Tag problem-solving

“We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways.” – Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer …*

"We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways." - Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi is a Singapore based interaction designer. You may recall seeing him on rethinked …* a few months back when I featured his prototype for a “wearable tool to assist learning,” Grasp. Grasp, a timely and thoughtful design provocation, prompts us to question our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments. It is representative of Akarsh’s broader body of work which focuses on projects that bridge the gap between physical and digital life by applying computational methods in design and creative contexts. I am delighted to share his interview with you today. Connect with Akarsh, @akarshsanghi.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The latest project I have been working on is trying to understand the idea of creating urban trails in a city. Today we are able to navigate urban areas with the help of various mapping applications available on our mobile devices, but that is usually a static approach, since it is only to get a job done i.e. get you from one destination to another. But I believe there is a much stronger emotional value in exploring a city by following a trail created by somebody else. The experiences that this kind of serendipity can provide can amount to something great for an individual who is exploring a new place. This is an ongoing experiment in Singapore where I am currently based.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

The one thing I fear most is getting myself involved in a project or an organization in which I lose interest or faith in while in the middle of it. As a designer, I am constantly thinking and developing new ideas and putting them out into the world. But while being committed to a project in which I lose faith half-way through, it becomes extremely frustrating to see it through till the end. Some ways in which I try to avoid this situation is by having adequate research and knowledge about what I am getting into. Also you have to completely believe in your own vision that you are trying to achieve irrespective of what other’s have to say about it, and do your best in achieving that.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I very strongly believe in the idea of applying existing forms of technology in the most creative and innovative contexts to solve some of the most pressing problems in society. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we are trying to create something new. There are numerous situation, contexts, problems and people who are still untapped by the use of modern technology. To cater for those segments of society, we have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways. There are times when I feel extremely disappointed while working with some big organizations, since they are constantly resisting change and are so afraid to take risks in any form.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Everything that Elon Musk has done in the past decade, whether it is in space exploration, electric cars, solar energy and the latest idea of introducing home batteries. It is inspiring to see and entrepreneur born from the Internet Age has taken up and succeeded in businesses which were earlier restricted only to men and women in white coats working in research laboratories. His work clearly showcases that an idea however crazy or absurd it may sound at the time, can be pursued to alter the way humanity progresses.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

I wouldn’t really say that I have had one transformational moment in my life till now (I am 24 years old) but when I was able to create small projects and put them online which other people could use and give feedback was extremely enriching for me. It really motivated me to continue creating and putting ideas out in the world. You never know what form those ideas take once they are out of your system.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

At some point of time I want to look back at my life and sum up all the experiences I have collected, the journey I have been through, the people I have come across, the work I have done in one words, i.e. “FUN”

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Being able to distinguish between First Principles and Intuition. Some of the most powerful entities that a human possesses can do wonders in difficult situations where one can make decisions based on formal logic or a simple gut call.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can we develop tools and communities to bridge the gap between physical and digital lives of people by empowering them to control the technology and not the other way around?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Books

  • Evocative Objects: Things we think with by Sherry Turkle
  • Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Films

  • P.K. by Rajkumar Hirani [Hindi film challenging the traditional ways in which we see god and religion]
  • The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum
  • Interstellar by Christopher Nolan
  • The Prestige by Christopher Nolan

Essays

  • By Isaac Asimov [access here]
  • By Bret Victor [access here]

. . . * 

THANK YOU, AKARSH!

Milton Glaser on Why Doubt Is Better Than Confidence, How How You Live Changes Your Brain & How to Surround Yourself With People That Energize You …*

I was thrilled to discover Milton Glaser‘s essay, 10 Things I Have Learnt, which he adapted from a talk that he gave at a conference for the American professional association for design in 2011. While the lessons Glaser learned over the course of his long and immensely successful career are aimed primarily at other designers, many of his insights (which I’ve previously featured here and here), speak to all individuals compelled by the desire to live full and meaningful lives. I have selected some highlights from three of the lessons that Glaser shares, which I found particularly relevant to rethinkers * but be sure to head over to Design Indaba for the full essay, which is well worth a read in its entirety.

