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Why Design Thinking? and Why now?

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

We are in a place in our human history where we are once again actively engaged in re-imagining, re-designing, re-defining, and re-creating our businesses strategies, our products, our workplace norms, our careers. These situations are ripe with wicked problems.

What is a wicked problem? A problem with many interdependent factors making them seem impossible to solve. The factors are often incomplete, in flux, difficult to define and appear contradictory.

What makes a problem wicked?

  • When stakeholders can’t agree on the problem much less the solution.

  • When employees have settled for learned helplessness - reluctant to change their behaviors or take risks.

  • When decision makers have too much data and don’t know what to do with it.

  • When there is no 'done' state and no way to know if the solution is final.

  • When leaders and forced into ego-centric, short-term thinking.

  • When users and customers needs and demands change faster than our ability to deliver them.

With this 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. However, the tools created for predictability and control are optimized for simple or complicated problems. They are no match for our complex and wicked problems.

We need a way, a conduit, an operating system, a way of thinking to have collaborative conversations around these increasingly complex problems. We need a new model to navigate the complexity and messiness. We need a way to collaboratively re-imagine, re-design, re-create and re-build.

How might we engage a broad group of people with differing world views and perspectives to come together to solve a problem? How might we ensure we are focused on the right goal? How might we co-create something that none could have come up with on their own? How might we explore options just enough to pick the ones that really matter? How might we arrive at alignment and consensus? How might we settle on workable solutions that people are willing to embrace, adopt and / or pay for? How might we ensure we have the capability to implement and deliver on the novel ideas?

But, what would a new tool or model look like?

One answer is Design Thinking. It is a disciplined and creative approach that cuts through complexity and messiness. Through its simplicity, it democratizes design and innovation. Through a set of systematic steps and questions, it reliably delivers mini miracles of innovation. Design Thinking is the tool for our knowledge age.

Additionally, as we re-imagine, re-define, re-design, and re-create with Design Thinking…

...we have an opportunity to collaboratively design and co-create a future built for ‘betterness’.

...we have a disciplined and creative approach to awaken new possibilities that can leverage technology but focuses on human-centric value.  

…we make the space to flex and build our much needed and uniquely human qualities of curiosity, empathy, imagination, creativity and discernment.  (With the rapid acceleration of technology, automation and artificial intelligence, they may just come in handy ;-))

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

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