Design came a long way: whereas in the beginning, it had a focus on ‘shaping’ artifacts, objects, and communication means, it eventually turned to products, thereafter software, services and nowadays to complete experiences. To conclude this process of dissolving into the immaterial, design now turns to the thinking! Design Thinking is design’s new top-notch discipline. The ‘designing’ happens solely inside the brain and therefore it’s solutions are (mainly) thoughts. This means that design is now also accessible to those who are all thumbs – provided that the brain involved can support the required thinking…
That’s why even established, non-design universities, like Stanford or St. Gallen, are turning to this new discipline in design. These breeding grounds of the new MBA-elite start to ‘think’ design, so that the leaders of tomorrow and the consultants of today can find new ways to solve the persistent ‘wicked problems’ they encounter.
Design Thinking (or ‘designerly’ way of thinking) is all over the place right now in Europe as well. It’s conquering the stage of strategic business consulting, where so far old-fashioned methods were at work: those which make-believe that through efficiency and strict management alone, defunct businesses can be made prosperous again. The old mantra, which suggests to ‘manage’ your way out of deadlocked structures (as well as unwilling customers) is losing traction at corporate boards: just like consumers turn away from advertising, also businesses more and more turn away from those conventional consulting methods that ‘advertise’ a quick fix. This doesn’t mean that there will be none of the two in the future: many businesses (and consumers as well) are so occupied with industrial, rational thinking, that they simply cannot imagine an alternative, let alone adopting alternatives! They rather stick to the running program.
Is it plain deficiency, or even uncertainty, which prevents businesses to switch their thinking ‘channel’, or to quit the program altogether? Maybe they hesitate to do it because they simply cannot comprehend what the alternative entails, what’s ‘running’ on the other channel? They stick to the motto: “I rather hang on to the crap I’m watching, than risking to turn to even bigger crap!”
In view of the drastic impact Design Thinking can have, many organizations think it’s an alternative, radically different approach and therefore hesitate to ‘switch off their current program’. Are afraid to be regarded as hippies or eco-activists? Switching off does not imply you escape from reality, you just make a deliberate choice not to follow the mainstream: it’s a choice for self-determination and having a stance – and not for isolation or escapism.
That’s why it takes courage to ‘switch-off’ in an environment where all are ‘switched-on’.
But those businesses who have dared to turn to Design Thinking and started to think in a ‘designerly’ way, they have proverbially ‘hopped the channel’. They dared to enrich the dominated deductive thinking in their businesses with this new way of thinking, or even replaced it al-along. Their curiosity was bigger than the ‘fear’ to miss the plot of the running program – or they were so fed-up with the showing that they just switched off!
So conviction and courage are prerequisites for ‘designerly’ thinking within an organization: to embrace design thinking you have to leave behind the old deductive thinking and learn to abstract what you encounter, frame the problem in another perspective, and avoid to immediately derive the ‘obvious’ solution. This is where classical management struggles: it wants to get to solutions straight away. A so-called ‘detour’, using abstraction to create alternative insights to tackle a problem, is in direct conflict with the law of efficiency, which again is at the base of common management thinking. That’s why, next to abstraction, it foremost takes courage to trust that a ‘detour’ will eventually lead towards a concrete solution.
For creatives, abstraction is a piece of cake. The problem with them is that they struggle to get out of it, to translate the re-framed problems into concrete solutions that can be used to guide and steer organizations. To achieve that, you have to be ‘concrete’ again. That’s why often you find a ‘gap’ between an organization’s creative potential and the ability to manage concrete operations: and right in this ‘gap’ the potential for innovation gets lost!
Design Thinking can bridge this gap and additionally allows organizations to obtain an alternative view on their activities, on the circumstances, the market place and on the consumer and customer. With Design Thinking, they can imagine what a really relevant solution to a problem might be, rather than getting occupied by thinking about what the next logical solutions has to be. Design Thinking serves like spectacles in front of a short-sighted organization: it allows for spotting opportunities that without would remain unsharp.
Organizations can use Design Thinking to deliberately select their ‘program’ – and unlike continuous zapping, hoping for a better offer – or waiting for the next add. It’s more like switching off.
Just give it a try, dear CEO’s and organizations, it’s very simple: press the red button, relax, and then imagine how the show might go on!