What began at Stanford University a half century ago as a way to merge art, science, and business, has turned into one of the most well-recognized methodologies for innovation.
Design thinking is practical, human-centered, and prototype-driven. It helps teams of diverse people tackle fuzzy, ill-defined challenges in creative ways. These challenges can come in many shapes and sizes, for example, the development of new products, services, and experiences; the design of business models; or the structuring of organizational systems.
As design thinkers, we begin by focusing on the human experience. We understand that the most impactful innovations are those that address important human needs in meaningful ways. To understand these needs, we adopt a deeply empathic perspective by standing in the shoes of others, and experiencing life from their perspective. This is not new, however. Anthropologists have been doing this for generations. Design thinking simply relays this powerful approach to address the challenges of modern-day organizations.
Fail early to succeed sooner
Design thinkers embrace iterations by building rough and rapid prototypes, and testing them early on. At first this can feel chaotic and risky. Design thinkers quickly adopt trial and error, and value the immediate feedback that it provides. We're open to small, early failures, which eventually pave the way to success. We don't, however, think that failure is fun. That would be disingenuous. All we do is train ourselves—and our teams—to embrace failure for the learning opportunity that it really is.
Design thinkers understand that with the right approach, our minds can become boundless. Quite often, however, the flow of creative ideas becomes obstructed by social constructs, self-imposed limitations, and personal biases, which we inevitably adopt as we grow older. Design thinkers learn to break these mental blocks by deferring judgement, letting go of unhelpful preconceptions, building on the ideas of others, and bringing deep awareness to everything that we do.
Q'S OVER A'S
Design thinkers focus more on asking the right questions than coming up with the right answers. This is because the goal of design is not to discover an existing truth through traditional analytical thinking. That's the role of science. Instead, design thinkers seek to invent the future through synthesis. And because there is no single 'right future,' but instead many 'possible futures,' asking the right questions helps us explore multiple possibilities—eventually honing in on the most appropriate one.
Although some independent thinking can be good for idea generation, design thinkers recognize early on that meaningful, human-centered innovations can only flourish through socialization. Design thinkers constantly seek opportunities for radical collaboration and co-creation. It is through the cross-pollination of various ideas, perspectives, and approaches that the creative process flourishes. We leverage diversity in all its forms—gender, cultural, academic, professional—to break with the status quo.
Designing and innovating is inherently ambiguous and messy. Design thinkers embrace this non-linearity and chaos through open-mindedness, flexibility, and a youthful sense of experimentation and play. We acknowledge that micromanaging the innovation process is not only futile, but also counterproductive. Design thinkers revel in uncertainty, improvise constantly, trust their gut feeling, and laugh a lot. We don't take ourselves too seriously, but we take what we do very seriously.