it very clear of how I felt about it on this post. I’m not going back to that discussion. Thoughts?
Speaking of branding and identity, in their book, Emotional Brand Experience, Desgrippes and Gobé mentioned a brand should,
1. Follow the trend = the ability to adapt
2. Try to “be the audience”
3. Determine brand values
4. Keep in mind that your design represents your brand personality
5. It is important to have consistency and a personalisation within your brand and identity
A week after our second trade fair was our final Dragon’s Den. A lot of things have changed since our first presentation. We had the final design for Ella made and ready to present, we branded her beautifully with ribbons and a hand written letter, and we even made a short skit for our 7-minute pitch. We spent three days straight putting our business report and Dragon’s Den presentation together, and we were more confident with where we were at that point.
According to Robert Tuchman, an entrepreneur and founder of Goviva,
“One thing I’ve learned in business is that you need a cohesive team to be successful. The whole is much stronger than any individual part. You may be able to start your life as an entrepreneur with zero help, but you’ll need to build a focused team to lift your vision and really take your business to the championship.”
And I believe we did.
So what’s next? Well, John Howkins said something in his book, The Creative Economy, that summed-up our whole 7-month experience,
“Creativity is not new and neither is economics, but what is new is the nature and extent of the relationship between them, and how they combine to create extraordinary value and wealth.”
No matter if you are continuing your business or come up with a brand new one, bare in mind that we have to collaborate and create value, as well as using empathy to get to our target audience.
Secondly, is not to forget about design thinking. According to Tim Brown,
“Some characteristics to look for in design thinkers: Empathy, Integrative thinking, Optimism, Experimentalism and Collaboration.”
I personally will try to apply those characteristics upon myself as well as to my future partners and team members, later when the time comes when I finally create my own Creative Design Agency (for those forgetful people, this is what my dissertation is about).
Nonetheless, for all students familiar with this sign, #MACE14, it was lovely to meet each of you and worked with the most incredible people I have ever met. May you be, like me, happy and hopeful that we will cross each other’s path again some time in the future.
Our very first MACE Friday