Enjoy

 DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CONFIDENCE

 

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a yoga class where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believe you have achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course, we must know the difference between skepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins.

HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN 

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. He believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have.

I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of four or five, after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed.

Well, what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street, my brain could be affected and my life might change. That is why your mother always said, “Don’t hang out with those bad kids.” Mama was right.

I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC. AVOID THEM. 

In the 1960s there was a man named Fritz Perls who was a Gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history; it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much, but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired, then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy, you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

Source: Milton Glaser’s “10 Things I Have Learnt”

{ IDEO U } An Online School To Help You Unlock Your Creative Potential & Build Your Problem-Solving Skills …*

{ IDEO U } An Online School To Help You Unlock Your Creative Potential & Build Your Problem-Solving Skills ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from IDEO U website

 

“Our goal is to take you from learning to doing to affecting change in whatever you do.”

Rethinkers …* delight, there’s an awesome new learning resource from one of our favorite companies: IDEO U. IDEO U is an online school for leaders to build their creative confidence while learning and refining their problem-solving capacities.

There’s no shortage of challenges to tackle in the world. We believe the world needs more creative leaders who can deeply understand diverse needs, think of radical solutions, and confidently experiment their way forward. IDEO U is an online school where leaders can unlock their creative potential and build their problem-solving skills.

Sign up for IDEO U’s very first course, Insights for Innovation, to explore new ways of solving problems. The course, which costs $399, will be open from March 23, 2015 to May 8, 2015. Students will be able to complete the course at their own pace during that time frame. The key takeaway of the course will be:

  • A flexible skill set for uncovering insights
  • Completed work that you can share
  • Tools to help you continue to practice after the course ends

Head over to IDEOU.com to learn more about the school and check out the first course.

learn, do, rethink …*

“I want to create a mystery, not to solve it” – Making the Ordinary Unknown to Enhance Creativity, Learning & Innovation …*

“I want to create a mystery, not to solve it” - Making the Ordinary Unknown to Enhance Creativity, Learning & Innovation ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

“Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives, but also diminished relations between people; these have been dragged, so to speak, from the river of infinite possibilities and stuck on the dry bank where nothing happens. For it is not only sluggishness that makes human relations so unspeakably monotonous, it is the aversion to any new, unforeseen experience we are not sure we can handle.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This quote from Rilke, which I found on Brain Pickings, captures this week’s theme and a core principle of our team: the need to embrace and practice making the ordinary unknown.

Over on The Guardian, Charlie Skelton makes an intriguing point about René Magritte’s art sharing structural similarities to comedy, in that both hinge on making the ordinary unknown:

Magritte once said: “I want to create a mystery, not to solve it.” Still, without trying to “solve” these compositions, we can at least examine their construction. It’s noticeable that many of the techniques Magritte uses for creating his mysterious images are to be found in comedy writing. His pictures are frequently structured like jokes.

[…]

A good comic can take something mundane and familiar and make you see it an unexpected way, whether it’s Dave Chappelle talking about “grape drink”, or Louis CK ranting about his four-year-old daughter. Magritte will do the same by sticking a silk mask on an apple. Or having a cloud enter a room by a door. Magritte “transformed the everyday” says Professor Elza Adamowicz of Queen Mary University, London. He “created a world of irrational juxtapositions, which shake us out of our comfortable expectations”. These irrational juxapositions have the stripped-down clarity of a one-liner. “His style is neutral in a way,” says Camu. “He wanted to make surreal propositions without distracting the viewer with style or painterly surfaces.”

[…]

For Magritte, all the world’s a stage, and existence is throughly absurd. His aim is to make us see the absurdity, to jolt us out of dumb acceptance – “to make us think and imagine outside the box”, as Adamowicz puts it. To stop seeing the world as one uncomplicated thing. With Magritte, everything is something else as well. Owls are plants. Balustrades are people. Shoes are feet. And paintings are jokes. Knock knock. Who’s there? A cloud.

