How is it possible Design Thinking can be both ‘the biggest buzzword in business’ (The Australian Business Review) and, at the same time, be ‘nothing new’ (HuffingtonPost.com)?
(Maybe Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide was on to something when he said, ‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.’)
Management gurus and their followers are already familiar with the Harvard Business Review announcing ‘Design Thinking has come of age’ in an issue devoted entirely to the subject in September 2015. Given that hefty endorsement, it’s no surprise Design Thinking suddenly found all-new relevance among organisations who need to address increasingly complex problems, not to mention its added bonus of enabling an adaptive organisational culture to drive faster, more effective innovation.
As a phrase, the words themselves are fairly recent. In 1987, Peter G. Rowe (formerly dean of Harvard Graduate School of Design) wrote about the concept of ‘thinking like a designer’ in his book Design Thinking. Describing how designers such as engineers, architects or urban planners approach problems with a ‘design sensibility,’ Rowe based his thesis on a 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial by Herbert Simon who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1978. In relation to his work into artificial intelligence, Simon discussed the distinct pattern which designers use to understand and solve business problems.
(For those who think Design Thinking is aligned with artistic skill or creative temperament, notice its roots are in economics, business decision-making and organisational problem-solving.)
However, like most modern phenomena, the historical application of Design Thinking runs far deeper.
In 1879, Thomas Edison unveiled his improvement of the incandescent light bulb after spending a year trialling over 1,000 variations to find the right solution. This achievement alone would make a guy famous in an Instagram world, but Edison’s larger legacy – and his connection to Design Thinking – was more than simply perfecting one of civilisation’s most profound inventions. He transcended a single product. His genius imagined an entire user experience, if not an entire industry, to support his new patent.
That was only the beginning. Here’s some of the other parallels to modern Design Thinking philosophy.
- Edison’s thinking was ahead of its time: he was a savvy blend of business, science, craft and marketing.
- He understood his customer through direct observation of what they needed.
- He collaborated with potential customers and partners about what they liked or disliked about the product, how it was made, packaged, merchandised, marketed and supported.
- Edison was well-known for his mindset of iterative brainstorming and rapid prototyping to produce the most possible alternatives to the essential issue to be solved.
- He was eager to fail fast, extract insights and create again … and again and again, until the solution was honed, improved and embraced by the end user.
Edison is just one person in a long series of other people who used the hallmarks of Design Thinking to improve business. Industrial design Raymond Loewy used the same principles in the 1930s when he reinvented the modern refrigerator, the Sears Coldspot. Ray Kroc used Design Thinking principles when he built a California restaurant chain into global dominance.
Most important, the hallmarks of Design Thinking aren’t restricted to global inventors or brand-obsessed organisations. Neither the philosophy nor its methodology are difficult to understand. More so, Design Thinking isn’t a privilege only designers can tap into. It’s more a mindset, with behaviours and skills applicable to anyone working in business. In fact, after teaching this course and variations over the past decade, I firmly believe that when you wipe away its glossy marketing – not to mention its misleading name, Design Thinking is about common sense. But, as my Nana used to say, common sense is anything but common.
To give you a taste of our workshop, here’s what the one-day workshop will cover.
- A brief history of Design Thinking – just enough detail to make you dangerous.
- How Design Thinking bridges the gap between the old and new schools of traditional business models (or, the history of business in 30 minutes or less).
- We’ll discuss the essential characteristics of ‘design sensibilities’ required for Design Thinking – no art school diplomas needed.
- We’ll show you how to apply Design Thinking to any type of organisation, from large to small, private to public sector, profit to non-profit.
- Everyone takes part in a hands-on exercise where the group will literally put the principles of Design Thinking to use on the spot.
- And, as time allows, we’ll move beyond the workbook to talk specifics: how to put Design Thinking to work in your organisation, using my own career experiences as examples of what to do and what NOT to do.
- Melbourne on Wed 18 Oct
- Canberra on Tues 14 Nov)
- Adelaide on Tues 21 Nov, with potentially 22 Nov as Tuesday’s workshop is almost sold out
In a few weeks, I’ll share with you the 2018 calendar for Design Thinking workshops at AIM. Either send me an email to notify you privately of next year’s schedule, or check back to the AIM website to look for locations and times suitable for you.
Question or comments? Add them below.