For this week’s Alumni profile, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabriela Gallo whose current job title is Learning & Development Adviser at Herbert Smith Freehills – a job that entails not only advising but also knowledge, learning and research.
Aside from the prolific career that took her across the globe multiple times, Gallo is also an eclectic fan of the arts. Her favourite go-to’s? Contemporary Australian ballet, 1960s French cinema, and Korean Wave – Hallyu.
Gabi – as friends and colleagues call her – and I had this chat after she attended Echos’ Design Thinking Experience course in Sydney.
RG- Hello, Gabi. Could we start by you giving our readers a little introduction on yourself?
GG- I am originally from Europe, but I have been living in Australia for a little over four years. Prior to embarking on my life adventure Down Under, I studied Modernist Literature in Scotland, lived briefly in China and relocated to the US for a couple of years. In the US, I transitioned from an academic environment to education and later Learning & Development. If I had to describe my perfect day, it would definitely include a great Sydney-style breakfast, a few hours of collaborative learning design work, afternoon yoga or ballet class, and watching a Korean or Japanese movie while having a fragrant pad thai for dinner with good company. Happy moments make a happy day!
“I am passionate about cultivating presence and self-awareness in leadership contexts and human-centred design in learning, as well as exploring the ways in which modern technologies can provide a 21st century professional with a well-rounded learning experience.”
RG- That does actually sound like an amazing day! You mentioned you are now working with Learning & Development in the legal sector. Could you tell us what the entails?
GG- As an L&D Adviser in a professional legal services environment, and working in project management, event management and design capacity, I support a wide range of programs that develop top talent at Herbert Smith Freehills as well as programs that mark the career milestones of Herbert Smith Freehills legal staff. I am passionate about cultivating presence and self-awareness in leadership contexts and human-centred design in learning, as well as exploring the ways in which modern technologies can provide a 21st century professional with a well-rounded learning experience. I work closely with the firm’s digital learning specialists on a variety of digital learning initiatives and look after the national legal continuing professional development compliance.
RG- In your opinion, why is innovation important in your field of work?
GG- With the continually more complex challenges that people and businesses face, an upgraded toolkit is needed for effective solutions. Learning & Development is one of the key players when it comes to enhancing toolkits and driving a culture of innovation. L&D fosters a culture that encourages risk-taking, confidence, creativity, empathy and agile responses to the unknown of the next day. To be able to meet the needs of internal and external clients and facilitate talent and behaviour change, L&D itself needs to innovate to produce every learning solution we bring to our clients. Our innovation is in designing customised learning solutions and challenging ingrained patterns of thinking and assumptions. It’s about falling in love with problems that our companies face and delivering solutions through empowering and expanding the capabilities of others.
“It’s about falling in love with problems that our companies face and delivering solutions through empowering and expanding the capabilities of others.”
RG- When was the first time you heard about Design Thinking?
GG- The first time I heard about Design Thinking was when I was working in the US for a start-up education company. The team was trying to come up with a design for learning tools for children to be used during maths class, and we did a brief design sprint to come up with a few ideas. The next time I heard about Design Thinking was when I joined Herbert Smith Freehills. Design Thinking had been actively used there already for quite a while to solve a variety of internal as well as client challenges. It is rooted in the firm’s culture and way of tackling problems. Hence, my interest in Design Thinking sprang from there.
RG- That is extremely progressive for a law firm. So tell me, after attending the Design Thinking Experience course, how do you think the knowledge you brought back to your work can positively impact your industry?
GG- Besides gaining the knowledge of a structured Design Thinking process that can be easily applied in a variety of contexts, I became a questioning thinker who attempts to go beyond the assumed, apparent, and safe: a thinker who knows how to be logical in organising and categorising ideas but also uses intuition. This newly gained framework, curiosity, and creativity have equipped me with a more holistic approach that I can rely on when working with the most valuable asset of the firm – its people.
“It was extremely empowering to see what we can achieve and how much we can create when our labelling machines are switched off.”
RG- Did you have any “big learnings” or “a-ha moments” throughout the Design Thinking process?
GG- The main breakthrough for me came when I was able to drop my fear of judgement. Design Thinking process supports collaboration and empathy, not only when dealing with your users but also your design team. By working together while deferring judgement, we are all free to think, free to relate, free to share and free to be creative. It was extremely empowering to see what we can achieve and how much we can create when our labelling machines are switched off.
RG- Thinking outside the box can make someone see themselves in a different light. Did you learn anything new about yourself?
GG- Going through the DT experience, I realised how much I tend to rely on assumptions without being conscious of them. I learnt that cultivating a beginner’s mind and stepping outside of what is apparent and comfortable to you is crucial for seeing the problem for what it really is.
RG- Are you currently applying Design Thinking methodologies to a project?
GG- At the moment, I am not applying the DT methodology to a particular project; however, when designing our career milestone programs, I do try to employ the key messages that stood out for me throughout the DT Experience course. These messages include: needing to encourage creative confidence, learning to learn and explore, vitalising play, cultivating inventiveness, deferring judgement, and building up adaptability. By incorporating these themes via particular activities such as ideation, interviews, mind maps, creating prototypes, regular check-ins and check-outs, I hope to encourage a more authentic program design in which the client is an active co-creator.
“The beauty of Design Thinking is the process itself. This process requires inventiveness, free-thinking, exploration, and time.”
RG- What pearls of wisdom would you share with someone who is starting their innovation journey through Design Thinking?
GG- My advice would be to trust each step of the journey. We often operate on autopilot and try to skip a few steps that seem to slow our progress down. We want to get the problem resolved and move on to the next project. The beauty of Design Thinking is the process itself. This process requires inventiveness, free-thinking, exploration, and time. Enjoy each step, explore it, give it the time it deserves, give it your attention and remember that this is not about getting to the solution as quickly as possible and calling it a success. The design process is not about the designer (you) or those you are designing for; it’s about you and them stepping forward together.
RG- That’s beautifully put, Gabi. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
GG- Besides being able to build thorough knowledge about the design thinking process and its principles, it was very enjoyable to spend time with people from so many diverse professional backgrounds – design, government, and not–for–profit. We normally become experts in our professional areas and, consequently, our responses to situations and our solutions are often industry-biased. Being able to collaborate and co-create with people whose everyday work lives are different from mine felt truly invigorating! I really felt how much truth there is in a saying, “No one can whistle a symphony, it takes a whole orchestra to play.”
RG- Although you just shared one, I normally end my interviews by asking the person to share a quote that inspires them. Do you have another one?
GG- “I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes.” by Sara Teasdale.
RG- Thank you so much, Gabi. It was a pleasure speaking to you.
GG- Thank you.
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