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Thinking by design

This quote from by Diego Rodriguez from IDEO stimulated my thinking today:

Whether or not you call yourself a designer, when you work to relate people’s needs to broader webs of individual, social, and economic factors, and pour your energy into creating better outcomes via an evidence-driven process, you’re using design thinking to increase your odds of success in the world. (From Business Week)

How do we begin relating needs to webs of factors to create better outcomes? Design thinking and critical thinking pull together two worlds that can bring out the best in organizations by using both our left-brain and right-brain to brainstorm, problem solve, and crack cognitive eggs. In Business by Design, Roger Martin writes that organizations of the future “will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality in a dynamic interplay.” He predicts an “. . . unwavering focus on the creative design of systems, will eventually extend to the wider world. From these firms will emerge the breakthroughs that move the world forward.”

Careful observation is a method of relating needs to webs of factors. When I perform a routine process or engage in conversation, I can ask myself questions to promote observation and reflection, “Why did I do/say that? What was I thinking about when I did/said that? How did it make me feel? What do I believe is important here?” I want to emphasize that it can be just as revealing to ask these questions about routine tasks like using a cell phone or having a weekly team meeting as asking them about more strategic issues.

Another method is integrative thinking. Integrative thinking looks at situations from different perspectives. It does not shrink from contradictions, complex dilemmas, or wicked problems.  It asks questions like: “How does this impact each person in the organization? What would it be like to experience this from their desk? What experiments could be tried to test our ideas? What are ways we could quickly prototype this idea?”

As Tim Brown says in Change by Design,

You have to start with observation because it’s the only way to illuminate the subtle nuances about how people actually get things done (or don’t get things done), and it’s these deep insights that lead to powerful new ideas. Intellectual experimentation is equally critical because there’s no way to generate real breakthroughs unless people are willing to explore a lot of options in a divergent way. Finally, rapid and inexpensive prototyping is the most efficient way to move an idea from concept to reality. By ‘building to think’ instead of ‘thinking about what to build,’ an organization can dramatically accelerate its pace of innovation.

The challenge for organizations is to ‘build to think’ and thereby increase the potential for success.

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