The Architecture/Design/Anthropology Paradigm
Design Thinking (which was espoused by Russ Ackoff in his later years, and has been much discussed in the pages of Fast Company magazine and by Tim Brown of IDEO -- amongst others) is a tricky thing to pin down. Which is why this entry in the Idioticon isn't called Design Thinking.
For Fast Company it's:
"...a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results... Basically Design Thinking consists of four key elements.
1: Define the problem
Sounds simple but doing it right is perhaps the most important of all the four stages. Another way to say it is defining the right problem to solve. Design thinking requires a team or business to always question the brief, the problem to be solved. To participate in defining the opportunity and to revise the opportunity before embarking on its creation and execution. Participation usually involves immersion and the intense cross examination of the filters that have been employed in defining a problem...
2: Create and consider many options
Even the most talented teams and businesses sometimes fall into the trap of solving a problem the same way every time. Especially when successful results are produced and time is short. Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results...
3: Refine selected directions
A handful of promising results need to be embrace and nurtured. Given a chance to grow protected from the evil idea-killers of previous experience. Even the strongest of new ideas can be fragile in their infancy. Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results.
3.5 Repeat (optional)
4: Pick the winner, execute"
Mark Dziersk: Fast Company
That doesn't sound like rocket science. But, for Fred Collopy, the orthodoxies and underpinnings of Design Thinking are a particular problem, tending to overcomplicate it, make it less accessible and, ultimately perhaps, unworkable:
"The drive to nail "design thinking" down has the same normative flavor that has restricted the spread of systems thinking. The urge to create a framework that specifies what and how a design thinker proceeds seems not just futile but dangerous to the survival of a movement aimed at expanding the kinds of thinking that managers, policy makers and citizens engage in.
What is the alternative? I would suggest that we should focus instead on building and describing an arsenal of methods and techniques, many of them drawn from various extant design practices, that are applicable to the domains and problems in questions. Describing these techniques as well as the conditions under which each is of value would constitute an invaluable program of research."
Fred Collopy: Fast Company
For Tim Brown at IDEO, it's about organisational design rather than structure - with the emphasis on allowing innovation in the way the organisation serves its customers and employees to become an emergent property of the organisation rather than being built-in to the structure. This is very much the way the world is thinking at the moment (although, like hierarchies and organisation charts, old structural habits die hard). It also links to themes from cultural theory (“Always learning, never getting it right”) and thinking about "the learning organisation" (namely that learning is a never-ending process and that the act of learning (rather than the resultant knowledge) is the point.
This, in turn, relates to Deleuze and Guattari talking about the structural and genetic aspects of organisations and the need to consider the shape of the formed organisation on the structural plane as well as the evolution of the formed organisation on the genetic plane. This echoes the debate about whether to prioritise structures or processes in management. For D and G, it's necessary to do both.
David Burney talks about it in a similar way to Tim Brown:
"Design begins with the process of defining, and redefining, the issue or problem at hand, because it's terribly important to make sure everyone is on the same page. You can only get there if people are willing to put forth the most basic thoughts and ideas, and use those to create as simple a problem definition as possible. It's extremely important to feel free to suggest bad, even dumb, ideas. IDEO, one of the world's great design firms, actively pursues wild ideas. Because without that mindset you won't have the same ability to innovate; not by a long shot. Because transformative innovation is dependent upon having participants who don't know all the answers. Let's face it, if you know everything--if you have all the answers--it's kind of hard to innovate.
Play is important in design thinking. Critical even. Having fun IS often the objective. Giving up ownership. Listening, humbly. Forming teams from people who come from very different disciplines and cultures; not keeping them compartmentalized. Getting into the world and testing things out. Prototyping and failing. These are all good things in design thinking cultures."
David Burney: Red Hat Magazine
Talking of innovation and design thinking cultures brings us to the research done by anthropologist Andrew Jones. Jones looked at a number of famously innovative businesses (including Google, Shangtai Tang and Innocent Drinks) and identified a number of characteristics that they have in common. The way they treat their staff, in particular, marks them as what he calls Human-Centred Enterprises. He says:
"For generations, management thinking and management education have rested on the intellectual framework and assumptions of three core disciplines: Mathematics (plus engineering), Economics and Psychology. Money and markets have been explained by mathematics and economics, respectively, while human behaviour in business has been explained by psychology. These disciplines have served business well and have helped create the foundation of contemporary management practice.
He goes on talk about:
...a new management paradigm, one wherein the disciplinary assumptions shift from the purely analytical and calculative disciplines of mathematics, economics and psychology, to the action-oriented, experienced-based disciplines of Design, Architecture, and Anthropology. The hub of the wheel that ties together design, architecture and anthropology is innovation. Anthropology (and ethnography) is the source of ever-deeper insights into the natural, sometimes unarticulated, desires and aspirations of consumers and employees. Architecture is a way of thinking, generally, about relating to constraints and building new things. And design is both a way of thinking about the world and a methodology for doing and building new things that can transform consumer insights into new products, experiences, business models and work processes."
Andrew Jones: The Innovation Acid Test
This approach, which values experience as highly as the rational, scientific method is characteristic of much contemporary thinking. It gets called "New Age" and immediately becomes divisive. But the point for leaders and managers in organisations may be to recognise that a growing number of their staff and customers are "New Age" and need to be treated accordingly. If employees' experience is that homoeopathy works, for example, regardless of the science, or that they need to access Facebook during working hours, then there's simply no point in their employer banning those things.
Dictator employers are going the way of Mubarak and Gaddafi.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari