In the beginning of any new skill, you work hard to “stay in the lines” and maintain control, to ‘do it right’.  The same is true for design thinking. People want a play book, the rules, the steps they can logically follow each time.   To leverage design thinking this way is to dumb it down.  I think its power is from its principle based flexibility which sets it up for discovery.

I heard a jazz musician lecture recently on innovation and I saw the parallels to what he was doing within the structure and confines of music and what design thinking is doing within the structure and confines of business.  Both are improvisational, principled based capabilities that can take you on new adventures.  That is, if you don’t try to control them.  Design thinking requires that you have faith in the principles, process, mindsets, that they will not let you down.  I have seen practitioners try to control and checklist design thinking only to find the magic was missing.

So, we have a dilemma.

As a beginner design thinker, it is hard to improvise just like it is difficult for beginning musicians to play jazz.  However, don’t let that stop you.  Here are some tips.

  • Partner with a more experienced design thinker on your first few projects. For me, I worked with Stanford school, Rotman Design Works and IIT. You don’t have to do it all on your own initially.  Design Thinkers are collaborative and want to help others do it well.
  • Create a plan to leverage design thinking but then trust your instincts in the moment to go where you and your team need to go.  Don’t let fear of failure cause you to become overly rigid. A colleague of mine was once leading a 3 day design thinking workshop.  At the end of day 2 she realized, they had uncovered an  unexpected barrier that needed to be addressed before they continued forward.  She cancelled day 3 to go work the barrier. The insight they gleaned on days 1 & 2 were instrumental to understanding what was holding them back.  Was the workshop a success or failure in your book?  I think success.
  • Try new things every day.  Don’t fall into the comfort zone of having a formulaic approach to leveraging design thinking.  Try something new on each project.  After all, each project is unique and by not assuming the last approach will work for this one, you force yourself to fully engage your mind to imagine what is needed.

Sunday, we had a guest minister at our church.  His message was not all that different than this one.  Fear causes you to lock up.  Faith enables you to discover.  Having faith is the most critical principle of design thinking.  After all, control is for beginners.


Take Action

Self assess.  Are you trying to overly control how and when you use design thinking?  Take on a discovery mindset and practice faith in choosing to improvise how you do it.
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