Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thinking (a bit more) about Design | Designing better Thinking

When I first start this blog, I was surprised at how often the concept of design came up as it was not my usual way of thinking. Although it has been in the background in the musings of this blog and Milestones for a New Millennium, I have not focused on it directly for sometime. Lately though I have been thinking about it from an educational perspective. If we were to integrate design thinking, in its broadest terms, into our economy and culture and wanted to prepare students to contribute to that culture, what would we teach them? This post does not answer that question, it begins to frame it.

Dev Patnaik discusses Mixing Design Thinking With Business with Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management, who argues for a radical idea: to develop business leaders who are well-grounded in multiple disciplines.

The Rotman faculty aim to mold managers who are equally comfortable and adept at using tools and frameworks from business, popular culture, and design to solve the most urgent challenges of the day--what Rotman calls integrative thinkers and what I call hybrid thinkers.

They discuss The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Rotman's approach of integrating design thinking into traditional analytical MBA programs. Rotman believes new ideas must come from a new kind of thinking. At least new for today's analytical mindset. The logical leap of the mind, the apple falling on the head, that you can't prove from past data the American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce called abductive logic.

  • Strategy is an act of design.
  • Highly skilled designers focus on new possibilities rather than the application of existing ideas. Create from data, guts, empathy, creativity, and a little thin air.
  • Balancing the analytical and the intuitive is key to great leadership.
  • Analytical thinking prevents them seeing promising new opportunities and driver of growth, but ideas still have to make sense from an analytical standpoint. Great leadership involves bringing both lenses to bear to find better possibilities.
  • Roger's take on design thinking isn't rooted in design.
  • Surprisingly designers aren't necessarily good at design thinking. A tremendous sense of aesthetics, prototyping, form, and ergonomics doesn't inherently reflect the ability to imagine previously unseen possibilities.
  • Templates, not management theory, are the enemies of innovation.
  • Neither businesspeople nor designers have a monopoly on good ideas because most people, regardless of background, are more comfortable reapplying a formula or using a template from an existing success than generating new possibilities.

Raising Dev Patnaik's question:

If design thinking isn't based in design and the abilities of designers, then the term may need to change. Without any question, increasing any organization's design capability will increase its ability to differentiate from its competitors, to build a more consistent brand, and to create more appealing products. But it's something else entirely to create a culture of innovation. We would do well to make this clear in the terminology we use.

He addressed this question in a previous article, Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking in which he asserts that, The secret isn't design thinking, it's "hybrid thinking": the conscious blending of different fields of thought to discover and develop opportunities that were previously unseen by the status quo.

Hybridity matters now because the problems companies need to solve are simply too complex for any one skillset to tackle. We're in an era when car companies are trying to grapple with massive changes in technological capability and market need, when cell phone companies are trying to own global entertainment, and when snack food companies face extinction unless they figure out how to promote health and wellness. As Lou Lenzi, a design executive at Audiovox, once told me, if you want to innovate, "You need to be one part humanist, one part technologist, and one part capitalist."

According to Patnaik, hybrid thinking is much more than gathering together a multidisciplinary team, it about multidisciplinary people. He uses John Lasseter, the co-founder of Pixar, as an example because he can effortlessly fuse technology, art, and storytelling together to create Toy Story, which is why he is beloved and admired, not because he's good at technology. In the video below from Edutopia Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University makes a similar distinction between cooperation and collaboration.

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