Design Thinking in Action: Sacramento Public Library

Teen library help

One of the most important principles in design thinking is being Customer-centered. This means really paying close attention to what customers do and why they do it. This can come from engaging directly with customers, from taking a look at the data we are gathering or from a combination of data and customer feedback. 

We can also learn a lot from looking at how organizations outside of workforce development take a design approach. 

The Sacramento Public Library noticed that there were certain types of books that were checked out regularly by teens, but that they rarely spoke directly to librarians about them or came to them with any questions. As the photo above indicates, that's because these types of books were often on topics that were really important to teens, but that they might be afraid or embarrassed to discuss with an adult. 

Recognizing this and wanting to make it easier for more teens to find the books that were most important, the library created the sign you see above. 

This is the essence of good design. They made the library more inviting and welcoming, made it easier for teens to find what they needed and did it in a way that respected what teens value most--their privacy. 

And it cost them nothing to do. 

Customer-Centered Design for Workforce Development


I've been using customer-centered design processes with clients for over a year now, so I was really excited to see that the Department of Labor is not only embracing design-thinking, it is sponsoring a national challenge to get workforce development programs throughout the country to start using design principles in their work. 

Design Thinking is all about tapping into customer experiences, developing empathy for their point of view and how they feel as they are accessing our services. It's also about trying things out to see what does and doesn't work, placing small bets and creating "good enough" options that allow you to test and learn and keep on iterating to improve on what you're creating. 

As part of the DOL-initiative, local workforce areas are invited to participate in a free online course that will take teams through the design-thinking process. The program begins August 20 and lasts 7 weeks. I've taken a previous version of the course and you'll find tons of case studies, tools, resources, etc. to help you go through a real-life design project. 

You should also check out DOL's Customer-Centered Design Thinking Project page for more information on how to participate. 

One of the design challenges that DOL is putting out for local areas to address is on working with out-of-school youth. In the June Design Thinking workshops I ran for the Philadelphia Youth Network, we talked a lot about how having students go through design-thinking training can be a powerful way to engage them in their learning AND connect them to area businesses, as the video below about a project in CA with in-school youth demonstrates. 


In this program, young people formed teams with business leaders to learn more about design thinking and to have the young people design solutions to some of the challenges the businesses were facing. What an incredible opportunity to strengthen connections with business while also engaging young people in learning some powerful and important skills!

Over the next several months I'll be posting more resources and supports for implementing design thinking in a workforce context. As we look to full implementation of WIOA, this process offers us a powerful way to begin bringing more innovation into our work!

Facilitate Action with a Pro Action Cafe

The Art of Hosting - ProAction Cafe from Kevin McKeever on Vimeo.


On June 19, 2015, I'm facilitating a mini Pro Action Cafe for the Philadelphia Youth Network's ENGAGE conference. I wanted to post about it here, both to share the idea as well as to act as a follow-up resource with handouts for those who attend the session. 

What is a Pro Action Cafe 

A Pro Action Cafe is a space for creative, action-oriented conversations where people can bring a project, idea, question, etc. to a group and go through a structured questioning process to get key feedback and help them think through their ideas.  

The focus is on helping people clarify action steps that will help them move their project or idea forward. It can be used for virtually any topic, theme, etc. 

The video above gives a brief overview of the process.

The video below is an example of how it's been used to help start-ups think through their business idea so you can get a feel for how a Cafe might play out. 

Pro Action Café from Impact Hub Amsterdam on Vimeo.


 Benefits of a Pro Action Cafe

I've used Pro Action Cafes as part of a Business Leadership Academy that I lead and facilitate for the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce. Participants volunteer to share a challenge or problem that they're dealing with at work and then we go through the structured questioning process to help them think through the challenge. I've also used them in entrepreneurial coaching, to help people flesh out their business ideas. 

