Problem of design thinking

It is easy to treat designing thinking as just another business or management fad. More people are talking about it now than ever, either intentionally or unintentionally. Here are some of my thoughts.

More than just a catchy phrase

Design thinking is more than just a tool that has mesmerised the startup world. I have been studying a doctoral program in education for almost two years now. However, I have only recently come to realise that the program is also basically using a design thinking approach. It stresses on the importance (and possibilities) of qualitative studies (vs quantitative where a certain attribute is statistically linked to a pre-determined result), the relevance of biases, the ‘thick description’ that is necessary in interpreting new phenomenons, the advancement in cognition through ethnography anthropology, the social action and inequality that may be involved, the necessity of deep reflection and the open-endedness required when exploring for new solutions. These may not be phrased as design thinking but they are already powerful movements in the academic world.

We are using it already

Whether or not you are a supporter of design thinking, it is likely you have been using some of its concepts already. Journey mapping, co-creation, visualisation, prototyping/iteration, human-centered/empathy, learning in action are all ‘design tools’ that any modern management and leadership thinking would have incorporated. In another words, it is about getting away from the linear problem solving approach. It is about embracing the bigger problem set (reframing question thereby allowing for more possibilities). It is about not letting pre-determined mindset and solution polluting the better available alternatives. And as horrible as the name may suggests fluffiness (design and thinking are not the most constructive words), it’s about getting in touch with the reality quicker and evolve around it more effectively.

Why it is not working for some?

It’s counter intuitive. As much as everyone is looking for the next innovation and disruption, most people don’t like wide open possibilities. We are taught to define a scope and tackle the problem within it. Our experience has taught us that a problem is not a problem unless it has a solution to it. It feels irresponsible starting a discussion without a fixed agenda. And most of all, we all want to feel we have the right answer already. We all want to be Nostradamus.

Therefore it is hard to ask open questions. It is even harder to listen properly. It is hard to venture into the wilderness of business world. Prototyping and iteration can be seen (and most of the time it is) a waste of energy and resources especially when the end goal is not even that clear. Iteration often sounds more like a convenient excuse for failure.

So what do we do?

Unlike an academic study, the real business world requires collaboration. The more the better. However, unlike in consulting world where a consultant can change the management through calculated workshops and various brainwashing, I mean brainstorming sessions, setting the right context for design thinking is much tougher than it may seem. But this is of paramount importance.

There is no easy solution but I think diversity is the first baby step. I believe the future belong to the ‘multis’. Multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, multi-industry, and most of all, allowing for a multi-view.

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