“It’s not about talking. It’s about doing.” Of sensory experiences, innovative learning environments and a new culture of collaboration with our customers. – An Development University interview with me on experiential learning.

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Development University: Jochen, your role as a Design Thinking coach involves planning and conducting Design Thinking workshops and projects, and supporting co-innovation projects with SAP customers. In November, you are planning to relocate to the brand-new AppHaus in Heidelberg. The AppHaus provides around 500m² of workshop space. What exactly do you have store for us?


Jochen: I am a member of the Design and Co-Innovation Center Team, based in Walldorf, Berlin and Palo Alto. We are a very multi-disciplinary and international team and we offer Design Services, ranging from classical user interface design, any kind of visual and interaction design, to Design Thinking workshops and projects, and co-innovation projects. In the AppHaus, we will work with our customers (either existing SAP customers, or companies or organizations that have had little or no previous experience with SAP) on problems that they encounter. These might be questions, touching for example on how customers can profit from new technologies like SAP HANA. Alternatively, they might also look into how the customer him or herself can become more customer-oriented.
All of this takes place in a team-based environment, using Design Thinking methods for example, while also applying approaches from the Business Model Generation or Lean Startup methods. It’s less about discussing and talking, and more about doing, by creating prototypes for example. We want to use this location to introduce customers to a new type of collaboration. This is a type of collaboration and working culture that we are all well acquainted with at SAP, and which we now want to pass on to our customers and apply in our collaboration with them.


Development University: What is the correlation between innovation and learning?

Jochen: As you know, the word “innovation“ means to create or produce something new. And if you ask me, people are only able to create or produce something new if they cast aside familiar ways of thinking and methods of working, get outside of their comfort zone a little, and try thinking outside the box. By doing this they have new experiences and learn. Learning though experiences is something I would term absolutely essential. It’s not possible to simply learn a new working culture. You need to experience it and be given enough time to absorb it. This then causes something to happen in a person’s head: She or he learns something new.
Experiential learning has now been studied in depth and given the seal of approval by neuroscience. As a highly experience-based approach, Design Thinking provides great opportunities, as it’s quite evidently not about “talking”. It’s about “doing”.


Development University: How should a learning environment be set up ideally, if innovative and sustainable learning is your objective? How does the physical environment contribute to making the leaning experience a success?

Jochen: This is quite a broad topic. Innovation and learning require space: Flexible space with movable furniture and partitions, capable of supporting both teamwork and more quiet and introspective phases of the process, as well as offering a space for presenting results. Space that inspires, allows people to move around, and makes it possible to get a different view and perspective of things. Space that offers various sensory experiences through the use of diverse materials and colors. Space that transports the participants to a different realm of experiences. Space that supports visual work (whiteboards) and visual stimulation.
In addition to the workshop area, where all of the factors I have just mentioned have of course been integrated, the AppHaus also offers smaller meeting rooms designed on various themes. “Sherlock Holmes” for example is designed to resemble an English living room from the 1920s, while the “Spielzimmer” (play room) contains wooden toys and Lego-patterned wallpaper. This helps to take a different view of things, stimulating and inspiring people to find different ways of working.


Development University: Could you give us a specific example? What exactly does “teaching / learning” involve, for example in your recent workshop for the Enjoy Jazz Festival?


Jochen: It is a highly team-based method of working on a specific question, in short iterations and guided by experienced coaches. At the same time, it incorporates time for each participant to reflect about how the team works, about his or her role in the team and about processes, and about the content of the workshop. There are also some quieter moments, but without leaving aside the fun factor and lots of movement. It is also highly visual and analogical, but with minimal or even zero use of PowerPoints. Prototype ideas are demonstrated using cardboard, Lego and other materials.
Taking the Enjoy Jazz workshop as an example, there was of course a specific question, namely of developing ideas for future festivals. By working on this question, we developed a number of ideas, one or two of which will hopefully be incorporated into future festivals. What the participants also learned, or I might say experienced, was the “different” type of collaboration that I spoke about a few moments ago. By this I mean team-based and highly visual, and working in short iterations. And putting their ideas into practice in the form of prototypes. For many participants, this was an impressive and quite exciting experience, which some of them I am sure will put to good use in their own working environment.


Development University: You are a qualified Gestalt therapist. Which elements of Gestalt therapy do you consider important for teaching and learning? How do you put this into practice? And how does this differ from traditional teaching methods?

Jochen: In Gestalt therapy, we assume that personal changes only take place when people can experience things, and themselves, in a new light. This might be an unfamiliar role or way of behaving. The therapist provides a safe environment for this, and invites the client to experiment. This therefore amounts to conscious experience and reflection (“how does it feel?”). The therapist works in a very phenomenological manner. The role of the therapist is not to analyze, but to reflect back what the client expresses, whether this be verbal or non-verbal. It is precisely this form of impartial observation that I bring into my workshops. In team coaching sessions, I aim to provide each individual with the space to experience him or herself in a slightly new way, and to try new things out. This could be a person who is normally shy holding a presentation for example, while more extroverted participants sit and listen for a while. Or it could be a clear and logical thinker who starts coming out with crazy ideas.


Development University: What makes experiential learning such a success?


Jochen: The way our brains function is not fixed or “genetically determined”. To a very large extent, it is determined by our experiences. And new experiences help to enhance and modify the functioning of our brains. Experiences that have emotional significance for us cause new synapses to be created in our brains. And this results in new opportunities for us. It is therefore important not to restrict our involvement with topics like change or innovation to the intellectual level. We also need to have new experiences, to learn how to work “differently”.


Development University: Thanks a lot for the interview!

The interview was conducted by the SAP Development University.

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