This focus on shifting our frame of reference and its ties to comedy reminded me of Tina Seelig, who has often mentioned jokes as a fun and effective way to practice reframing one’s perspective to enhance creativity and innovation capacities:

There are some entertaining ways to practice changing your perspective. One of my favorites is to analyze jokes. Most are funny because they change the frame of the story when we least expect it. Here is an example:

Two men are playing golf on a lovely day. As the first man is about to tee off, a funeral procession goes by in the cemetery next door. He stops, takes off his hat, and bows his head.
The second man says, “Wow, you are incredibly thoughtful.”
The first man says, “It’s the least I could do. She and I were married for 25 years.”

As you can see, the frame shifts in the last line. At first the golfer appears thoughtful, but he instantly turns into a jerk when you learn that the deceased person was his wife.

Another classic example comes from one of the Pink Panther movies:

Inspector Clouseau: Does your dog bite? 
Hotel clerk: No. 
Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog] Nice doggie. [he dog bites Clouseau’s hand.]
Clouseau: I thought you said you dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.

Again, the frame shifts at the end of the joke when you realize they are talking about two different dogs. Take a careful look at jokes, and you will find that the creativity and humor usually come from shifting the frame.

Reframing problems takes effort, attention, and practice, and allows you to see the world around you in a brand-new light. You can practice reframing by physically or mentally changing your point of view, by seeing the world from others’ perspectives, and by asking questions that begin with “why.” Together, these approaches enhance your ability to generate imaginative responses to the problems that come your way.

Source: How Reframing A Problem Unlocks Innovation 

Speaking of Seelig, over on Boston.comSanjay Salomon has an article about “failure resumes” where he highlights some pointers given to him in a phone interview by Seelig.

A “failure resume” is not a document of personal missteps that you send to potential employers or post on your LinkedIn profile. Instead, it’s a private exercise is meant to make students, job-seekers, employees, and others confront, acknowledge, and learn from their mistakes in order be wiser when the next challenge arises.

Seelig requires each of her students to complete a failure resume to help them “realize that viewing their experiences through the lens of failure forces them to come to terms with the mistakes they have made along the way and to extract important lessons from them.”

My students have to look at their mistakes from different angles, and to prepare for next time they face a similar challenge,” said Seelig. “It’s important to mine your failure in order to learn.”

In her blog “CreativityRulz,” Seelig explains that items listed on a failure resume can include professional, personal, or even social blunders. Students are supposed to outline what they learned from the experience in order “to extract important lessons from them.” Seelig told Boston.com the failure resume is a helpful way to get students out of their comfort zones.

“Students are used to looking at their lives through the lens of success,” said Seelig. “But if you’re only looking at your success, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn from your failures. You’re also being disingenuous, since the road to success is riddled with failure.”

Source: Can a Failure Resume Help You Succeed?

Is this something you’ve tried? I’m rather intrigued by the idea and I’m hoping to carve out some time this weekend to get started on my own failure resume.

reframe, learn, create & innovate …*

A Whimsical Video Game That Boosts Your Creative Confidence By {re}Framing Writing As A Problem-Solving Puzzle …*

A Whimsical Video Game That Boosts Your Creative Confidence By {re}Framing Writing As A Problem-Solving Puzzle ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I’ve previously featured an intriguing take on a “chance meeting” between video games and philosophy —Greg Edward’s 8-Bit Philosophy series--but today’s project, Dejobaan Games‘s Elegy For A Dead World, looks specifically at what might result from combining writing with video games. Elegy is an experimental online game in which, “you explore long dead civilizations inspired by British Romance-Era poems, and write about them.”

In Elegy for a Dead World, you travel to distant planets and create stories about the people who once lived there.

Three portals have opened to uncharted worlds. Earth has sent a team of explorers to investigate them, but after an accident, you are the sole survivor. Your mission remains the same: survey these worlds and write the only accounts of them that outsiders will ever know.

The game is out now on Windows, Mac, and Linux on Steam.

What I particularly love about this game is its mission to help everyone write –

“We created Elegy so that everyone can write. As you explore, the game helps you create the narrative.”

All too often, people shy away from creative pursuits because of the skewed beliefs they hold about their own creativity. They’ve been told in school, by peers or adults that they are not creative, that they’re not good writers, painters or photographers. This fixed mindset take on creative pursuits is terribly limiting and is based on a core belief that creativity is a set, static and predetermined capacity that only some possess. Yet, writing, like all creative pursuits, is not about waiting to be struck by the muse. Sure, inspiration is important in the creative process but even that is something that can be cultivated. What Elegy does is reframe the act of writing from being accessible only to the very few who experience bouts of seemingly inexplicable inspiration, to a form of problem-solving game.

