Design Thinking with Rob Wassel

On March 10th, we met with Rob Wassel, the Founder and Executive Director of Seeds Global Innovation Lab, who taught us about the concept of “design thinking” as it relates to innovation for ministries. Be sure to listen to the full episode above to learn how small organizations can make a big impact with innovation.

The creation of Seeds Innovation

After several years of working at an NGO, Rob Wassel took a 3-month sabbatical to take a step back and re-evaluate where to go next in his career. During this sabbatical, he quickly recognized a gap for himself, and his organization, as it relates to innovation. Connecting with his brother, a Director of Innovation, and sabbatical coach, he decided that someone on his team needed to be focused on overseeing strategy and innovation.

In about a year, he had helped to spin up a lab inside his organization focused on innovation, design thinking, and building strategic solutions with customers and end-users. Rob explained that he had to train his brain to think more divergent than convergent, citing a book from the David and Tom Kelley that explained how the human mind naturally converges on solutions instead of keeping options open. In order to innovate, Rob explained, you need to be very comfortable working in a space of complete ambiguity.

Of course, making this mental shift takes some self-awareness, realizing that we naturally build a strong loyalty toward our ideas and often don’t want to let go. Rob explained that his lab’s name of “Seeds” was inspired by John 12:24 and that his team regularly asks “What needs to die in the way I think in order to sprout new ideas?”

Breaking down design thinking

One tool Rob’s team uses to focus on innovation is design thinking – a 5-stage process of developing and testing prototypes based on user experience. He broke the stages down for us in simple terms:

Empathy – Getting deep insights from customers and users, rooted in the story of why someone believes/buys something.

Reframe – The innovation process begins with a challenge an organization faces. This stage is for reframing that challenge based on the learnings from the empathy stage.

Ideation – Come up with as many ideas as possible (often 300-500) to solve the challenge, and then categorize and reduce the list down to a small number of potential solutions.

Prototype – Build a physical representation of your idea that is rough (not perfect), rapid (fast), and right (right back to Empathy). The main point of this stage is to make sure you do not get too attached to the idea and draft something to be tested.

Testing – Test the prototype with end-users. The goal is to stress test the prototype until it breaks, finding out what assumptions were made from the beginning of the process.

Additional resources

The process of design thinking is very new for many of us, so Seeds Innovation Lab offers projects, consultations, and courses all about innovation and strategy execution for all sorts of organizations. For more information on design thinking, and the services offered by Seeds Innovation Lab, visit their website at

And, of course, we asked Rob for any books or resources he recommends our audience read; he gave us two!

The Innovator’s DNA by Clay Christensen

Creative Confidence by David and Tom Kelley