Viewing entries in
Design Thinking

Design Thinking and Montessori in Research


Design Thinking and Montessori in Research


Two weeks ago, I was honored to speak at the 2018 MSMR conference in Arlington.  

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized one of the best Master of Science in Marketing Research programs was here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at University of Texas at Arlington.  

I enjoy this conference, and the association.  In fact, of all the Marketing Research conferences I have attended in the last few years, this may be my favorite.  It’s probably because I appreciate the energy in the room.  The longer I live, the more I love being around college students.  Maybe I’m getting cynical and I just enjoy being around people who seem excited about life and are excited about this industry.  I am reminded of why I got into marketing research in the first place.

But I digress - I spoke about Design Thinking AND about a Montessori Mindset.  This is the second time I’ve spoken on this topic.  The first was at the QRCA conference last January.  This time I only had 30 minutes to pull together 2 very different frameworks and show how we used them in a research project…so I talked fast.  

You can see the presentation here.  And my original presentation here.  If you’re interested in the Design Thinking workbook we developed, you can text "Research" to 66866 and receive a PDF copy.  


Road Stories on how Married Couples Stop Doing Business Together Lesson #4


Road Stories on how Married Couples Stop Doing Business Together Lesson #4

They say that you’ll never know until you try. This is a story of trying and failing, but then knowing, and ultimately, growing.

Last year, Lloyd and I decided we were going to start working together, under the same business. My business. We had some stories to tell about that along the way. January 1st, 2017 marked the date we decided to make this intentional shift. January 1st, 2018 was our first and only business anniversary, because we’ve decided to pull the plug on this married couple working together thing.

What we are beginning to get comfortable with is that while it felt like a failure at first, in away it can be seen as a success. We have learned new things about ourselves and each other by choosing to do this. And we may have always wondered "what if?", if we had been too fearful of the "heat".  Well, we took the heat, and it nearly cooked the marriage!

How did that happen? Let’s unpack that, and the lessons learned:

Lesson #1:  The Most Efficient Way to Learn is to “Fail”

I realized that I have been living my life for a long time in a tight box.  One that I had created and “felt safe” in.  I have been scared for so long to try something new, risky and “unknown.”  And trying to make a go of us working together was all of that. It certainly wasn’t comfortable the last year and yet, here we are a year later, with more clarity and passion for what we do want than we have been in 10 years of marriage!  So, if I think of this in terms of “efficiency”, we got more out of 1 year of failing than we had of 9 years of staying in status quo.  I loved Will Smith’s video about “failing forward” here:

Lesson #2: “Positioning” Matters when it comes to Job Titles

April Bell Research Group

When we started, we agreed that the “right role” for Lloyd was General Manager & Data Doctor, and our assumption going in is that his savant skills at creating business analytics solutions would easily translate into creating more quantitative Marketing Research projects for us.  And that until we got that business flowing in, Lloyd could run the business operations and manage staff.  What we discovered was this -  what I thought Lloyd’s job descriptions were, was apparently different than what Lloyd thought his job description included.  Interestingly enough, now that we’ve switched gears, and Lloyd is now a “consultant” for the business, I have received more of the work I wanted from him in 2 months than I did in the las 12!  So, I’ll stick with the “consultant” job title all day long – let’s keep that rolling, we have some catching up to do!

Lesson #3: Follow the money.

April Bell Research Group

Shortly after we made the change, Lloyd received some interesting work from a new client doing analytical work. For a while, he was able to do that and help with our business, too.  However, it soon became apparent that it was dividing his attention, and he was not able to fully give himself to our business operations and growth. Despite his client wanting to expand his project, we made the decision to decline the opportunity to give him a clear focus on helping manage, and bring in more research business. In hindsight, this decision didn’t result in new business, although the other path would have. In chasing a new business, we learned the hard way, it’s important to follow where customers are leading you.

Lesson #4: Hold on to what matters most.

