But it is going to be O.K.
Don’t get down on yourself or frustrated. Doing design thinking is hard. In this article I will tell you how to identify ways most people approach it incorrectly and provide ways to get you and your team on the correct course.
I will assume you understand the basics of design thinking. If you want to explore more I found that the d.school site is a good place to start. Full transparency, I am an adviser and facilitator in Design Thinking.
Maybe it’s a fad?
Design Thinking is having a moment. Design, in general is having a moment. I would argue this is partly due to our culture’s fetishistic view of personal devices, like the iPhone, Alexa and Nest. This is what Ian Bogost refers to as Future Ennui. It is no longer about “future shock” of technology as it is the aesthetics.
“When one is enervated by future ennui, there’s no vigor left even to ask if this future is one we even want. “ — Ian Bogost
For some, this moment is filled with joy that the rest of the world is recognizing the importance of design. Netflix has even dedicated a series to design called Abstract. For others, this moment is laughable or considered bullsh*t. Take a bow, Natasha Jen. You’ve earned it.
But design thinking has been around since the 1960s and doesn’t appear to be fading. I’ve seen its effectiveness in a myriad of applications, not just in the world of design but in our professional and personal lives.
Maybe it’s apathy?
Done improperly, design thinking leads to inefficiencies, uncertainties and emotional flare-ups. However, you should welcome the frustrations and vocal outbursts that come with a design thinking workshop. This let’s you know that your team is engaged and challenged. The worst thing that happens is passivity or vapid acceptance. It is the kind of acceptance that some groups display when they feel good that they’ve checked the box: “Done. We did design thinking. Yay!” WRONG!
Here, it is best to explore the conversation. Don’t let loudest voice drown out healthy debate. These loud voices, often referred to as HiPPOs (highest paid person’s opinion) can dominate and cloud the conversation. Instead, ensure you have a strong facilitator who can work independent of the bosses in the room and can encourage the quieter folks to speak up.
It’s just brainstorming!
Another unnerving dimension of design thinking is its dependency on divergent thinking. For the execution-oriented person or team, they don’t have “time” to explore ideas that might have the appearance of being wild or being unattainable.
Design thinking requires you not to race to a “solution”. The goal is to come up with a variety of options and be willing to explore which of these have more merit. Here, my motto has always been — there are no bad ideas, just priorities. For the team working on a problem, those priorities will come later. For now, let those wild ideas emerge even if it feels like you are spinning your wheels. This is especially true for teams used to driving a clear objective, like cost-savings or revenue targets.
If you say “fail fast” one more time…
Design thinking also requires you to do the one thing you probably hate: FAILING. The word alone has bad connotations. I even hate the term “fail-fast”. I understand what it means in spirit, but, to quote Stephen Gates we should be saying “learn-fast”. Design thinking forces you to be iterative so you can observe what works and what does not. This helps you get to a more refined approach toward a solution. There is power to enduring this kind of iterative mindset because it reveals new dimensions, improvements and insights to the way you work, not just the solution itself.
All I wanted was a Pepsi!
Another area where design thinking can go wrong is the “institutionalizing” of its methods. Design thinking has recently become the darling among large consultancies and in typical fashion, the consultancy has attempted to standardize the approach in the form of a playbook. A playbook appeals to those who want a repeatable process that is easy to scale and refactor as necessary.
Arguably, this is a great way to scale and advocate for design thinking throughout the firm. Therein lies the rub for the execution-oriented consultant — they will simply tear pages out of the playbook without having proper coaching or training. Design thinking, in this instance, starts to look like a hammer seeking nails. So make sure your team has constant coaching or check-in points to ensure the methods are used correctly.
My idea is the best.
Lastly, people run to design thinking to vet an existing idea or solution. At its core, Design thinking requires you to start with the right question, not a solution. Sure, it’s easy to proclaim “Our HR process is broken…” or “The CRM system is too slow…” or even “Our top product has dropped in sales. Let’s spend more Marketing dollars…”
You must start with the correct problem to solve and not just test the appetite for a new piece of technology or business plan. This vetting of your idea can result in the “Love-Time Continuum”. The more time you spend with your idea, the more you fall in love with it. Therefore, when you come up against any resistance or objection to your “solution” your emotions run high, your judgment becomes clouded and you are unable to see the larger problem.
Let’s face it — design thinking is not for everyone or everything. It will take an outgoing and passionate personality to truly deliver and facilitate compelling workshops. However, if you’re not the “outgoing type”, at bare minimum, being a trusted adviser among your peers is a great starting point toward successful working sessions. Equally important is the support of leadership to provide the runway to do the work. Organizations won’t be successful in the adoption of design thinking if this support system isn’t established from the beginning.
What do you do if you don’t have the leadership or mentor-ship to guide you. There are a few public resources you can use today. Jake Knapp, for instance has written a compelling book called SPRINT exploring specific ways design thinking can lead to innovative products and services in under five days. It is written for both those with design thinking DNA and those who are skeptical. Additionally, the folks over at AJ & Smart, (who have partnered with Jake Knapp) explore ways to get started in the world of design sprints.
Let me close with this — design thinking is about doing the right thing versus doing things right. If you want to do “things” right get a project manager. They can help keep up with the busy work. But doing the right thing could be innovating on the next big idea.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that.