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What is Design Thinking?

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

Design Thinking is a problem solving framework. It offers a structure and process for creative problem solving in uncertain environments, and a mindset and language for collaborative innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. It creates the time for reflection and disagreement.

At its core, Design Thinking is

a. Human Centered.

  • Prioritizes understanding and empathizing with the real people for who we seek to bring value before designing and generating solutions.

  • Invites a diverse set of perspectives as a wisdom network of problem solvers.

  • Engages stakeholders in co-creating solutions.

  • Uses the uniquely human qualities of curiosity, empathy, imagination, creativity and discernment.

b. Awakens New Possibilities.

  • Takes a positive view of problems by reframing them as opportunities and challenges.

  • Leverages the power of imagination with "What If" thinking.

  • Taps into creativity with visualization, story telling, and play.

c. Expands Options.

  • Builds on the ideas of others through "Yes and..." thinking.

  • Expands options with a cascading set of possibilities - possible problems, possible, opportunities, possible solutions, possible experiments and possible outcomes.

  • Explores multiple solutions, acknowledging that some will be wrong.

d. Has a Bias for Action and Learning.

  • Uses hypothesis driven experiments to challenge and validate assumptions and experiment with many different approaches.

  • Takes an iterative approach to refines ideas with real customer feedback.

Design Thinking borrows many techniques from the designers toolkit - hence the word Design and it prioritizes the time needed to reflect and disagree in a world that values efficiency and busy-ness - hence the word Thinking. It is quickly becoming a basic leadership and management capability and recognizes that everyone in the organization is capable of being an innovator.

The process of design thinking is a series of diverging and converging conversations. There are Design Thinking frameworks from 1 to 7 steps. The most popular framework from the Stanford describes 5 steps - Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

With the complexity and messiness of the challenges in front of us, design and innovation can no longer remain exclusive to a few expert thinkers in our organizations, it must exist as a core capability of everyone in the organization. Design Thinking, through it simplicity democratizes design and innovation and offers us the set of tools that are designed for our time.

Inspired by the work of Jeanne Liedtka, Professor of Business Administration at UVA

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