So… I participated in a wedding this weekend, and I used the skills I’ve been developing as a teacher of Design Thinking to do a number of bits of problem-solving.
The first was that the groom’s caterer packed some wonderful, glorious food for all of us, for a cocktail hour and a dinner. However, it was packed in round bins, and the fridge on-site only had room for square bins. We picked up the food at noon on Friday… how were we going to keep it cold until late afternoon and evening on Saturday, and until the pack-out of all the food from the site on Sunday mid-day?
Me to the rescue!
The groom, one of the bridesmaids, and I measured the bins. We determined that three could be safely stacked on top of each other, and then we guessed that a new trash can of the right diameter could hold three such bins. The trash can could then be lined with some ice, and the food kept cold that way.
Off I went to the hardware store. Forty minutes away from the groom, the bride, and the bridesmaids… all by themselves in a little bubble of no-cellphone-service. Me, alone at the hardware store.
No trash cans of the right size were available. There were also no flower pots of the right size. Nor were there any round coolers. Nor, in fact, did this hardware store carry coolers — it’s autumn in the mountains: they’re already putting out snow shovels, and putting away the grills and other accoutrements of summer, like coolers.
BUT… It is autumn in New England, and everyone needs to pack up leaves. I found several sixty-gallon, spring-loaded, leaf bins (The ones I bought were less than $10.00 each). And some trash bags that would fit them. I bought four leaf bins, and enough trash bags to double-bag them, and a whole bunch of ice… And then, back at the wedding site, we built ourselves some impromptu round coolers.
The food went into the inner bag. The ice went into the outer bag. All four bins stayed cold through the wedding, and into Sunday morning when I and the other members of the bridal party bagged all of the leftover food into handy travel-sized bins to fit into a (regular) cooler for transport back to the happy couple’s house.
So. That’s design thinking in action.
How do we teach it, though? That’s the question I’ve been pondering.
One of the lessons I take away from this impromptu bit of design work is that I went to the hardware store with a clear sense of what I needed — not Trash Cans, per se, but storage that can hold round food containers and retain cold for three days, while also keeping the food moisture-free. That meant that when I went to the hardware store, and I saw that the available trash cans were the wrong size and the wrong depth, I could immediately go around the store looking for other things that might suit our purposes better — rather than simply driving another forty minutes to the next hardware store to look for equipment that might not exist.
Second, I take away from this that a competent hardware store clerk is really a design thinker’s best friend. The clerk in the hardware store didn’t bother me at all until I asked him to help me find tarps and 60-gallon bags to go with the spring-loaded leaf bins I’d already located. Then he asked me if I was doing leaf cleanup (in which case I wanted the town dump licensed bags), or if I was doing something else. When I explained what I wanted, he found me extra heavy-duty bags, that turned out to be great insulation. He also recommended some blue plastic sheeting that I could get at a nearby lumber yard for extra insulation, and helped me consider whether or not to make plywood lids (we decided against it). When I asked for help, he gave it right away, and provided excellent advice, and I appreciate that I got a visible, competent helper instead of a know-nothing who vanished the moment I turned to ask a question.