Summer School alum story: Leading Transformation course revealed the interplay between design, adaptability, and visionary leadership

Julia Zambrzycki explains how the Leading Transformation course showed her how design, ongoing transformation, and resilient adaptability work together, and how anyone can become a visionary leader in times of change.
Photo of Julia Zambrzycki
Julia Zambrzycki Photo: Laura Lumijärvi / Aalto University

Julia Zambrzycki is a junior interior architect and exhibition designer from Germany with a bachelor's degree in interior design. She describes herself as someone excited about designing experiences that ignite a spark in people's eyes, encouraging them to think beyond the ordinary limits. 

Last summer, Julia attended Aalto University Summer School, studying Leading Transformation and Game Design. She initially chose Leading Transformation as a backup, drawn to its lessons on navigating change. The course surpassed her expectations, revealing the interplay between design, adaptability, and visionary leadership in today's shifting world.

Hosting sessions in diverse locations and embracing a fully analogue methodology, the course urged students to be present and attuned to their emotions. Assignments and tasks were completed using notebooks rather than computers, fostering the use of sketches and illustrations.

This course gave me a glimpse of how design, ongoing transformation and resilient adaptability interplay with each other and how each one of us can be a visionary leader through these ever-shifting times.

Julia Zambrzycki
Group of students sitting in a circle listening to a lecturer at a location filled with graffiti.
Each session took place at a different location in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Photo: Kiti Kainulainen / Aalto University

New session, new scenery

From Julia’s perspective, showing up at different places every morning went really well for the whole group, as it allowed the students to avoid presumptions and make the most out of the situations. “The learning experience itself was very different to what I at least experienced before in education. We were told about the overall goal of this journey of transformation for ourselves, and we set this for ourselves in our personal mission brief. We were not told beforehand what we were going to do each and every day. It was a surprise. So, we were able to start and be open for each activity and situation.” Julia says. 

During the course of the days, Julia found how the sessions were connected. One of the stand-out sessions for her took place at a judo dojo. Without any previous experience in martial arts, she learned how to change perspectives and transfer physical body movement into movement in her mind.

Takeaway #1: Design as a catalyst for transformation

One of the course’s key takeaways for Julia was understanding that design can go beyond shaping product or service experiences. Moreover, design can be a catalyst for transformation and progress, especially when using user-centric or human-centric design approaches. “With the group, we discovered the symbiotic relationship between design and purpose, which I think is a major topic right now,” she continues.

Handmade amulet, a colourful planet-shaped creature with horns.
During the final session, the students made their own amulets to remember the course and transformational experience by. Photo: Laura Lumijärvi / Aalto University

Takeaway #2: Value of iteration

Julia points out that iteration has a significant value in sculpting visions and expectations and helping them remain relevant in an ever-changing environment. Transformation does not end at a predetermined finish line but is an ongoing process. Therefore, hiding from what is happening around us is not an option. 

Takeaway #3: Enthusiasm can be temporary

Finally, Julia mentions how she has always been enthusiastic about new things but unsure how long the enthusiasm stays with her. During the course, she learned that enthusiasm for new adventures blends with feeling content at the very moment. Moreover, one can embrace it without knowing how long the feeling lasts. She felt such a moment during the course on Seurasaari island in the middle of the forest. “We were simply listening to our surroundings and feeling the touch of the leaves or stepping on a rock.”

The more unsure you are about applying, the more you should actually do it

As Julia’s accommodation provided her with a bike, she took the opportunity to explore the nearby areas on the saddle. Cycling through Helsinki is the ideal way of getting around, not only enjoying the peace and quiet but also discovering unknown paths. And as it turns out, those trails tend to have the best views and are well worth taking.

Julia summarises for someone considering applying to a summer school course: “The more unsure you are about applying, the more you should actually do it. That way, you will get the most out of it. No matter in which stage of life or situation of life you are, you can always get something out of it, either professionally or personally.”

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