Impatient companies trying to incorporate design thinking into their organizations have become frustrated with the whole process and like children who’ve played with a toy so much they’ve worn down the batteries, they’re pouting and saying, “It doesn’t work.”
Here’s the issue, people who don’t fully understand design thinking have made it a “codified process,” effectively pulling the wings off of it. The people I’m speaking of are the corporations looking to capture some of the magic of design thinking. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be able to do anything without making it a Stage-gate process, attempting to apply straight-line thinking to something that eschews straight-line thinking. Anybody see the problem with that? To say design thinking doesn’t work is idiotic, to say there are people trying to implement it that don’t understand it is probably closer to the truth.
Three Principles of Design Thinking
Design thinking works in the hands of people who accept three principles:
1. It’s not a linear process, it’s an iterative exercise. It works by making illogical leaps. This makes some people in a corporate environment very uncomfortable. If I can’t repeat exactly the same success every time, what good is it?
2. It encourages experimentation, which means that there will be failure. Failure makes people uncomfortable. How much is too much? How much is not enough? People also want to codify failure. But that’s not the point. The point is to make a lot of stuff quickly and find out what works and what doesn’t; faster. But when there’s a failure, people get impatient, and scared, even though they might actually get to the solution faster.
3. A lot, not all, corporate environments tend to have a basic hiring guideline that means they get a lot of people who think the same. It’s generally good when everyone is part of a cultural organism, but design thinking encourages us to go outside the boundaries. To look outside the culture that you’re in. Similar people focused on a problem which requires a unique solution often stymies the thinking. The way to get around this is to bring people in that aren’t part of the culture. People who are from the “outside.” People who don’t know the false boundaries that a corporate environment puts around thinking. People who can’t be fired for being challenging. Or fearless. Or crazy.
So to say design thinking doesn’t work is probably a lie. Saying corporations have a challenge implementing it is probably true. They need help to guide them through it.
Is it “Creative Intelligence” of just plain creativity?
Which brings me to a new fad, Creative Intelligence. Now, I don’t know much about creative intelligence, the buzzword, but I’ve been a “creative person” and worked around creative people for most of my life. So I DO know that there are a few basic things that creative people possess that haven’t been cultured in other people. These are:
- A broad curiosity of everything in the world.
- The ability to take dissimilar things and make a connection. To take all the curiosity and all the arcane knowledge and somehow connect the dots to make something new.
- A fundamental lack of fear. To experiment. To throw things away. To start over.
There’s no doubt you can encourage this, nurture it, coddle it. But there will always be people who are better at it than others. Not always necessarily labeled creative people. For example you might find them in the R&D department. They were the kids that wondered what would happen if they mixed shit together. It probably blew up or stunk the place up or some other failed experiment but they are curious and they’ll use the failure to try something new. That, to my mind, is creative intelligence.
But it will suffer the same damning as design thinking when it becomes codified. When everyone has to go to a seminar on curiosity. Or attend a “learning session” called “finding your inner DiVinci.”
What it takes to do design thinking well
The answer, of course, is like everything that’s good. Good is hard. If you want to implement design thinking, creative intelligence or whatever the next thing is, you have to start by having a culture that encourages creativity by hiring people who think differently, encouraging play and banishing fear. Things that are unfortunately anathema to most corporations. Creating that culture is hard. Creativity is hard. There’s no magic process. No magic seminar. No magic book. You can’t institute creativity or codify it. You can only encourage it.