Cultivating new ways of thinking

March 7, 2014
Amy Dove
“Opening up ourselves to understand and process more possibilities is always going to result in a better outcome,” says Royal Roads University Bachelor of Commerce alumna and workshop attendee Lauren Moline.

At Mason Street City Farm, systems that work together work better.

The urban farm uses a diverse approach to growing that calls on a greenhouse aquaponics system to combine collected rainwater, pumice growing material and fish to complement the traditional earth beds outside. Each element was added with careful thought as to how it related to the whole. 

“The more interconnected we make that web, the more resilient the system, the more products we can get out of it,” says farm co-owner Jesse Brown.

The same can be said for design thinking, an approach to problem solving more commonly found in creative industries than boardrooms. That’s changing though and for good reason. Design thinking is a method that focuses on understanding larger goals to solve specific problems. 

Royal Roads University School of Business Assistant Prof. Amy Zidulka and School of Environment and Sustainaibility associate faculty member Derek Masselink introduced the process to alumni and friends using techniques from Stanford University’s at the first Inspiring Connections Alumni Learning and Leadership workshop, hosted in Victoria Feb. 20. Attendees learned the new tool together and then applied that learning to ideas around urban farming for Mason Street City Farm.


“Creative ideas don’t come from sitting in a room and brainstorming,” Zidulka says. “They come from deep understanding and they emerge from there.”

Such work requires conversation throughout and is based on shared experience.

“Organizations that embody this are fantastic places to be,” Masselink adds. “Some of the problems we are facing require us to open up, invite others in and to understand where each other is coming from.”

By the evening’s end, the conversation grew to include ideas for improving distribution, marketing, communications and community engagement on both professional and personal levels. The diversity of ideas was a direct result of the range of voices brought into the conversation.

Design thinking won’t work in every situation, but the approach reminds people that collaboration can happen in different ways, Zidulka says.

Lauren Moline, a Bachelor of Commerce alumna, says that processes such as design thinking are helpful in the workplace. “I work in marketing, which requires creative thinking, but many times we are quick to tear down ideas without seeing them through or based on the judgment of others,” she adds, noting design thinking creates space for different ideas.

For MBA alumnus Neville Grigg, who offered his Agenda Office Interiors showroom for the workshop, it is also easy to see how the learning translates into work.

“Being able to empathize with my customers at a different level with this tool kit is really powerful,” Grigg says.

That connectedness, similar to the interdependent systems thriving at Mason Street City Farm, is what makes room for remarkable things to happen, Masselink says. “It’s about revealing to people that they have this creative capacity and that there is a way of working in collaboration with others.”

Learn more about design thinking

Prof. Amy Zidulka shares her favourite resources for design thinking and creative problem solving.