Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Design Thinking: A Useful Myth

The design does need more recognition as thinking and problem-solving process... maybe even a strategic differentiator.

Before it acquired a name, design thinking started as a rare activity that exceptional individuals did, it wasn't documented as a way of thinking, and it was completely mysterious to most others. Today, rather than being a mythological trend, the invention and popularization of the term "design thinking" reflect the emergence of an accessible thought framework, a holistic, flexible and creative way of seeing that anyone can appreciate -- more than a specific set of codified methodologies. So how to debunk such a popular myth –Design Thinking (DT)?

Non-linear thinking: At its core, Design Thinking is NOT linear; it is NOT the kind of thinking that got you into whatever mess you're in the first place, it is NOT dedicated to perpetuating the status quo, it is NOT predicated on following a method. There are different tools and ways which you may or may not use to bang away at the issues, but as soon as you start assigning rules and processes, you are back to linear thinking -- but with frills.

Outside-in view: One of the great advantages of design thinking is to have the outside-in view, in most situations where the process isn't producing solutions. The "methodologies" being put into the design thinking bucket are somewhat unique and previously outside of the business norm, but have the potential to reframe the problem which in itself is a pretty huge contribution. You don't do certain things in a certain order; you just look at things from a non-business-standard point of view until the form emerges.  Design thinkers aren't afraid to turn things inside out, look at them from underneath, break them down into bits and pieces, paint them purple and orange, shove bit A into bit B, all with no particular expectation that anything defined will happen, but it might be something else and that may push you in a useful direction. 

Loosen-up: Design thinking as a methodology, it intends to loosen-up business planning process (writing product/market strategy documents with profit projections) and legitimize less regimented tactics, open to a multitude of inputs and influences. Traditionally, business people equal creativity with chaos and overlook the potential for solving problems the way designers work - starting with little certainty and heading for the unknown. The recognition that some transfer of approach is valid and actually provide structure to guesswork is not entirely an unrealistic proposition. Solving problems shares a lot of ground, irrespective of different professional domains. The increasing popularity of this meme implies a mind-shift in our cultural thought patterns which is creating a receptive and fertile field for the concept and actually frequently jars something loose in the brain that turns out to be a useful datum.

Start with the end in mind: While doing actual work using Design Thinking, you must end with solutions, but you do need to understand that those solutions may come through back doors and side windows, or have perhaps been hiding in the basement. Therefore, always be careful to examining the *potential* points of engagement, rather than saying "first we'll fix this." Frankly, it can be a bit exhausting to explain the approaches to someone to whom such thinking is entirely alien, but it is necessary (usually). A sense of ongoing motivation needs the support of a notion that one has a hypothesis, appropriate skills, and tools. Often, this framework is simply a vocabulary of terms ascribed with the agency and a set of prescribed activities to formalize work.

A powerful myth has arisen upon the land, a myth that permeates business and academia, it is pervasive and persuasive. Design thinking is a practice; it takes a fairly uncommon interdisciplinary personality type to be interested in this approach. So at least in the short term, its usage will still probably remain in the hands of a relatively small group of professionals. But as going forward towards more radical digital transformation, the design does need more recognition as thinking and problem-solving process... maybe even a strategic differentiator. The trend globally will be toward interdisciplinary and systems-based design thinking.


Design as I understand is coming up with the form/shell. Adding functionality to the form/shell gives it the dynamism. The non-linearity is what the external world perceives, while the creator is thinking very linearly and in fine details.

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