Each world offers multiple sets of prompts, each intended to inspire you to write a different story about it. Elegy might ask you to write a short story about an individual’s final days, a song about resignation, or a poem about war. In the more advanced levels, you’ll sometimes get new information halfway through your story which casts a new light on things and forces you to take your story in a different direction. We like to think of those as puzzles — writing yourself out of a corner, so to speak.

play, write & rethink . . . * 

 Hat tip: Experimental Game Turns Players into Poets and Writers

How do you make toast? {The design world and visual problem solving…*}

One of my courses this semester is called Visual Thinking, and we are studying how visual representations facilitate communication and thought. I am excited to share more with you as the course progresses, but when I found this TED talk last week, I thought it the perfect segue between design thinking (something we love here at rethinkED…*) and the power of visual explanations

Tom Wujec is a designer who specializes in visualization. In his new TED talk – Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast – he discusses the “design thinking way” of confronting a challenge: making your ideas visible, tangible, and consequential. 

How do you make toast…* ??

He explains his theory by starting off with a simple problem-solving exercise. How do you make toast? He has asked thousands of people and teams to draw their toast-making methods for him.

[All images from www.drawtoast.com/gallery ]

Systems Models Thinking…*

While the drawings demonstrate differences in the processes and focus of the act, one thing they all have in common is their structure; almost all of the drawings have nodes, representing tangible objects, and links, forming the connections between them. These combinations create the systems models that make our mental models of “how something works” visible. You can measure the complexity of a mental model by the number of nodes, and Wujec has found that most have between 5 and 13 nodes to be visually effective.

Semantic_Network_7_Nodes_6_Links

What these systems models illustrate is that we intuitively all know how to break down complex things into simple things.

The power of sticky notes and groups…*

Interestingly, Wujec has found that variants of the draw toast exercise can create better outcomes. For instance providing movable cards or sticky notes leads to better systems. People tend to develop nodes and then rearrange them like lego blocks. The malleability of the nodes facilitates rapid iteration of expressing and reflecting. In essence, it’s the design process.

Additionally, in a group, it gets REALLY messy for a while, but ultimately people build on each other ideas and the final model integrates a diversity of viewpoints, with branches and parallel patterns to represent different paths to the solution.

The Visual Revolution…*

Wujec states that he has been seeing a visual revolution in business – people are beginning to pick up on this trend and collaboratively draw out their challenges and problems. Through this process of iterative refinement of nodes and links, organizations find clarity. While the final models are important, the conversations around the models are important too.

Wujec’s ideas have much in common with the design thinking process of Design Thinking for Educators (more about this in a blog post here), which places an emphasis on iteration, collaboration, and the power of the sticky note.

However, the idea of creating a systems model for your problems is a new and useful one. It is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with a daunting challenge. Breaking it up into small manageable pieces, and using the “sticky note” method to keep these fluid and iterate on one’s ideas can result in surmountable steps to solutions. Wujec invites us to try this method with his website drawtoast.com and concludes, so the seemingly trivial design exercise of drawing toast helps us get clear, engaged and aligned. 

Watch the video below:

 

{ A News Source With A Bias For Inspiration …* } Not Impossible Now- Inspiring Content That Compels Action

{ A News Source With A Bias For Inspiration ...* } Not Impossible Now- Inspiring Content That Compels Action | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Not Impossible Now Homepage

 

I hadn’t yet made it out of my bed this morning when I found out about the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Tragically, this is not an isolated event–every day brings more news of war, famine, disease, violence, corruption and hatred. This relentless deluge of horrific news each and every day is heartbreaking, outrageous and can often contribute to a sense of hopelessness. What can I, as an individual, do to affect change in the face of such wicked problems? Which challenge(s) do I focus on when there are so many that need to be addressed so urgently? Where and how do I start? It is sometimes easier to give in to the demotivation of so much bad news and let “action fatigue” take over.

