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Design Thinking Really Is for Everyone

22 January 2013

Allison did her homework for a five-day Design Thinking train-the-trainer course and is enjoying getting to be a student this week.

Tags: allison read, creativity, culture, design thinking, empathy, uva

Our Vice President, Rachel Brozenske, has been working with Jeanne Liedtka and others at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business to deliver executive education and MBA courses on the topic of design thinking. Right away you may be asking yourself, “What on earth is design thinking?” You’re probably familiar with Apple’s iPhone or other similar breakthrough technologies. If you’re like most people, you probably believe the designers who create these innovative solutions that change the way we live have some sort of innate creative ability that you could never possess. (Otherwise, you would have dreamed up the iPhone.)

These designers do have unique creative abilities, but there are principles they adhere to and tools they use that are available to all of us. Just imagine if you could bring the creative insight of Apple’s designers to all of your business, government, nonprofit, community or individual challenges. That’s the promise of a design thinking approach. When Rachel first started collaborating with Jeanne on this topic, I asked her to give me a high level definition of design thinking. She said,

“Traditional business approaches tend to try to solve problems analytically. They define a problem, look at data in the aggregate, pick a good solution, try to prove it’s right, and make big investments. A design approach looks at problems more generatively. It looks at an individual’s need and dives really deep into specific data early on, generating detail to inspire a lot of possible solutions. Then, rather than picking just one and trying to defend it, a design thinking approach suggests that we should identify each option’s underlying assumptions and try to construct specific ways to test individual assumptions with a goal of learning and iterating to a final solution.”

Sounds pretty cool, right? I often teach our Power of Ideas: Creativity for Everyone course and I am familiar with Jeanne’s research and writing, but that has been the extent of my personal involvement on this topic. So when the opportunity came up for me to attend Rachel’s design thinking train-the-trainer course for some of our clients this week, I happily rearranged my schedule so I could be a student again. (I learn from Rachel every single day and we often sit in on each other’s courses, but it’s a special treat to actually get to be her student for a whole week.)

In preparation for class, I read Designing for Growth: A Thinking Tool Kit for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie. (Rachel wrote a great post about this book when it first came out in 2011.) I also enjoyed reading drafts of some of the chapters from Jeanne’s upcoming book, Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works. (You can be sure someone on our team will blog about it as soon as it's published.)

After my pre-reading and two days of class, I’m definitely convinced that design thinking really is for everyone. (Rachel’s been saying that for years, but experiencing it myself has made me a true believer.) While it’s always nice to attend a class or hire a consultant to help you with something new, the great news is that Jeanne and Tim’s book is practical enough that you can begin to use design thinking as soon as you’re done reading. That’s my very favorite kind of homework and I bet you’ll enjoy it, too.


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