UNLEASH! Train-the-Teacher Workshop Series – Unleash

UNLEASH! Train-the-Teacher Workshop Series

October - November 2018

Talents needs of 21st Century

Primary and secondary school teachers from a wide variety of subjects gathered on 20 October 2018 to attend the first of a series of workshops on Design Thinking.

The workshop underscored the value of design thinking in fostering the most important soft skills for the 21st century.


Prof Bernard Suen, Centre for Entrepreneurship at CUHK, presented the idea of “T-shaped talents for a disrupted world”, and what kinds of talents are needed in this world after the rise of the ABCD of the digital disruption: Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Cloud Computing, and Big Data. He quoted a study led by Prof Tsui Lap-chee: “Innovation and scientific research, as well as the ability to solve complex problems nowadays require multidisciplinary training and possession of so-called T-shaped knowledge.”

Suen added that scholars and educators around the world are trying to find where machines could replace humans and where they cannot yet. Hence it is important to transit from STEM to STEAM, with “A” being liberal arts and the soft skills, including empathy, that come with it.

According to a Google study on its top employees, STEM expertise comes in the least important of eight qualities. The top seven characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach, communicating and listening, empathy, insight into others, etc. These were echoed in the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report”. It was highlighted that emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility would become the top desired skills by 2020. All these studies point to the importance of empathy as an important trait in the future development of our society.

Design Thinking: Finding the Real Problem

Freddie Law, Innovation Consultant,, opened the discussion with “the positive power of negative thinking”, citing NASA scientists trying to exhaust all reasons that might lead to the failure of landing on the moon during the Cold War. Quoting Dr. KK Tse, a social entrepreneur in Hong Kong, Freddy said there are only three reasons for innovation to failure: 1. Lack of resources; 2. Lack of ideas; 3. The solution does not deliver what it was set out to achieve. Design Thinking can help tackle all these issues. Don Norman, author of Design of Everyday Thing, said that Design Thinking is about identifying the root cause of the problem.

There are different schools of thoughts on Design Thinking. The UK Design Council advocates the double diamond model, which highlights the divergent and convergent thinking process. The first “diamond”–Discover and Define–is the problem space that aims to identify the right problem. The second “diamond”–Develop and Deliver–is the solution space that aims to find out what wows and what works.

Another school of thought on Design Thinking comes from the Stanford d. school, which emphasises iteration and prototyping, with five stages: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

Law stressed the importance of spending more time in the problem space by observing patterns, and constantly questioning the status quo. As for the solution, different options must be explored, prototypes created and user feedback collected constantly for continuous improvement.

Applications of Design Thinking

A stellar example of the power of Design Thinking was quoted at the workshop. Children have enormous difficulties with the MRI process, which requires them to remain still. From observing the situation at children’s hospitals, GE came up with a solution to turn the MRI equipment into a themed ride. Children were told to go on adventures in these rides that required them to remain still. The new experience removed fear from children while improving the results of each scan.

Another example was the introduction of the lucky fish in Cambodia. Women were asked to put a chunk of iron in their cooking pots to improve their iron intake, but it was met with little enthusiasm. However, when the iron was made into a fish, the symbol of good luck in Cambodian culture, the practice was widely adopted, greatly improving the health of the population that had been prone to anaemia.

These two examples, among others, illustrated the importance of empathy and human-centred design in Design Thinking.

Learning Design Thinking

Ernest Lo, Adjunct Professor at HKU, shared that design thinking can broaden one’s innovative space and increase one’s creative confidence. The aim is to make it become an instinct so that you are using it without being conscious of it. Design Thinking is by nature multi-disciplinary, so there can be a lot of collaboration between business and education, for example.


According to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, design thinking is not something you just switch on and start using in one go. It’s more like playing the piano–it’s a journey of mastery and you get better with practice until it becomes an inherent part of your mindset. If you are a great musician, you don’t think about how to play, your body and mind just knows how to do it. The same applies to Design Thinking.

Joseph Chan, an architect and a professor at the HKU, explored how Design Thinking encompasses different elements such as empathy, living, self and community, as well as people, nature and the environment. This is why when applying the different schools of thoughts on Design Thinking, the process may not be straightforward. One should always keep an open mind, allowing for different perspectives and observations to be made by different people.

Using the example of the Philippe Starck lemon squeezer, which serves practical and aesthetic functions, Chan illustrated how Design Thinking is both left and right brain driven and the role of the teacher is to facilitate students to use both brains.

Lo highlighted the need to understand the different ways students learn. For example, females need more role models and creative confidence to get them interested in STEM.

After this introductory session, the teachers will undergo a series of workshops to get hands-on-experience on design thinking. Stay tuned on the outcome of their learning!

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Debriefing on UNLEASH! Train-the-Teacher Workshop Series