We've consistently found that both the "callers" (the people who volunteer to talk about their problem or issue) and the people giving feedback are enthusiastic about the process because it brings out ideas and possibilities that they might not have considered. The callers get multiple perspectives on their issue and the participants often find resolutions to some of their own situations  or new ideas through the conversations that take place. 

Resources on Pro Action Cafes

Below are some additional resources on running a Pro Action Cafe. 


Design That Works: 4 Lessons from Brown's SuperStore

Brown's Super Store

Last week I was at the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association Conference where the topic on everyone's mind was 


Lots of panels and discussions about regulations and expectations and what USDOL and States are looking for from local WIB areas. Many questions, but not the kinds of answers that most people seemed to be looking for. 

One thing that really stood out, though, was that local areas are receiving strong encouragement to become more innovative and creative both in the design of services and in delivering them to both employer and job seeker customers. 

This morning I ran across this article about Brown's SuperStore, a grocery chain in Philadelphia (and division of ShopRite) that took on the challenge of addressing food deserts in the City. These are areas, both urban and rural, where people lack access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. 

Brown's has is currently operating 7 successful and profitable stores in areas where they were warned no other grocery store had been able to make it. Not only are they surviving, but they are thriving and how they did it offers the workforce system some great lessons in thinking about how we could seize some of the opportunities presented by WIOA. 

1. Re-Define Our Mission

Brown's mission is "Bringing Joy to the Lives of the People We Serve." Notice that there is positive emotion built into that mission. That it connects on a really human level. What would happen if we redefined our mission in that way? 

2. Engage DEEPLY with the community before designing services. 

When Jeff Brown was starting his stores,  he says:

"Before we did anything, we brought together a group of community leaders, and we just asked them to tell us exactly what it is they were looking for in a neighborhood grocery store." 

He did this for EACH store:

Before we open a store in a neighborhood, we work with community leaders ... learn about their background, religion, where their families came from.

This was an open-ended conversation, meant to learn as much as possible about the communities and the people who lived there. It was deep LISTENING that Brown then used in designing his stores. 

This is the kind of empathy interviewing that businesses use to get at what's most important to their customers so they have a good understanding of what will attract, engage and keep customers coming back for more. 

3. Look for outside sources of inspiration.

Brown also looks outside of his "niche" to learn from what other stores are doing that could be adapted for his model:

When it comes to selling fresh produce, Brown says he likes to take cues from higher-end stores like Whole Foods, which put lots of effort into marketing it. He says he has his employees at every store take extra time to hand-stack fruits and veggies "into little pyramids — because it avoids bruising and it's eye-catching."

He also invests in skilled butchers, fishmongers and in-store chefs. And that's how he's managed to tempt customers into choosing healthier food, he says, like "fire-grilled chicken" instead of fried chicken.

He doesn't just look to other grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods to learn from them. He is learning from the "high end" stores and bringing in their practices as well. 

4. Broaden your understanding of who you could be. 

Over time, by continuing to engage deeply with his local customers, Brown has really broadened his understanding of the role the grocery store can play in a community, incorporating new services into his stores that address local needs, such as:

  • Community Centers where local residents can sign up to use space for their meetings.
  • Social workers
  • Nutritionists
  • Health clinics

He's even considering creating Jazz Clubs because local residents don't have access to the kinds of "Main Street" bars and restaurants where people can go to have fun and just hang out. 

Many of these services are being offered in partnership with local nonprofits, creating win/win situations for both. 

The real question Brown's is asking is "What happens if the grocery store becomes the center for community life?"

This is a question that the workforce system should be asking of itself:

"What happens if we become the center of community life?" 

Some of us are already thinking that way, but many are not. And even for those organizations that are thinking like this, there are still plenty of opportunities for innovation in continuing to ask this deeper question. 

As we look to the future of workforce development under WIOA, we will need to embrace new ways of thinking and doing business. These four lessons from the Brown's SuperStore experience are a good place for us to start. 


