Confidence to Dream


‘If your dreams don’t scare you they are not big enough’ – Sir Robert Swan.

Dr. Joyce Yee, a great mentor, asked me a year into my PhD: What do you want to do when you have completed? I told her that it was my dream to travel the world and experience the different practices of design. This came from having seen many amazing presentations at Northumbria University Design School, Newcastle, UK about the changes happening within design, talking about service design to business and design. I thought that to experience the things the speakers were discussing would be amazing! That being said, travelling the world really did scare me: I didn’t really know where to start. Nevertheless, once my PhD was completed I knew I had reached a ‘now or never’ moment.

I wouldn’t be so confident to follow my dreams if it was not for my Mam. She is my hero and in her teaching career, she’s helped a lot of struggling schools in the North East of England to improve, starting with turning her school from a failing school to an outstanding school, with three consecutive ‘outstanding’ OFSTED reports. Truly inspirational!

My Mam, like myself, is dyslexic and struggled all the way through her own school days, at times being made to feel stupid. From an early age, she helped make my school aware of my dyslexia, so that I wouldn’t struggle to the extent that she did. She encouraged me to view my dyslexia as an advantage and find my own way around problems; to value the fact that I can see the world differently from others and others can see the world differently from myself; and to have the confidence to tell people about it. This inspired me to create a video series ‘Dph: The Dyslexic PhD‘ to share the approach with others faced with similar challenges. All my Mam wanted for me was to get my English GCSE. She set the foundation, which later enabled me to have the confidence to undertake a PhD and follow my dreams!

Dyslexia feels like you are on a constant adventure. You are always an outsider, not being able to follow a normal linear course from A to B. You explore A, D, C before getting to B. Most days I play with creative strategies (even if some people may look at me as if I were a bit strange) to help structure conversations and create new approaches to solve the problems or seize the opportunities I encounter in the systems that I find myself in. Along the way, insights are uncovered that challenge my own views. Sometimes I feel like a pirate or a misfit! A pirate when people love the approach I’ve taken and a misfit when the approach is not really understood. Throughout all of these adventures I became comfortable with failing: not caring so much if I’m made to look silly; and really valuing the feedback I got – as this is where you learn. I’m always encouraging others to use their creativity to develop themselves, helping them to map out the problem.

Although I didn’t know how to start making my dream a reality, having a background in interaction design, lecturing and design research and a passion for helping people develop tools for problem solving, I had to figure out what value designers with PhDs could add to design companies. I would need to explore the current context of design and continue to be the pirate and the misfit. Thankfully, I found people to share the dream and have good conversations, and began to realise that I needed a name for my upcoming international adventures! From conversations with Vicky Teinaki, a fellow PhD student from New Zealand, the ‘walkabout’ name came to mind. “A ‘walkabout’ is an Australian Aboriginal term meaning a spiritually cleansing journey into the outback or ‘the bush’ for an indeterminate amount of time.” (Wootton & Wootton, 2008, P.72). Vicky’s suggestion really did fit, and as it was international and about design, the name became the ‘International Design Walkabout’.

It could be possible that my biggest successes of getting my English GCSE and my PhD are behind me, but the International Design Walkabout would give me the freedom to let go and to explore new places and discover where I could add value. This was going to be a new journey of exploration – I was not sure where it would take me, but the thought of getting started filled me with delight!

This walkabout is dedicated to my Mam. She give me the biggest gift; the confidence to dream big!

  1. I always loved the idea of designers being a guild of nomads, learning their craft by moving from place to place, to study with different masters. Like how it used to be…
    So I got to thinking: What if I could revive that way of learning on a global scale?
    I could not get the idea out of my head and could see no other way forward. I began to see the world as a new place of inspiration, learning and fun! I partially blame my dyslexia brain, it’s way of thinking drives me crazy, makes me laugh, and always makes me see things differently.
    Finishing a Design PhD was another motivating factor. This new vision of life would not only motivate me to complete it, but allow me to take explore things outside my comfort zone.
    The International Design Walkabout is an ongoing story of what happens when you seek to work with inspirational people in inspiring places. It reflects a moment in time where design is in a stage of reinventing itself, to better meet human needs and dreams.
    It has been a wonderful life changing opportunity to explore, to grow, connect and share. And along the way to discover a passion for helping others to unlock their creative potential too.
    I’ve a sneaking suspicion that my brain has been rewired so now it won’t let me stay in one place for too long. I invite you to join me and discover for yourself

    10-07-2013, 9:12 pm Reply
Perhaps the network unstable, please click refresh page.