Design Thinking Applied

I keep running into the notion of Design Thinking:  Tim Brown‘s and Roger Martin‘s books have been getting some good buzz, and the crowd-sourcing exercise on OpenIDEO is fun to watch. While I have some notion of the theory — the creation of new ideas to solve customer problems — I was curious to see how it might be applied. So I signed up for a lecture at Rotman’s DesignWorks on “Applying Design Heuristics to Change Management and Organizational Development.”

Steve Sato of Sato + Partners talked about his experience using a Design Thinking methodology to drive change at HP. While I feared that the talk might be filled with totally unfamiliar frameworks (the audience looked far more Art School than B-school and I have not used the Charles Owen model that seemed to be getting a lot of familiar nods) I was thrilled to see him start to pull out familiar frameworks like Kotter’s 8-stage change model and Senge’s and Scharmer’s Theory U. Design Thinking builds on classic management thinking by applying a discipline of asking questions and keeping things as open-ended as possible. In his Fast Company piece on the topic, Marc Dziersk summarized it perfectly: “How many designers will it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Why a light bulb?”

I liked the idea of Design Theory: it’s adaptive, it’s scalable, and the processes lead to a lot of naturally generated buy-in (for a good summary of its merits, I like this piece by Charles Owen.) It made sense that Design Thinking could be used effectively in a company like HP with a clear design competency. At Q&A time, I asked if Design Thinking had broader applications? Could a bunch of bankers embrace it, for example? (In my head, I could only imagine the iterative stage of the deal management process: markets go sideways, angry CFO throws telephone at you, go to Ki to blow of steam; repeat, repeat, repeat…) Indeed, Design Thinking can be used in any number of industries (Sato recommended that the “design” language be watered down to reflect the business.) An article by Sarah Beckman in the NYT, shows that Design Thinking can work effectively, even in companies where more rigid processes such as Six Sigma are used. In fact, the open-endedness can be especially useful for these companies.

I’ll be doing some more reading in this area over the next little while and reporting on my findings.


BOOM! Banter October 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

Great piece. In the experiential field we are always looking for new ways to approach our creativity and event execution. I loved the “How many designers will it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Why a light bulb?” Makes you realize that sometimes you’ve been thinking inside the box and you need to get back out of it. Have you found anymore articles like this?

engagethefox October 18, 2010 at 10:00 pm

My design thinking journey is just beginning… I love the concept and as I find more articles, I’ll post. Thanks for the comment!

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