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Design Thinking – what does it take in complex environments?

Move over ‘innovation’; move over ‘agile’ and ‘lean’. ‘Design thinking’ is the new buzzword in town.

Ok, so it’s not actually that new. As Katja Tschimmel and Mariana Valenca explained during our first class in the SID programme, you can trace the concept back to the design methods movement of the 60s and 70s – and to the work of scholars such as Herbert Simon, Bruce Archer, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber.

But design thinking certainly is receiving new levels of attention. ‘The power of design’ has been hailed on the front pages of Business Week and the Harvard Business Review – whilst the Centre for Public Impact recently mapped it at the peak of the government innovations ‘hype cycle’: “Design is not likely to be the solution for all of our governmental problems, but you wouldn’t be able to tell if you only listened to some speakers at design conferences” wrote Danny Buerkli.


10 government innovations and their place in the hype cycle, by the Centre for Public Impact

A similar story can be told in the non-profit sector, where the growing profile of design thinking has resulted in a proliferation of toolkits and platforms.

Staring at the hype cycle above, and just a few weeks into an MBA in Service Innovation and Design, I wondered how to brace myself for the apparently imminent slide from ‘inflated expectations’ into a ‘trough of disillusionment’. Afterall, as Tim Brown reminds us, “to harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams and whole organisations have to cultivate optimism” (p76).

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