Design Thinking is often over or under rated as part of it’s “misunderstanding”. Some fanatics feel it is the answer to everything and can solve all manner of challenge. Others reduce it to one aspect of it’s dimension–ideation. “It’s just a brainstorming” dismisses all the heart and humanity built into the process. Why do people fall into this Silver Bullets vs. Brainstorm divide?
Silver Bullets. It is easy to get excited over Design Thinking. It is an affirming way to work and helps you imagine new possibilities. Some have leaned into it like it’s a panacea for all ills of a business. We are the first to say it can be useful in all kinds of industries and functions, but it is not a silver bullet that solves every kind of problem. Design Thinking is best suited for discovery challenges. What might these be? Imagining the future or looking at particularly vexing problems that have plagued the business despite all the traditional problem solving efforts are two great applications. Still, sometimes you need the more logical, analytical approach to a problem—like what is the optimal run speed for a production line or how can we optimize the use of raw materials. Sometimes, you just need to figure out the right calculation to keep that bridge standing.
Having made the case that it is not a silver bullet, it does have a long list of positive side effects. It enables collaboration among teams that rarely speak to each other. It encourages cross-pollination, collective intelligence, agility, and a safe space to explore so that people are able to unleash creativity which lives inside everyone. It truly harnesses the power of failure and the learning from it that businesses talk about so often. Sometime the initial objective might not be reached straight away, but if not, it helps bring cohesion among disciplines, break silos that ultimately enable innovation.
Just Brainstorming. On the other end of the spectrum is the person who has dismissed Design Thinking as the latest term for creativity, ideation, brainstorming. They reduce it down to the one portion of the process where you imagine solutions for the reframed challenge that has resulted from your divergent, empathic work. It’s like saying Disney World is just the roller coasters. Yes, Design Thinking leverages creative approaches, brainstorming and ideation, but it is so much more. It humanizes the problem and looks to harness that empathy in solutions that truly meet the deepest needs in a way that is better than today. Thus, a new name has emerged that does speak to Design Thinking—Human Centered Design. Whatever the term you use for it, Design Thinking or Human Centered Design, know that at the heart of it is the willingness to discover deep insight and empathy that guides the solutions rather than just your initial business centric thoughts. In fact, for many practitioners, they have discovered that Design Thinking is a way of being, a mindset for how you look at all aspects of life. These two authors are guilty, as charged, of this philosophy!
So, what is Design Thinking? Well, it is a creative problem solving approach that is emergent and human centered. Yes, it has method to the madness, but every time is emergent based upon what is the challenge and the context and the learning. It is a great tool but is also a helpful mindset to have as part of your core capabilities. Done well it will serve your business well.
Cindy Tripp & Herve Collignon
Make sure you embrace exploring the challenge and digging deep into the empathetic insights to guide your exploration. While you can start anywhere in the process, it helps to make sure you iterate through the empathy/exploration phases before convergence.
Look for the “and”. Not just what Design Thinking can do but how it can work with other approaches for a more robust way of solving problems and seeing opportunities.