“Design Thinking” has rapidly moved to the forefront of the current management zeitgeist as a fresh take not just on how to rethink key products and services, but also how to reframe everyday processes and projects. In an effort to create a cross-company culture of innovation and collaboration, businesses all over the world are taking a page from design firms, and realizing the rewards.
Graduate schools including Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (aka d. school) and the Rotman School of Management are helping to lead the way, taking the broad view that the designer’s approach to solving problems goes far beyond the traditional role of design in “making pretty.” Rather, they believe the designer’s blend of creativity and logic is applicable to all aspects of business, and that irrespective of job title, everyone can be a designer of sorts.
What’s driving the move is the very real pressure to innovate in a fiercely competitive marketplace, fueled by a down economy. That pressure falls on the individual, who is asked for higher commitment, more adaptability, quicker progress, better execution, stronger decision-making, and freer thinking. At the same time, they’re told to manage risk, meet short-term objectives, and only bet on sure things. All within the confines of environments that are often anything but free: powerful systems, rigid structures, conflicting agendas, privileged information, political posturing, and limiting rules. The truth is that uncertainty, risk and failure are all part of innovation, and the ability to meet business objectives doesn’t always square with the personal capabilities needed to innovate as required.
The solution? Think like a designer, work like a designer.
Great design is a result of a clear and thorough understanding of the user, creative resolution of competing tensions, multi-discipline collaboration, rapid experimentation via prototyping, with continuous modification and enhancement of ideas and solutions. The best designers leverage their expertise, pursue possibility, reject the status quo as a matter of course, view opposition to their ideas as an inventive challenge, refuse to let bureaucracy and hierarchy stifle their creativity, and use cutbacks and resource constraints drive new ideas and methods.
So what is “Design Thinking”?
Citing a 1969 book by Herbert Simon called The Sciences of the Artificial, Wikipedia defines it this way:
Design thinking is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. It is the essential ability to combine empathy, creativity and rationality to meet user needs and drive business success. Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the “building up” of ideas.
This raises the question of just what that process looks like. When design firm IDEO agreed in early 2005 to help Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City make their chemotherapy process more patient-friendly, the first thing the IDEO design team did was to take Sloan-Kettering staffers along with them as they followed patients throughout the entire treatment process, including the round trip from home to clinic. That allowed the discovery of a patient stress point: anxiety over treatment, the cause of which was the fact that patients didn’t know what to ask, and the huge information binder was far too daunting.
Understanding the situation allowed designers to ofer up a number of possible solutions, some of which were then carried out in much the same fashion as a scientific experiment. In design lingo, that meant “rapid prototyping.” One pilot entailed simply handing out index cards with “frequently asked questions,” such as “Where can I fill my prescription?” A few trial runs indicated that reviewing the cards during a quick guided tour of the clinic eased patient anxiety tremendously. The experiment quicly became standard operating procedure.
That’s a pretty clear strategy: Investigate, Design, Experiment, Adjust. What a great I.D.E.A.
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