My turn for the blog came way too fast! Hard to believe that we are at the end of Week 2 and have exactly two weeks remaining before we head back to Shanghai. So much has already happened and we’ve all had our own challenges during our journey so far. I still need to pinch myself to believe what I’m saying: I am in China, 13 hours away from home, on the other side of the planet. When I see the sun rise above the horizon, my family sees the moon up in the night sky.
For this blog, I’d like to talk about the expectations for this assignment and our host organization.
On Wednesday, we had our Design Thinking session (in summary solving problems and putting oneself in the shoes of the users, by using a creative vision and team work) . To be honest, my spirits were kind of down after its conclusion. Melinda and I had such high expectations for this deliverable: we wanted to show what IBM could bring to our host and to express how hopeful we are that we can solve some of the issues they are facing.
We started well: 13 people came along with Edna, Tom and Jing (thank you for your support!), and our Project Assistants (Shirley and Scarlett) wonderful students and translators. We had created three personas for Tian Ai (a university student volunteer, teacher manager and teacher for children over the age of eight with autism). We also got permission to keep working until 12:30 p.m., delaying the lunch.
We formed the team for a mix of different skills and backgrounds, and the teams seemed to be bonding. We arduously worked through the Design Thinking steps, explaining the Framework through many back-and-forths between translators and Chinese locals. We barely made it to the solutions and as we were asking for feedback, we were met with enormous silence. We could not read on the faces of the participants. I couldn’t tell if there was happiness, indifference, incredulity (as in, ‘why on earth did we spend three and a half hours on this?’), or incomprehension. Absolutely no facial expression and no comment … hard to finish on such a note after all the work we put into the preparation and our high hopes.
But as I learned in yoga, we should not be harsh on ourselves. We did, after all, get good participation, more input than expected at each step and interesting comments and solutions. We wished we could do this session again, knowing what we know now, to achieve an even better outcome.
After a night sleeping on what could have been done differently, we had a meeting with some teachers and the vice principal who participated to the workshop. We asked for feedback again and this time we got some responses. They had no idea on what the Empathy map was. They loved the solutioning approach and especially the prioritization of the solutions. As we discussed the latter, we got to see how much their job means to them; they work Monday through Saturday, all day, with very little vacation. We could see the passion and the dedication for a noble cause. One of them tearing up as she explained what she would like to improve the school model and how she thought this methodology could help her. Just as we saw her optimism, we also saw her doubts in her eyes. She’s been trying for a long time. This employee (like many others) is so generous with her time for the school and so involved with improving the lives of children with autism — but she’s afraid of not being able to transform Tian Ai into an even better organization. She has high expectation for our assignment and we don’t want to disappoint her and the teachers in this organization who have been so kind to us. So we will keep focusing on providing our expertise and advice and find ways to deliver to this teacher and the organization what they expect – the tools to help them bring to the organization the change and improvements they want to see.
Being in China, we will magnify all the good they deliver to their community through the Confucius values of loyalty, respect, benevolence, righteousness and, of course, love for kids and people they support every day.
This is a humbling experience for me and I will do everything I can to deliver what we were tasked to do here in China as it may signal the change that many people were hoping and waiting for.