Using Creative Jams for Professional Development and Stronger Programming

For the past several months, I've been working with the Philadelphia Youth Network on several staff development projects, including the Try It Tuesday blog, where we share tips and ideas for engaging young people in youth programs. 

I've written here before about how we could use "hackathons" and "creative jams" to build stronger programs and engage our communities and on Friday, April 24, we were able to put that idea to the test. 

Jam4Justice 2015

In March, we invited anyone who was interested to join us to work on this question:

Jam Question

The idea was that we would spend 7.5 hours working together, with people forming smaller teams to work on projects that they identified at the beginning of the Jam. By the end of the day, they would have concrete prototypes and materials to use in implementing their project ideas. 

Over 30 people showed up to the Jam, including a number of people who were not currently doing work with young people but who were engaged by the question. 

Structure of the Day

We began the day by sharing a very loose agenda for how we would spend our time, along with these guidelines:

Jam Guidelines

Then we put out a call for projects. Anyone who had an idea for a project they wanted to work on was invited to write down their project idea on a giant Post-It and then each person did a brief pitch to the group, describing their project and why they were passionate about it. 

Within the first hour, we'd identified 6 project areas and people rapidly formed teams to work on their projects. We supplied them with a variety of office supplies--markers, Post-Its, index cards, paper, markers, etc. as well as puzzles and small toys to keep their hands busy while we worked. 

Jam Supplies

For the next 6 hours each team worked hard on their projects, with only a brief break for them to grab the boxed lunches we supplied before returning to their tables to keep working. 

The energy and excitement in the room was fantastic!

We had teams working on a DIY musical (see the video below), a 6-week digital story-telling curriculum, a youth-led cafe that would be both a creative outlet for youth and a chance for them to act as entrepreneurs--even an adventure-based learning school!

We were blown away by not only the projects that people created, but also their engagement and enthusiasm for the process itself. We provided the question, some limited structure and some supplies and they were free to apply their passion and creativity to coming up with prototypes for their project ideas.

The video at the top of this post shares some of the reflections on what we learned and took away from the session. And here's some additional feedback we got from participants:

To be honest I was quite surprised at how the day went. I first thought I was walking into one of those long workshops where I sit for hours. But I learned a great deal about myself and help to realize my project on paper. Thanks to Kelly Wilson and Mr Bob. I had a wonderful time and would like to do this monthly. I could go on sharing and sharing what the outcomes were for me on that day. I am so glad I went to the Jam. It was bigger than what I consider a jam.

Having the space to come up with real solutions to assist youth while networking and having fun. Also, having creative liberty and not being bound to unnecessary restraints. I had a really great time and worked with an amazing group of people who were all so different, but came together and created an awesome experience that I believe can empower our youth to positively impact the world.

Loved the action-oriented nature of the event. And that it was organized around a central theme/topic of social justice. There was enough structure to keep everyone "on task" but not too much to stifle our creativity.

You can see more about the projects (including their project presentations) as well as pictures and additional information at our Jam4Justice website

We're currently discussing how we can do a series of "mini Jams" and quarterly full-day Jams as ongoing professional development for staff. We are also looking into bringing young people into the next Jam, empowering them to work alongside staff to create their own passion-based projects. 

We're very excited about the possibilities with this structure and see it as a really exciting way to unleash the creativity of staff to develop projects, share resources and learn from each other. 

Asset-Based Coaching Strategies Recorded Hangout and Resources

Here's yesterday's Hangout on Asset-Based Coaching, sponsored by New Jersey's Career Connection Employment Resource Institute. Unfortunately we had some tech glitches along the way, so you'll see that this was our second round with the broadcast. 

If you want to explore more on asset-based coaching and get additional resources to help you implement these coaching strategies, you can find links and worksheets here, as well as the slides from the presentation. 

