Is Design Thinking a fairytale?

2 March 2016
3 min read

Systems thinking. Integrative thinking. Design Thinking. Left brained. Right brained. Whole brained. A quick search of books with ‘thinking’ in the title revealed 44,797 results, while ‘how to think’ tracked 451,009! Intellectual discourse is flourishing between neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, artists, philosophers, and business gurus alike sharing what they think, about thinking. But why has the subject captured our imagination? Why now? What’s going on?

… as Dorothy said to Toto in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The character of our thinking seems to be the new competitive currency. The well-oiled tools, theories and practices that proved their worthiness over the last 100 years, no longer suffice. Competitors are feistier. Customers are ever more capricious. Commoditisation is commonplace. Complex global interdependencies threaten economic stability. The ideals of ‘reliability and predictability’ that mitigate risk have been swept up in a tornado of uncertainty.

Discussions on Design Thinking have gained considerable traction in the C-suite, especially when a company like Apple resurrects itself to become “the worlds’ most valued” enterprise. Countless studies, books and blogs have popped up trying to decipher Steve Jobs’ secret. Can their success be duplicated? Or is Apple an anomaly? An inherently clever organisation led by an iconoclastic leader – the archangel of ‘think different’ fame.

Being relevant in 2020 and beyond will requires a different set of skills than the ones that drove business success in the past. How does an organisation devise their-own Apple success story? How does an organisation leverage design as a strategy and imbue a culture with creativity? How could thinking like a designer make a difference?

Thinking like a designer

Thinking like a designerDesign Thinkers have a certain disposition. A mind-set that doesn’t get flustered by ambiguity – it’s inspired by it! They’re obsessed with imagining what might be possible – driven to challenge the status quo.

Design Thinkers take a holistic approach to understanding the problem from multiple angles and stakeholder perspectives. It’s a belief system that if you explore the shadows, you’ll uncover the underserved need, the unique opportunity. (Steve Jobs was a Design Thinker.)

Combining the capabilities to ‘think like a designer’ with the methodologies to ‘work like a designer’ and any organisation will be able to adapt to turbulent times, not be paralysed by it.

Creating a better future through design thinking

Everyone has the capacity to become a Design Thinker. As with Dorothy and her ruby slippers – we all have the power, we just need to know how to use it.

However, there are two important hurdles that must be overcome first:

The first is clinging to rigid habits and default behaviors. If we’re to explore the new, we must let go of referencing past successes to make way for bolder, braver future solutions.

The second hurdle is a perception of ‘time’. Is it considered a cost? Or an investment? Taking the time to ‘stop and think’ is critical. It is not a luxury, it’s a necessity and a core tenet of Design Thinking.

And therein lies the rub. In a business ethos where speed to solution is revered and utilisation rewarded, in general managers believe design takes too long and in particular – designers are bewildering.

Seeing into the future isn’t easy. Even the Wizard of Oz couldn’t do it. But: Look behind the curtain and you’ll discover that enables us to create new value with our clients. It is not a fairy tale. As we learn to shape our future and the means by which to profit from it as design thinkers, we’ll be taking the first steps down the yellow brick road.

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Maureen Thurston
Written by
Maureen Thurston

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