on apr 6th, i got worried when i saw the headline of bruce nussbaum’s article in fastcompany – design thinking is a failed experiment. so what’s next?

i quickly scanned through the article but was not sure of the direction this article was taking. i was confused. so i spent the weekend drilling down helen walter’s articles and absorbing tim brown’s candid conversation with bruce at Parsons to try and make some sense of this new direction.

helen’s article #1 is actually a summary of ryan jacoby’s talk at NYU-Poly, which in parts was compilation from his blog. ryan’s blog about business design and talk about leading innovation is quite engaging and i think the main takeaway from his talk is to “learn the process, execute the process, and then lead within it.” tough ask.

helen’s article #2 is more about how design thinking is not magic and does not guarantee success but will help organizations when they adapt their internal processes to apply design thinking process and have a way to measure its success and failure rates. the onus is clearly on the organization to utilize and merge its creative and analytical energies. it will benefit organizations who have a willingness to reward success, risk failure and learn from mistakes and improve and move on.

i am ok with what i have read till now. no surprises. it is in line with what i have learnt in the last few months/years by following all these people.

coming back to bruce, he explains while packaging design thinking as a process helped its adoption in the corporate world but its success rate was very, very low (compared to failure rate). mainly because the process was templatized and implemented.

tim brown in his conversation with bruce at Parsons explained the upside and downside of design thinking as observed over the last decade and gave his suggestions for learners/practitioners –

  • approach vs impact: the approach became important but actually the focus should be on the impact it is supposed to deliver.
  • get beyond the process: once you acquire good education on tools, methodologies that teaches you “how to think this way, how to act this way”, then go and focus on things “to act on”.
  • problem with design thinking and businesses: businesses love rote procedures (as they improve efficiencies) but creative processes are anything but. it is not about mastering the process and repeating it.
  • wisdom of practice is the key: until and unless businesses practice it, manage it, participate in it they won’t understand it. wisdom gained from practice is the missing piece.

tim also spoke about collaboration between design and science, democratization of design and design thinking as more and more people have an opportunity to participate,  benefits of project based learning as compared to case study methods and he also spoke about openideo. all very informative. and it was very encouraging to note that the fastest growing practice at ideo was its business design practice.

coming back to bruce, he says that delivering creativity was the purpose of design thinking and the behaviors associated with it. and then he speaks about creative intelligence/creative quotient as behaviors, that can be learned, that help “frame problems in new ways and make original solutions”. he says it is “about learning by doing”, which i thought was basis of design thinking. honestly, i have not been able to understand much beyond this or how it is different from design thinking.

the question that comes to my mind – is this all about redefining the process and its scope of engagement or is it the next logical step in the evolution of design thinking? i am not clear yet.

but you know what, after all this drilling down i am no more worried. though the article headline sounded like an obituary for design thinking, the articles and talks do not seem so. this article raised questions, answers to which i do not know, yet. but yes, i will seek them, as i begin my formal learning and exploration at rotman in a few weeks time.

more to learn and explore. less to worry.


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