Which is where Not Impossible Now comes in–By finding and telling compelling stories about real people in which old tech is repurposed and new tech is brought within reach, Not Impossible creates a cycle where collaboration inspires innovation, and our content compels you to action.

On Not Impossible Now you will be greeted with articles titled How A Lamp Powered By Gravity Can Improve the Health of MillionsNew App Helps Children With Autism Improve Eye Contact, Smart Skin Could Help People With Prosthetics Regain Sense of Touch,  Need a New Knee? Try 3D. It just keeps going with the awesome news about the innovative ways in which people are harnessing technology in the service of humanity and the positive impact they are creating.

While nobody can do everything, everybody can do something, so we crowdsource our solutions to real-world problems. Suddenly, yesterday’s pipe dreams are Not Impossible Now!

By helping one person we can all inspire others to do the same – it’s our “Help One Help Many” philosophy and it breaks down barriers, enabling greater access to all in need.

I absolutely love this idea, which, unsurprisingly, comes from the fabulous Not Impossible team. I’ve made it my homepage so that each day, before finding out about all the bad news, I can get a shot of inspiration and engage my bias for action.

Discover, be inspired & act …*

Questions Are a Tool to Organize Our Thinking Around What We Don’t Know …*

“If you look at the research, a four year old girl is asking as much as 300 questions a day. And when kids go into school, you see this steady decline that happens as they go through the grade levels to the point where questioning in schools, by Junior High School is almost at zero.” – Warren Berger

While Berger acknowledges that there are multiple reasons behind this alarming decline in questioning, the key culprit that he highlights is the large bias for answers that dominates the culture of our education system. If, however, “questioning enables us to organize our thinking around what we don’t know,” it is a critical capacity for navigating and thriving in the 21st century. In a time such as ours, where the pace of change keeps accelerating, where uncertainty is omnipresent and wicked problems proliferate, it is imperative that we teach our students to become fluent thinking in questions. Berger suggests checking out The Right Question Institute, which has a set of tools and resources to help children build their questioning skills.

How do you help your students grow as questioners? 

Questions Are the New Answers – Warren Berger via Big Think

{ Managing the Fear of Change } 7 Interventions to Make Big Changes Feel Small & Achievable …*

In this TEDxTalk, conflict mediator and strategist, Priya Parker shares seven interventions to overcome the fear of change that so often paralyzes and keeps us from living the deeply meaningful and impactful lives we long for. The seven experiments that Priya suggests are based on research in neuroscience, business management, conflict resolution and the arts and share the common aim of making big changes feel small and achievable:

  1. The Obituary Test
  2. The Passion Comic Strip
  3. The Backward Elevator Test
  4. The Life Sentence
  5. The Dwindling Cash Experiment
  6. The Habit of Helping Others
  7. The Farewell Party Evite

watch, experiment & rethink …

Buzzwords Can Be Dangerous If They Don’t Promote Sustainable Changes In Thinking, Doing & Shared Understanding …*

Buzzwords Can Be Dangerous If They Don’t Promote Sustainable Changes In Thinking, Doing & Shared Understanding ...* | rethinked.org

You may find the confession I’m about to make a bit strange given how central design thinking is to our team’s work as well as my rethinked*annex side project. But here it goes: I am sick and tired of talking about design thinking. As you know, design thinking is a huge buzzword right now in innovation and management circles. Unfortunately, most conversations and articles about the discipline center on either embracing it as a cure-all methodology for every single one of our innovation and creativity woes or decrying it as a depthless, overhyped, passing fad. I find these two binary views to critically miss the point about what design thinking is and what it can offer.

Just yesterday, browsing LinkedIn’s “Management Consulting” news tab, I found two separate articles detailing the woes of design thinking. In “Design Thinking” Destroyed Us, Brian de Haaff  writes:

The problem is when this approach is fervently adopted as the only approach to solving challenges and delivering great customer experiences. And this is where it all went wrong. Everything looked like a problem that we could “design think” our way out of to the UX teams.

Even problems that no one on the product team thought were customer or business problems became ripe for long design-centered studies by people who never previously spoke with customers and definitely did not grok our product.

