Many companies embrace design thinking, but then senior executives get uncomfortable and render the approach nearly useless.
Let me summarize where we are today in design thinking. Design thinking has raised a lot of expectations as well as its fair share of controversy. Why are organizations so caught up by DT? Often, it became the promise of having creative ways to solve solutions and work in harmony with all the rational thinking that dominates much of business thinking today. DT sounded so appealing, it quickly became, “oh, we need some of that.”
So, the marketing of DT kicks in, looking to capitalize and add momentum. DT got heavily promoted. It quickly became sold as a process, just like Six Sigma; it became limited by those jumping on the latest concept not being true design thinkers, apart from attending a short course or two. Then this new process became a little uncomfortable; living alongside more established, rational ones, it was difficult to integrate. So as this new kid on the block struggled, questions were raised on how it complements all the efficiency and effectiveness that is expected around an organization’s dominating mindset? Most people lost the plot that design thinking was different. It was so different, it was human-centered.
The extra fuzziness of design thinking can sit uncomfortably in highly organized and rational structures. Design thinking was looking for those leaps of faith and lots of creativity, but it needed to be separated and contained.
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Organizations are recognition that design thinking is not “plug and play”
When you are asked to be flexible, agile, willing to experiment and often fail, sometimes publicly, this can take you into some very uncomfortable territory. You might like the idea, but will the boss? When you do not have a clear definition of design thinking, of where and how it can actually fit, it continuously suffers from a lack of clear assignment and makes it feel a little bit of an odd-ball. You can be left wondering who executes this and how it might be applied and implemented at scale. Yet it feels useful and needs to be more embraced for its creative value. So, the short answer is: Give everyone a short exposure and let everyone embrace design thinking as the creative avenue for all to explore. It suddenly gets broken down, so it can be repeatable, a step-by-step process. Then, easily enough, we all become design thinkers... or do we?
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Organizations suddenly turned design thinking into a linear, often-gated, by-the-book methodology, and suddenly it is not true design thinking anymore; it becomes just another too linear, too slow and not as bright way to be creative. The dominating thinking about process starts to screw up the freedom within true design thinking. It quickly became boiled down to aiding and supporting the incremental innovation. It loses its real powerful edge of harnessing creativity to solve problems in highly imaginative and insightful ways; it becomes just the encouragement to help thinking along. Leaders start to ask questions about all this design thinking "hype" and begin demanding far more from a design thinking process to tackle their complex problems. Then it is suddenly, “Houston, we have a problem.”
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