It became apparent after awhile, probably after a series of “disagreements”, that this experiment was taking a toll on our marriage. At some point, we had to look up and say, “what really matters most here?”  We both tend to want to do it all, be everything to everybody, and still come out “ahead”.  And maybe that’s still possible but it may not all be possible at the same time.  At least for now, something had to “give”.  We realized how challenging marriage is on its own without intentionally burdening it further, particularly for the sake of doggedly holding to a career choice to build a business together. Love and respect are hard to remember when it’s the end of another long day of working together.

Lesson #5: Be Grateful for the Lessons

There are multiple ways we can look at the lessons we have learned – we can beat ourselves up for taking the plunge even though we were advised not to, we can be mad at each other for not getting what we wanted or needed from the other, we can be sad because here we are starting over yet again with a new plan OR we can just honor where we are and say, “Thank you.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn something new.”  And be at peace with what is.  That’s the lesson - the story I’m going breathe in.

Lesson #6:  Stop Pushing and Start Allowing

April Bell Research Group

I am crazy passionate about all kinds of personal assessments.  In fact, I asked Lloyd to take a Love Languages assessment on about the 5th date! In October, we discovered the Predictive Index assessment and in November, we discovered another assessment called The Harrison Assessment.  Both tools can create a “match” against behaviors of the test taker and the behaviors needed for “the job.”  The PI tool started opening our eyes to something not "quite being a fit", and then the Harrison tool completed the picture. The way we were operating was not a fit for our behavior style preferences.  Now, maybe those who know us best could have told us that without all of the assessments…but there’s nothing like seeing data and having your eyes opened from an unbiased perspective.  That was what helped us understand it was time to stop pushing what we wanted and to start allowing “what is.”  So, on to creating more based on our strengths.  I am more ready than ever to create a life and business that’s right FOR ME.  And Lloyd is more motivated to do that which is right FOR HIM.  Check. 

While we may create something together in the future, we know this time, we will do so with open eyes and more awareness of what we both want and need from it. 





What do Teenagers and the QRCA Conference have in Common?


What do Teenagers and the QRCA Conference have in Common?

 I recently had the opportunity to attend my first Qualitative Researcher Consultants Association (QRCA) annual conference. I don’t typically consider myself the conference type but I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet people in our industry and learn about the hottest trends. In these situations I usually find myself being overly skeptical thinking I won’t learn as much as I hope to or make connections that will be beneficial to our business. The fact that my boss (April) was also attending made me feel slightly better about sitting in a room full of strangers that I would soon need to be friends with. 

The primary purpose of me attending the conference was to assist April as she gave a presentation to her peers; however, I ended up walking away feeling like I got much more value out of the experience than I expected. April’s presentation (A Framework That Works: Design Thinking + Montessori Principles to Elevate Your Practice) went off without a hitch – which immediately made months of hard work seem like one of the most rewarding tasks we completed last year. You never know how people will react to new material and the moment you see the excitement and passion in the faces, it makes it worth every revision we made.

Design Thinking Exercise

What surprised me most about April’s presentation was how engaged the participants were. When you’ve been reviewing the content for 5+ months leading up to the conference, it’s easy to forget that this content is new for most viewers. During the presentation, she conducted a Design Thinking exercise that required participants to partner up and “build” a prototype of their idea. I was amazed at how serious some took this exercise but loved their willingness to engage with a stranger as they learned about the Design Thinking process. I think it made the awkward “eh, I have to work with someone I don’t know” situation fun and entertaining for most.  

Teen Press

Another highlight of the conference was the Keynote Presentation – Teen Press: A Wild and Precious Perspective – given by John Boettner & Friends. This was an unforgettable experience that brought a unique perspective to the work we do and the world we live in. John, the Chief Enchantment Officer of Teen Press, discussed how he turned a middle school communications class into a group of teenagers interviewing some of the hottest celebrities on red carpets. Not only did they engage with celebrities (Jennifer Lawrence, Oprah, Clint Eastwood to name a few) but they also interviewed some of the most interesting living Americans (for example, the commander of the Osama Bin Laden mission, a woman who held President Obama’s hand across the bridge in Selma, and a young Rwandan who lost his hands to genocide). 

