What good is Design Thinking?

Everyone is talking about Design Thinking. Consultants at least, when they are selling something. But does Design Thinking bring any practical benefits? Idris Mootee makes a strong argument that Design Thinking can help organizations in many ways. We will briefly introduce two concepts Mootee talks about, creative culture and importance of predictability that we think are important for organizations to know about.

Creative Culture

Creative culture is about accepting and endorsing two key elements of innovation: uncertainty and ambiguity. And innovation is what organizations should strive for. There are many ways to innovate but one of them is experimentation, where organizations try something, inevitably fail and in the process learn. Through learning organizations are more likely to succeed on the next try. This iterative cycle is an important part of a creative culture and helps to reduce uncertainty and ambiguity. One way to do experimentation in practice is by employing rapid prototyping, as suggested by Mootee.

Innovative cultures are creative cultures.

Idris Mootee

Rapid prototyping is the practice of building some tangible representation of a service concept and its most relevant functions. This representation is called a prototype. For a business person the idea can sound peculiar, but prototyping really helps to bring ideas live in a more concrete manner. Using a prototype to test the service concept with real people will help organization collect feedback and learn what works and what doesn’t. A lot cheaper than actually building a real service. And quite rapid too.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings

Tom & David Kelley, IDEO

Service prototypes don’t have to be complex or expensive but they do need to be tangible enough for people to give useful feedback. Since the idea of a prototype is to communicate an idea, prototypes can vary from simple paper sketches to complex physical set-ups that mimic real life service accurately. Whatever works to get useful feedback.

Predictability

Decision makers spend a lot of time thinking about what the future holds and how to make right decisions. That is because making strategic decisions about the future is hard – we simply never have all the necessary information to weigh all options equally. What would help us make better decisions is if we could identify and understand what trends, smaller and bigger, are happening around us. For identifying trends, Mootee suggests to look for weak signals and creating scenarios to help weigh options.

Weak signals are clues about what is going to happen and what trends are relevant. Identifying and processing weak signals is not exact science, though. It takes time and experience to identify which event or information is significant and reliable enough to be considered a weak signal. Even more experience is needed to process and combine weak signals into something useful. Organizations should be looking for weak signals in academic research, media, trends in politics, what innovations start-ups are coming up with and what their competitors are doing, among other things. Processing weak signals and using the insights gained to identify trends and create scenarios is what helps understand what future might hold.

Scenarios are possible futures, in a nutshell. Organizations try to predict what the world looks like in, say, five years from now. Like weak signals, scenario building is not exact science – we are essentially making assumptions based on our assumptions about which trends are relevant. That is why it is important to be honest and validate underlying assumptions as much as possible. In the end, though, scenarios are simply tools that help organizations focus their efforts and give more information to base decisions on. Assumptions based on solid background work are still better than pure speculation.

Written by Kati Lehto & Kimmo Holm, SID MBA Students at Laurea University of Applied Sciences

References:

Brown, Tim (2008). Design Thinking: How to deliver on a Great Plan. Harvard Business Review June 2008, 84-95.

Mootee, Idris (2013). Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School. Wiley.

Tschimmel, Katja (2021). Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation. In Perspectives on Design II. Ed. Springer “Serie in Design and Innovation”. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-79879-6.

Sitra. Megatrends 2020 – https://www.sitra.fi/en/topics/megatrends

Prototyping User Experience :: UXmatters

2 thoughts on “What good is Design Thinking?

  1. Thank you Kati and Kimmo for a very interesting blog!
    I like that you took the future-oriented perspective on Design Thinking and emphasized the importance of rapid prototyping in the innovation process. Scanning weak signals and building scenarios sounds like a very creative activity and I am sure we will have to practice those methods during our projects very soon. It’s also great that you mentioned Sitra Megatrends. They are very useful and I know that earlier you could even order from them Megatrend cards for free. That is a very nice tool for team discussions and it helps to get off the ground when you feel stuck in the brainstorming process.
    Cheers, Lada

  2. Thank you for your thoughts on how do creativity and design thinking contribute to business success. It makes companies competitive, promotes corporate culture, increases productivity, and helps solve problems. But the main thing is that it changes the world! Therefore, creative individuals in the right companies are welcomed with open arms.
    In your blog you also mention rapid prototyping, the keyword for me here is “rapid”. The world is changing rapidly, the development of events is impossible to predict. That’s why a new generation of creative people make the world around them intuitive and build quick test solutions. In this sense, the creative economy is the economy of the future.

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