The lone creative genius is dead

Design thinking can be defined as a human-centered approach to problem solving, creativity and innovation that brings along new and more effective solutions (Kaartti 2022; Brown 2019).  Its definition has evolved since the 1990s; with some viewing it as a cognitive process or a mindset, and others seeing it as a toolkit for innovation processes, connecting creative design approaches to business thinking.

Whichever the definition, what is certain is that it allows for exploration occur in multiple contexts and scenarios. As Brown (2019) stated, it is not only for trained professional designers, it is available to people from all disciplines, who wish to master its mindset and methods. 

Tschimmel (2022, 28) presents a five-principle model for design thinking as a process:
1. Human-centered approach, 2. Collaboration, 3. Experimentation, 4. Visualisation and
5. Holistic approach. Whereas Brown (2019) notes design thinking to consist of three spaces of innovation: inspiration, ideation, and implementation; with the steps often overlapping.

Whilst there are several different models for design thinking, they all hold empathy as central, helping create a deep understanding of people and experiences (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser. (2009).

How can design thinking support innovation?

Design thinking can support innovation, helping organisations to differentiate themselves in our fast moving world. Services are becoming more complex, and  ideas can be easily copied; thus design thinking can be used to allow true  innovation to occur.

By supporting the mindset and process to explore, take risks, fail quickly and learn, as well as allowing peoples’ empathetic horizons to be broadened, valuable insights are brought to light, to develop innovative services and products. 

Innovation proves not to be the outcome of the “lone genius inventor”, but rather the result of collaboration, hard work, human-centered discovery, and iterative cycles. As Thomas Edison puts it “Genius is 1%  inspiration and 99% perspiration”. 

Including multiple perspectives early on gives way to complete solutions that bring true value to customers. The designer is not just an add-on at the end, but rather takes part on collecting customer insights to create ideas.

One example for this approach is the Japanese company Shimano, manufacturer of bicycle components. They actively decided to better understand the people outside their core customer base to understand why 90% of American adults don’t ride bikes. This led to identify 4 main insights: intimidation, complexity, cost; and maintenance. Knowing the broader market better, they developed “coasting bikes”, built for pleasure rather than sport. Big manufacturers then began developing new bikes using their components, to reach a new, wider audience.

This is a good example of how design thinking can lead to more innovative solutions, creating breakthrough ideas by using empathy to observe from multiple perspectives and gain deep understanding of their customer’s lives to build value.

Design thinking in action 

On our days studying Design Thinking at Laurea, we followed Mindshake’s 6E model, utilising different design thinking methods to create more innovative sustainability solutions for Laurea. 

Through this experience, we saw first hand that breakthrough ideas–like our student garden– require strategic approaches, such as exploring lots of ideas quickly. We had to actively observe and listen to students and staff to empathise and identify insights through our teams’ multiple perspectives, as creativity also depends on the way it brings value and is perceived.

Overall, we learnt that design thinking is about mindset, collaboration and action. It is an iterative process, well supported by literature and models, but also by exploration, collaboration and willingness. Once you take an open minded approach to employ human-centred discovery, innovation begins to happen. And innovating can only lead to further innovation!

Written by Rosanna Thomasoo, Johanna Lahti and Juliana Romero, students in the Service Innovation and Design programme.


5 thoughts on “The lone creative genius is dead

  1. Your blog post has a great title, it surely got my attention!

    I agree that collaboration and teamwork play a huge part in creativity, ideation and service design. I think it has much to do with inclusiveness and empathy. A lone genius may have his ‘heureka moment’ but it’s virtually impossible for him to create an inclusive design that considers different people and their individual needs. We need diverse teams and empathy to do that.

    Most of the great innovations require hard and patient work – in a team. In my opinion we witnessed that in our Design Thinking class when working in small groups. The group members had different backgrounds and together, following the Design Thinking process, we achieved outcomes that we couldn’t possibly imagine in beforehand. It was amazing to see where the good design process and collaboration can take us.

  2. Firstly, I need to agree with the previous comment, the great title got my attention. And I am happy it did, because it was very nice to read your blog post!

    Nowadays in many, if not most work communities, we try to achieve better results in multidisciplinary teams. I think it goes hand in hand with the topic of your blog post and design thinking. In a team of people with different backgrounds, skills, and ideas, it is possible to highlight the human-centricity and empathy in new innovations.

    As you summarize it in the end of the post: “Design thinking is about mindset, collaboration and action”. I agree, this is what we learned at the workshop working together in teams. For me personally it was also quite eye-opening and motivational to realize that with the right mindset, teamwork, and use of tools, it was possible to get so much further than with just lone thinking.

  3. Thank you for a good blog post. I especially enjoyed the well explained examples. I especially agree with your last chapter, where you wrote that design thinking is a mindset and requires among other things also willingness. I feel this is one of the main aspects why it is still missing in so many companies. The willingness to see the potential, willingness of changing the old ways of thinking, willingness to perhaps take the time to immerse yourself into thinking “what if” and perhaps innovate something in your business.

  4. your example shows the design thinking process and changing the mindset very simply and practically effective. Although there are a lot of quotations, that service the idea, but I think it would be better to reduce them and present some ideas from your understanding. I find this a bright lamp in my head ”fail quickly and learn” as I believe, you have a lot of failures before succeeding, and if you succeed without fail means not learning anything means it is beginner’s luck.

  5. Totally agree with Katja; very captivating headline.)

    First what came to my mind after reading this post, my feeling after our second day class and our group work. How much more observations we can get by sharing and dividing information and listening other students’ feedback /opinion, also without giving responses, only observing and receiving their feedback with empathy. We really went through five -principle model process during the group work and I have noticed from my self that after our classes I already started to use these principles at my work place, as structured it gives more results.

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