The somewhat recent convergence of design and business has fascinated me for quite a while. That said, I find myself both intrigued and dismayed as both groups continue to undermine themselves by not moving beyond increasingly inapt approaches. Management relies on traditional practices of the manufacturing paradigm and design continues to chase the promise of bringing about meaningful organisational change with limited success. If I were to wager on where I think there’s the greatest opportunity to improve this situation, I’d place my bet on disrupting the management conventions that businesses require or encourage their managers to follow.¹ I say this not to catastrophise organisational management styles, but to make a point: managers are (and frankly have been) poised to lead the change in how businesses become more profitable, competitive, compassionate, and sustainable in a world of increasing disruption. Effectively, the manager’s time has come.
A powerful way to develop and lead a facilitated workshop is to develop each phase, session break, and type of interaction from the perspectives of your audience. Each participant may have multiple perspectives that rise and fall depending on inputs and each workshop will have a range of perspectives based on participant backgrounds and agendas. Indeed personalities play a huge role within a workshop–including the personality of the facilitator, the makeup of individuals, and the workshop group as a whole. It’s best if you are able to pre-determine participant’s personalities, perspectives, and agendas when designing a successful workshop, but the ability to do this is often impractical. You’ll likely be seeing most attendees for the first time.
One could argue that somewhere in the 20th century we went from design thinking to design "thinging". Tim Brown at IDEO has written about the inherent design thinking of Isambard Brunel, the early 19th century engineer. Brunel famously build the railroad system in the UK and the overly ambitious steamship the Great Eastern. Brunel didn't just focus on designing railroads and steamships. He concerned himself with designing the entire experience of getting customers from London's Kings Cross to New York City. To Brunel, customers weren't looking to be on a train or a boat, they were looking to get to a destination.
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".