Teen Press teaches kids how to listen to peoples’ stories and ask honest questions – although they’re sometimes difficult to ask and answer. By pushing the kids to conduct pre-interview research, they entered their interviews with a sense of confidence that many times shocked the respondent and made them more likely to engage. This program inspires kids to think: “if I can talk to the CEO of Patagonia, I can do anything”. John’s presentation was such a welcomed breath of fresh air in the world we’re currently living in. These kids don’t care who voted red or blue, they just want to know about people and what makes them different. The kids weren’t there to judge the interviewee, and the interviewee wasn’t there to judge the kids. They were both there to learn. These kids are so admirable for their dedication and openness to learning about others. Something I strive to do myself – in and out of research. Who knew you could learn so much from kids?

Here is a short clip on Teen Press, but if you have some extra time I highly recommend watching the full Teen Press video (~30 minutes) to get the full experience of how great these kids and this program is. 

So while I still don’t consider myself the conference type, I’m so glad I attended. I walked away with a perspective I wasn’t expecting – if you go into these “uncomfortable” situations with an open mind, you are much more likely to learn more than you initially thought and meet some really interesting people. I guess sitting with strangers isn’t so bad after all. 


4 Montessori Principles to Help Guide Client Work

1 Comment

4 Montessori Principles to Help Guide Client Work


Until a couple of years ago, I knew very little about Montessori schools – something about kids having freedom of choice in the work they do.  But I was a bit skeptical about whether that would be a good environment for my child. I felt if given too much “free reign”, my daughter would be the type to run with it.  (I think she gets that from her Dad! :) But an event in her first preschool left me feeling different.  I walked in one day to pick her up, and the teacher pulled me into the classroom.  With every 4-year old eye on me (including my daughter’s), the teacher pointed up to a wall of kid’s work – all of the letter “u’s”.  My daughter’s work was hanging up – completely blank.  Then, the teacher proceeded to tell me about how my daughter wouldn’t listen in class, showing me the blank piece of paper she had posted up for everyone to see.  My face reddened, and so did my daughter’s.  When we left the class, I began questioning her to understand what was going on, and she broke into tears and said “mommy, I don’t know how to draw a ‘U’ – I don’t know how to do it right.”  And that experience is what led me to rethink putting her in a Montessori classroom - how that environment would be interesting to learn more about…

Fast forward 2+ years, and I am thrilled that we found White Rock Montessori. Not only has our daughter thrived in this environment but we have as well, as parents.  

After seeing the impact Montessori had on her love of learning, I was curious to understand more about “why” this was effective for her, as well as “how” the classroom works.  What I discovered was that some Montessori principles were applicable to the work we conduct with our clients

When conducting marketing research, my teams are very involved in “learning” – learning what people think about products, how consumers react to new ideas, etc.  And my job is not only to learn new insights through my interviews but also keep my clients engaged in the learning.

Here are the Montessori principles that directly link to the work I do -

1.     Pull, Don’t Push - Montessori teachers refer to this as “The Art of Drawing Out.” Instead of pushing information in, they use acknowledgement and questioning to get children to think about what they are doing.  This helps children learn to be accountable for their learning.  Similarly, when in research, questioning the listening team to help “draw out” learnings creates ownership in the learning process. 

Montessori Principles

2. Concrete Before Abstract - The Montessori belief is that students learn best from something they already know, so teachers use physical objects to begin each lesson, and present new concepts through storytelling. This builds connection with students’ emotions and gives them greater interest in the concept. In my practice, especially when conducting ideation sessions, I find this principle helpful to ignite creativity with clients. When brainstorming, it is actually easier to create new ideas by starting with “constrained” stimulus because participants start with something they can visualize, making it easier to alter/change/adapt to new ideas. Learn more about this topic from Chip & Dan Heath’s Myth of the Garage eBook (see “Get Back in the Box” page 31). This helps spark their imagination and allows them to think about “abstract” concepts.