Asset-Based Coaching Strategies--FREE WEBINAR

On Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 2 p.m. (EDT) I'll be hosting a free webinar on Asset-based coaching strategies, sponsored by New Jersey's Career Connection Employment Resource Institute. It will be broadcast live through Hangouts on Air.  We'll be discussing:

  • Why you need to focus on assets and strengths in the career/job search planning process.
  • The difference between case management and coaching and how you accomplish more when you act as a coach with customers
  • The G.R.O.W. coaching model, which is used by many companies and organizations to get greater benefits from coaching. 
  • The benefits of doing more group coaching
  • Some of my favorite coaching tools and practices that can be used in group and individual settings. 

To join us for Tuesday's free session, register here for the event. You'll receive follow-up instructions to participate once you register. 

It will be a packed hour of information and resources--we hope you can join us!

The Baffling Behavior of Customers And Why You Need to Learn About Behavioral Economics


Something I've consistently observed in working with One Stop customers (employers and job seekers) and with staff is how often people will tell me they want to do something and then not actually follow up on doing it. I've also watched people make decisions about their careers and their lives that are really baffling--they seem to do act in ways that are against their long-term best interests and success.  

As it turns out, there are scientific reasons that people don't make the logical, rational choices we would want them to--reasons that are grounded in the relatively new science of behavioral economics. People are not the rational decision-makers we think they are. There are a whole host of biases and thinking errors that we humans make pretty consistently that cause us to act against our own best interests.

Currently I'm teaching a year-long career coaching course, working with One Stop staff to develop their skills in a variety of areas and we've begun our first module on these thinking errors. The video above is from the course and I wanted to share it here as a way of introducing the topic and getting us thinking about the impact of thinking errors on our work in American Job Centers.

One of the things that becomes apparent as you delve into this information is that we are actually contributing to creating many of our own problems in workforce development because we aren't taking into account the impact that these biases have on the decision-making and activities of customers. We actually make it HARDER for them to do the right things at the right times because of how we communicate with customers.

I'll be doing a couple of webinars to more deeply explore these topics in July and August, but for now take a look at the video above to get a taste of what we'll be discussing. The research is pretty interesting and it has some profound implications for WIBs and One Stops.  

FREE RESOURCE: NGA Webinar on Using Social Media for Job Search

GJIF Social Media and Job Search Presentation from Michele Martin

Earlier this week I did a 1-hour webinar for the NGA on using social media in the job search. We covered using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Wikispaces for company research, networking, personal branding and finding job leads. 

The slides are above and you can access the recorded presentation here. I also have follow-up articles and posts available here


Resources to Promote Entrepreneurship


As I wrote a few weeks ago, I'm currently working on a project with the Philadelphia Youth Network to promote youth entrepreneurship called Studio E. The focus is on making entrepreneurship and the habits and skills of successful entrepreneurs part of our career development work with students. 

In addition to the Studio E website, we also have two major resources we're developing. 

Try It Tuesdays

The Try It Tuesdays activities are for youth development practitioners to use with students to help them explore different aspects of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking. These activities can be integrated into your current youth programs and can be used in a variety of ways. 

How They Do It Interview Series with Everyday Entrepreneurs

We're also doing a series of video interviews with everyday entrepreneurs called How They Do It. Each interview is about 20 minutes long and in them, we explore how different people are creating opportunities for themselves and developing multiple income streams. Some of our entrepreneurs are in "for-profit" businesses, while others are using entrepreneurship to have social impact, creating social enterprises through their entrepreneurial efforts. 

These videos can be a great way to open up discussions about what it means to be an entrepreneur and to get youth talking about the possibilities. We'll be adding to these over the next few months. 

Entrepreneurship for Everyone

Although the focus of Studio E is on young people, both the Try It Tuesdays and the How They Do It Interviews can be used with adults to promote entrepreneurial thinking and to open up conversations about entrepreneurship as an option. As we look at a job market where there are still 3 unemployed people for every job opening, we need to start talking with everyone about the need to create your own opportunities, even when you are looking for work. These resources can help jumpstart the process.