Design Thinking is Not a Failed Experiment

The Experiments Have Only Begun

Design Thinking is Not a Failed Experimentby Idris Mootee

This is my response to Bruce Nussbaum’s latest Fast Company’s blog declaring “Design Thinking” is over and that he is moving on to something new. He is calling it “Creative Quotient” which is really his new book, I was wondering why he would make that statement. People hardly fully understand what Design Thinking is, now he wants to introduce another idea. Not too fast! I was writing this while waiting for the airport to clear as President Obama’s Air Force One was there and they closed down the runway.

Bruce writes “The decade of Design Thinking is ending and I, for one, am moving on to another conceptual framework: Creative Intelligence, or CQ. I am writing a book about Creative Intelligence, due out from Harper Collins in fall 2012……”

He can move on but for sure but not me (Sorry Bruce, I really can’t agree with you on this one.) Although there is some truth there about consultants quick to turn any ideas or practices into ‘processes’ that companies can buy out of a box and consultants can help them implement in 60 days. Most of the time they don’t even know what they are doing. Even if they do, they often ignore the soft side with an over-emphasize on the hard side. On that note, the comment is equally true if apply to any practices. Processes are important and that’s how large organizations function, it is easy to say let’s improve our creative quotient throughout the organizations and we will be fine. For me, Design Thinking is much getting more solid that ever as we develop them further into business practices and if fully integrated in the organization culture decision-making and support toolkit, it can be very powerful.

On the other hand, “Creative Quotient” is like saying let’s is more creative. Sometimes I wish I could detach the word ‘creative’ from ‘design thinking.’ I know I cannot, but design thinking is not all above creativity. There is a lot more than being creative. When Bruce suggested that the success rate for design thinking processes was very low. I am not sure he can make that statement. It is like saying the success rate for strategic thinking processes was very low. We need to look at the maturity lifecycle of how it is implemented and to what extend it is embraced my organizations and well as aligned with the company’s business strategies. It is large small change effort, not a quick process redesign. Let’s wait for at least five to eight years to make that conclusion. A case in point, it took the academics and the business community more than 25 years before someone publicly declared the “Death of Strategic Planning”.

The increased adoption of multidisciplinary approaches to business problem solving and including the application of “Design Thinking” (but not exclusively) helps organizations fill a critical and often over looked knowledge gaps and solve some of information deficiencies. Problem. By combining the two organizations establish more comprehensive and ultimately competitive bodies of actionable knowledge and insights that reflect and avoid from pitfalls of linear strategic planning. This approach does not discount or diminish the value of traditional business methods in problem solving– rather – by leveraging the best qualities of both business and design thinking- it establishes a more sensitive, powerful and potent analytical tool and resulting in a more holistic perspective and learning experience that is meaningful, valid and agile.

“Design Thinking” is here to stay. “Design Thinking” allows us to provide a systemic response to the challenges that we all face. Not designing bandages or tactics that ultimately create more problems than they are designed to solve. “Design Thinking” brings empathy into the core of strategy making and allows rapid decision-makings with insufficient data, which is where most people structure with in innovation.

“Design Thinking” also has a positive effect on changing organizational culture – reveals and introduces new behaviors and challenges people to communicate and learn in new ways – while empowering them (through the adoption of tools, techniques, and culture) to think differently. But this is NOT the “Design Thinking” they teach in design schools. So don’t be confused.

The world of MBAs likes the quantitative assurance even though they know it is just a false sense of confidence. Microsoft Excel is only marginally more accurate than a crystal ball or tarot cards. I’ve seen many smart MBAs struggle with innovation be in the process or the problem identification and solving approach and most of all they don’t understand very core values of design thinking. This is why innovation is so hard for management consultants. Equally it is hard for the designers waving their banners saying ‘design thinking here’ and what they are selling is raw creativity or cute ideas or pretty designs. Not solutions to wicked problems in an increasing complex world. We have enough buzzwords, there’s no need to introduce a new one. Let’s stick with “Design Thinking” for now.


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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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5 Responses to Design Thinking is Not a Failed Experiment

  1. Brian Matt says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I really think it’s a “consultants cheap trick” to be the 1st to coin a new phrase that is just a difficult to explain as Design Thinking. I love Bruce. He’s bright, articulate and well versed, but we can agree to disagree, I guess.

  2. David says:

    Idris,

    I agree with your thoughts here and am eager to learn more about “Design Thinking.” On a somewhat related topic, I constantly see product managers that conduct focus groups, interviews, etc., to define product features, but steer the questions and findings to their preconceived ideas.

  3. Tim Fletcher says:

    Idris,

    Thank you for your response. There are many places discussing Bruce’s comments and I plan to send them to this blog. As one who markets design thinking, not as a process but a mindset and culture, I appreciate your comments above. Muddying the waters at the stage when business is just beginning to understand Design thinking is really not helpful. Especially when it is done to sell a book. Naughty, naughty Mr. N.

  4. Bob Jacobson says:

    My good friend Idris and I disagree on the significance of Design Thinking, but not on the subject of letting business writers determine the course of intellectual progress. I believe Design Thinking was created as a rationale for getting designers involved in pre-design creative strategizing and ideation — the so-called “front end of innovation.” If so, it has not been particularly successful, at least in studies of which I’m aware. Designers have a way of systematically solving problems that often defeats the purpose of unrestrained early-stage innovation. Which is not to say they should have no role in innovation: designers excel in critiquing and modifying innovations to render them practical and implementable.

    However, for Nussbaum to jump from one intellectual ice flow to another, pursuing what is most trendy and therefore imbued with instant celebrity, is rather a facile way to handle the responsibilities of a self-anointed innovation guru. Bruce has a way of popularizing notions within the business community (not a difficult task, business readers are as fond of novelty as fans of Lady GaGa). Creative Quotient? What does that mean other than what its champions say it does? It’s merely a way of writing “innate innovation,” a concept with a history of at least a few millennia, so that it can bear a trademark symbol. It’s all business.

    The best thing is not to start another squabble over buzzwords but rather to get down to the serious business of understanding how innovation occurs and how it can best be facilitated. Neither Design Thinking nor CQ (I almost wrote GQ, it’s so closely related) provides too many answers. Each is a doxology. Time to push on.

  5. Pingback: Watch your design language, please! | TAPPING a designful mind

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