What is Design Thinking? Say the word “design” and many automatically associate it with the craft of design or design as a profession. Actually it has less to do with “design” and more with “system”. There are many ways to define “design thinking” and this list is not exhaustive:
- A way to instill customer-centricity and empathy
- A framework for exploration and experimentation
- An approach to sense-making and problem solving
- A methodology to foster exploration and experimentation
- A design buzzword to tell you a designer can do more than design
- A management buzzword sold as the “next” strategic tool
- A marketing slogan or tag line
- A self-gratifying term for those who think they are creative
The term “design thinkers” implies that designers are craftsmen and not thinkers, which is NOT always the case. It is also a stretch for traditional industrial or brand/graphic design firms to claim to be able to use “design thinking” to solve complex strategic issues. These firms need to go through a radical transformation and close a big capability gap before they can even attempt to implement it for others.
Today, “design thinking” is frequently compared and contrasted to business. This is often an over simplification that forces us into predetermined roles along with their associated rules, conventions, behaviors and formal expectations. It Is important to recognize that “design thinking” is NOT exclusive to designers or unattainable to those in another discipline. Design thinking is natural and inherent in all of us who are smart and creative.
“Design thinking” is a cognitive and intellectual process that balances the rational and emotional – in effect combining left brain and right brain thinking. When applied, it harmonizes with other modes of thinking and closes knowledge and information gaps, creating order and refining meaning. Because “design thinking” is a dynamic, constructive process that is iterative in nature, developing ideas requires ongoing definition, redefinition, representation and assessment.
To achieve those tangible outcomes, you need to open the process to multiple participants and socialize the process and outcomes, visualization is a very critical part of the process, not an outcome. Even the Department of Defense recognizes the needs to train “design thinkers” that are capable of critical and creative thinking to plan operations in dynamic environments with fast-changing uncertainties in extremely complex conditions.
People who are capable of using “design thinking” to identify and develop different military response options within the context of a big strategy are crucial to successful military operations. The development of such skills requires a shift in their focus from the operational and tactical environments to the strategic environment. This is an extremely challenging undertaking given that many military officers spend the majority of their career starting at lower levels and their advancement depends upon how well they perform tactically. This is very much like managers in large organizations who were promoted based on their ability to execute tactically.
To develop senior commanding officers with “design thinking” capabilities require DOF to train them new skills including analysis as well as synthesis. “Design thinkers” possess the ability to think critically on a “system” level; break concepts into simpler parts and mapping out their relationship and system impact before rearranging the elements into a new whole; in other words, to produce something through imaginative skills and quick experiments. And yes, imagination is always needed.
image credit: susandaily
Idris Mootee is the CEO of Idea Couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, many published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.