A large part of design thinking is in helping people and organisations develop big ideas. Or said another way, it's helping people be innovative, or strategic, or we might even describe it as the process of being ‘creative’. But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced yourself, it can be hard to come up with big ideas – especially sitting there at your desk whilst you do all your “thinking”. And because coming up with ideas is actually quite a challenge for most of us, we can begin to think that there are certain people who are better at it than others, or that it takes some kind of special skill or requires a huge level of effort to get results.
Design thinking. It's both an accurate descriptor and an unfortunately loaded term. And because of the broad use of the term design, it’s not a particularly helpful phrase when trying to explain an incredibly useful approach to problem solving. So why use it at all?
Because, as they say, "it does what it says on the tin".
Design Thinking is a term many of us have been using loosely for years and reflects an integral part of design practice. The term has lately been gaining a lot of traction in business and management circles, and is more frequently appearing in books, articles and conferences. However, 'design thinking' has been taking a real battering lately, as people debate the term's meaning and function, especially as it is promoted to new, non-design audiences.
I once read an article in the New York Times, Innovation, by Order of the Kremlin, which discussed Russia's latest attempts at designing an environment of innovation to compete against the likes of Silicon Valley (and their copy cat cities around the world). What's remarkable about the story is that the protagonists (in this case Russian expats from Silicon Valley VC groups and the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation, amongst others) are working to create, not a walled-off city of scientist a la Cold War Soviet Union, but a bureaucracy-free zone un-mired by the unaccountable and varied enforcement of tax laws. Just outside Moscow now sits the promise of a city dedicated to developing new ideas to wean Russia off of its economic dependance on oil. Russia's new venture is great for a number of reasons – not the least of which is a move towards helping Russia avoid the massive intellectual capital brain-drain it has endured for the last twenty years. But the more subtle implication is the object lesson it provides for most large organisations. It wouldn't be a stretch to compare most business cultures to the stereotypical red tape and institutional/policy barriers created by many governments. The implication from the NYT article is that, like Russia, to actually create an innovative environment an organisation needs to protect itself from the machinery that makes most organisations tick along so steadily. Easier said than done. But one might argue, if Russia can do it, so can Citibank or British Airways, amongst others.
Here are some synopses from the sessions I most enjoyed. Re-Thinking and Re-Designing Business Strategy It’s probably my own particular bias that I thought that the panel with Jeanne Liedtka and Tony Golsby-Smith, moderated by Roger Martin, was the highlight of the conference. But the session really stood out for me as one of the most spirited and serious conversations of the two days. All three of them put forth a thesis and then used the conversation to back up their claims. While Tony, Roger and Jeanne were pretty much on the same page about the centrality of design thinking to strategy, each of them had a unique perspective on why that is, and how design can begin to play a stronger role in the strategy space.