3.     Structure That’s Flexible - The beauty of this principle is that children believe they have freedom of choice but their choices are orchestrated around what the teacher plans for them to learn.  Providing a flexible structure for learning with client teams is just as important because clients appreciate getting to make choices – and it allows them to “own” the process.

4.     Observe Before Acting - Teachers in a Montessori classroom don’t take on the traditional role – you won’t see them in front of the room, chalk in hand, writing out a math problem step-by-step. They see themselves as guides, not teachers. They ask questions, then sit back and let students take their own path to figure out a solution - make their own decisions.  As a facilitator of client’s learning, my role of guide is similar. Sometimes this means facilitating a highly involved team debating a controversial learning.  Other times, creating activities to encourage a distracted team to actively work together is necessary.

Check out this video to see all 4 of these principles in action in a Montessori classroom environment. 


I will be speaking more on this subject, specifically how I use these principles alongside a Design Thinking at the 2017 QRCA Annual conference in LA on January 19. Click here for the schedule conference and other presentations. 

1 Comment

Using Design Thinking for a Family Glamping Trip


Using Design Thinking for a Family Glamping Trip

How can we make our marketing research projects even better?” is a question we often ask ourselves here at April Bell Research Group.  So, it’s awesome when you find a framework to do just that! I first learned about Design Thinking from Lisa Helminiak, founder of a human-centered design firm, Azul 7.   We met at a women-owned business training event, where she turned me on to some great resources from Stanford’s Institute of Design:

Since then, we have used this thinking in many of our research projects.  When I heard about Azul 7’s Design Thinking Workshop/Bootcamp, I decided to trek up to Minneapolis to attend.  I wanted to deepen my understanding and find new ways to implement it into our research practice.  What I discovered is that Design-Thinking is more than a “process”, it’s a way of life.

This mindset includes:

  • Focusing on what others need

  • Feeling free to experiment while working through a process

  • Getting really clear about what you’re trying to solve.

  • Having a “bias toward action”

  • Radial collaboration

It’s a simple process to reshape thinking. You state the challenge, and then follow 5 steps – Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test – to elevate creative thinking.

Creativity is an essential skill for leaders trying to make a difference. Yet developing the ability to think and act creatively remains a thorny challenge. While there's a hunger for skill development, elevating creative confidence doesn't happen via traditional modes of executive education.Tim Brown, IDEO’s President and CEO

Here’s how I incorporated Design Thinking as I planned my trip to the Boot Camp!

State the Challenge:  How can I take 3+ days away for training when I have so many obligations with work and family?

The Steps:


1. Empathize – immerse yourself, observe what people are doing, how they’re doing it and why. Discover other’s views.  Sidenote: this is MUCH easier to do professionally as a moderator than it is with your immediate family!!!  But here’s what I got from the “empathy gathering” stage:

  • My husband and daughter didn’t want me to drag them along on a trip where I was unavailable for most of the day.

  • They also didn’t want me to go on a trip unless it was a “real vacation.”

  • They wanted to go “camping” – I did not.

  • I didn’t want to feel guilty about going.

  • I wanted to create a great experience for everyone.


2. Define – this is tricky because you’re still not solving – you’re just unpacking what you learned, and getting clarity on WHAT needs to be solved. “Unpack” all of your learnings, then translate these into a Point of View statement – (User) “needs” (Need) “because” (Insight)

  • My definition:

    • The Family (User) needs…

    • …to find individual activities while vacationing together (Need) because…

    • …we want to be together yet have our own idea of what “fun” looks like! (Insight)

3. Ideate – our “family” brainstorm looked a little different than the typical innovation ideation sessions we facilitate with our clients but let’s just say our little familia “tried” to build on each other’s ideas.  And we “tried” not to judge each other’s opinions (some of us were better than others but I'm not pointing any fingers!)  And, my 5 year old is DEFINITELY the most creative and best “ideator” of the family!

