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More thinking about “design thinking”

Overview: This addresses the ongoing conversation about the term “Design Thinking”

Thoughts: In all honesty, it really doesn’t matter, does it?  If people get the concept, and are able to be more effective in their processes, then who cares what it is called?  I do think the links in this post are worth following .

Original Post HERE at Peter Merholz site

I have a… complicated relationship with the phrase “design thinking”. Over 4 years ago, I wrote a post, “The Dark Side of Design Thinking” that looked at the shortcomings of the designer’s perspective, and even earlier, lamented how the phrase “design thinking” was being used to mean “thinking that I like,” and not really about design.

But then I also co-wrote a book that addresses the value of design approaches (and I’ve been known, in person, to say that it’s a book about “design thinking” that never uses the phrase “design thinking”).

I most recently blogged on Harvard Business about “Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You”, because I find myself, again, fed up with how people use this phrase in such a way that it’s essentially meaningless, and it seems to serve little more than helping sell design firms trying to be more strategic, or sell business magazines in desperate need of appearing hip.

The problem I faced in that post is that there’s no good alternative term for the kind of thinking I promote, which is a wildly multi-disciplinary approach. Dev tried with “hybrid thinking”, but I found that phrase too limiting. I considered “integrated thinking,” but it’s too vague, and too similar to Roger Martin’s integrative thinking. Perhaps the best term I found was “post-disciplinary,” ironically enough from IDEO’s Jane Fulton Suri (ironic because the rise of the phrase “design thinking” is pretty much all due to IDEO).

Something I don’t address in my post, but where I think there’s a real opportunity for exploration, is to identify how this wildly multi-disciplinary thinking actually does contribute to organizational success in the 21st century.

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2 Responses to More thinking about “design thinking”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Everaldo Coelho, SHIN NISHIMURA . SHIN NISHIMURA said: More thinking about “design thinking” […]

  2. May I suggest you use the noun instead of the verb. You are describing design thinking as a behavior that strategically drives the enterprise. Twenty years ago, Information Technology (IT) realized how much more powerful structure based thinking is than process based thinking. Hence object oriented programming languages emerged as mainstream and drove process oriented languages into small niches.

    Behavioral oriented thinkers view the “Business” as a set of loosely connected “Business Processes.” Business behaviors are nearly always independently developed to fulfill business needs. There are relationships between the behaviors but mapping them and understanding these relationships very quickly becomes unwieldy. It is a web so thick with relationships that it becomes nothing more than a big black hole when diagrammed.

    Structure oriented thinkers have far fewer entities to deal with. Inherently Businesses have fewer structures than behaviors. Organizing behaviors within the context of structures orders the behaviors within a context — they are shaped. Structures become actionable and dynamic. Relationships are constrained and well defined. A proper web of relationships emerges when diagrammed.

    Ultimately every business is about people (not money). Thinking becomes structure oriented and people focused. Customers, Stakeholders and Designers (Architects) brainstorm to create innovative ideas. The Stakeholders use Architects to filter and realize these possibilities by giving them structure and behavior. When these possibilities get realized innovations emerge.

    The tem “Emergent Architecture” may best describe “Design thinking” within a structured context.

    You should also note that there is no dearth of ideas within an enterprise, but the pipelines between the corporate innovators and the corporate movers barely exist, if at all. The organizations that have opened up and built those pipelines are the ones that will/already succeed in having an organization which exhibits “Emergent Architecture.”

    Stakeholders don’t own the ideas; they are only one-third of the creative process, which transforms ideas into realizable possibilities; they lack the skills to design innovations. Yet, in many organizations they entirely control the ideas and possibilities spaces. Severely limited possibilities constrain the Architects design space. “Emergent Architecture” at best is severely limited. The “Business” is left to operate in a traditional paradigm. When the competition effectively employs “Emergent Architecture” the traditional paradigm becomes obsolete, the traditional market dries up and ultimately and the stagnant business fails.


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