I see three big problems with the above passage. First, nothing about design thinking mandates that it should be embraced as a step by step recipe. “When this approach is fervently adopted as the only approach to solving challenges” –who is doing the fervent, exclusive, adoption? That is a result of the company’s culture and management, not the discipline of design thinking itself. The second issue is the “long design-centered studies” that he describes. As IDEO’s Kelley brothers like to say, “Fail faster, succeed sooner.” Design thinking is about rapid prototyping and iteration, not months of market research. Also, and perhaps more worryingly, why are these studies being conducted by people who are not at all plugged in to the environment of the challenge they are trying to solve–those “people who never previously spoke with customers and definitely did not grok our product”? If there were a design thinking mandate it would be to empathize. Design thinking is, above all, human-centered–meaning the solutions focus on the actual perspective and experience of the people invested in the challenge, not on unexplored assumptions of what that experience might be.

The third big issue here is “everything looked like a problem that we could “design think”.” I think this statement reflects a serious misunderstanding of the design thinking process. It is not simply a list of steps to problem solve, it’s a way to explore and redefine the problem landscape to uncover more holistic and potent solutions. One of the major benefits of design thinking is how richly it allows one to explore and reframe the problem one is trying to solve. In design thinking, teams use an initial definition of the challenge at hand as a springboard for further exploration. I have never participated in a design thinking challenge where the initial statement of the problem wasn’t later reframed and recrafted.

de Haaff goes on to list some of the specific reasons why his company’s “application of design thinking destroyed progress and fractured the UX groups from the product and engineering teams“:

“The core issue was that design thinking fundamentally requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions must be created for consideration and testing.” 

Again, design thinking doesn’t fundamentally require anything–it’s a tool. If you had to mow your lawn and you had at your disposal a lawn mower and a pair of scissors and decided to use the scissors, when you found yourself exhausted and discouraged at having wasted your afternoon cutting only a small patch of grass with your scissors instead of finishing the job in an hour with the lawn mower, you wouldn’t blame your scissors for the poor outcome, would you? Tools are just tools, their impact and effectiveness depends on how we choose to use them.

I do not mean to pick on Mr. de Haaff, but I think his article illustrates a lot of the problematic ways in which design thinking is being framed and experienced. Design thinking is a human-centered problem solving methodology–it gives us a framework and a set of tools to problem solve. It is neither a miracle nor a curse, it is what we make it. Which is what makes Tamara Christensen‘s interview on think jar collective about Demystifying Design Thinking such a refreshing and important read:

Buzzwords can be dangerous if they don’t promote sustainable changes in thinking and doing, and shared understanding. They can be easily dismissed. Ironically, I find that most designers have trouble clarifying exactly how they think and making their own process explicit for others. The most simple definition of design that I use is by Herbert Simon, from Sciences of the Artificial (MIT Press, 1969) where he describes design as “transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones”. Design thinking, therefore, is basically about the kind of mental activity that facilitates this transformation. Fortunately IDEO and the d.school at Stanford (among others) have done a great job of promoting the process and providing a wealth of information about how it’s done and why it’s valuable.

I think the biggest obstacle to understanding Design Thinking is to treat it as a rigid process, a series of steps that must be followed in a particular sequence. I have seen this happen time and again when a team tries to apply Design Thinking with questionable success and then decides “Design Thinking doesn’t work.” In reality, what doesn’t work is treating Design Thinking like a recipe that must be adhered to. It is more like a mindset, multiple modes of thinking and doing that are iteratively utilized as the project requires. Design Thinking is first and foremost about people and keeping them at the center of the process.

The most common modes are Empathize (with humans), Frame (an opportunity from the perspective of a human), Ideate (about how to address the opportunity), Prototype (possible solutions) and Test (your ideas with people using the prototypes).

IN MY EXPERIENCE THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL THINGS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT DESIGN THINKING (AS A PROCESS AND A MINDSET) ARE:

  1. It is human-centered and people-powered, keep stakeholders engaged as much as possible.
  2. Empathy is an essential and transformational experience for fueling creativity.
  3. Prototyping is about building to think and test ideas. The faster we fail, the better.

Source: Demystifying Design Thinking: Interview With Tamara Christensen via Think Jar Collective

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