4. Prototype – You stop talking (and thinking) in this step - and start building.  It’s a challenge because our nature – at least mine – is to get it right, get it perfect before showing others. This step forces the reverse thinking.  To get better, you must build/create something to test SO THAT IT CAN get better for the user!

5. Test – Then, we tested our first ever 10-day Family Glamping + Training trip!  Our user testing was “doing it.”  Would we do it differently next time?  Yes, we would tweak a few things like making sure our A/C in the camper was working properly before departing.  And allowing 2 weeks for the trip, not 10 days…but we learned a lot.  This was our “prototype”:

  1. Pull camper from Dallas to Oklahoma, spent our first night in Sequoyah State Park in Hulbert, OK

  2. Migrated to Des Moines, IA where we played with our friends, then left our daughter + camper to play longer.

  3. Husband and I drove on to Minneapolis where I attended Azul’s Design-Thinking Boot Camp and hubby happily biked in a city with some of the best biking trails in the US.

  4. Then, we made our way back home, picking up our daughter and camper in Iowa

  5. Spent 2 more nights in Kansas before heading back to Dallas.

Here’s a visual map we made with Fotor, another fun tool we’ve added to our tool kit. That and PicMonkey are both greatat quickly helping you bring ideas to life visually for “quick DIY design needs.”

Loved the Boot Camp. And Design Thinking has not only enhanced our innovation projects but also helped us create a mindset for innovation in our boutique business and even personally!






QRCA Event - Think like a "Futurist"

QRCA Event - Think like a "Futurist"

When I saw the topic for this month’s QRCA event in Houston, “Think Like a Futurist,” I was immediately intrigued. Since this topic was unique from other QRCA meetings and I was not too familiar with the subject, I was very curious to learn more.

The event was hosted by Connexion Research, a full-service research company with a boutique facility in Houston. Prior to the meeting, I got the chance to take a tour of their new office space. April and I have definitely been inside a lot of research facilities, but this one has a more modern flair to it. Danelia Argueta, the Marketing Director at Connexion, explained that the company strives to promote an environment of creativity, and has the latest video and audio technologies available for its clients. I was thoroughly impressed with the staff and the facility, and am definitely interested in conducting research using their space in the future.

Dr. Andy Hines was the renowned guest speaker for the event - he is a futurist and Program Coordinator at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight. He has written five books on the topic, and to say he is well-versed in the field is an understatement. The 4-hour workshop helped me gain a high level understanding of how to anticipate and influence future changes. To help teach the methodology, he guided us through an activity where we selected a specific topic and mapped out the different possibilities of future change within that topic.

Throughout the workshop, it became clear how closely marketing research and foresight go hand in hand. In much of the research we conduct at April Bell Research Group, our job is to help clients understand new possibilities for product development through the lens of their consumers.  Some of the methods Dr. Hines teaches are very similar to our current brainstorming techniques (mind mapping, design thinking, etc.) where we help clients create new visions for the future.  I also learned some new methods that will help facilitate learning with our clients.

Overall, the experience was a memorable one. It was great connecting with QRCA members, and most importantly, getting a glimpse into the study of Foresight.

DFW AMA Presentation this Friday

DFW AMA Presentation this Friday

If you're in the Dallas area, then I hope to see you this Friday, March 27 at the DFW AMA Market Research SIG. Wow, that' s a mouth full of acronyms. If you don't know the acronyms, it's the Dallas Fort Worth American Marketing Association Market Research Special Interest Group. I'll be presenting on "Using Design Principles to Deliver Powerful Research Presentations."

In today's marketing world, researchers must do more than simply report that data. We must turn that data into a story for our clients that produces that "aha" reaction. They want to understand the insights and know the next actionable steps, and they don't want to have to work for it. So what do we have to do? We have to go from researcher to "storyteller".

In Friday's presentation, I will be leaving you with design principles and tips for creating effective and clear reports and presentations. It will be held at the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, 10707 Preston Road, Dallas, from 11:30 to 1:00. Click here to register, or go to