What David Kelley, founder of IDEO and designer of some of the early Apple products, Dave Evans, founder of EA (Electronic Arts) and the first Apple mouse and Bernie Roth, co-founder of the Stanford d.school taught me about Design Thinking in an exclusive workshop at Stanford University. Plus some extra hot stuff I scraped together from the internet to make this article worth your time.
Take two very abstract words and throw em together. What do you have? Design Thinking! Chances are you’ve heard about Design Thinking, maybe even applied it, but do you really know what it is or how to explain it? Let me ask the question a different way — How would you explain Design Thinking to a 6-year-old? Think about it for a second (no really, challenge yourself and take a moment and think about it).
Ok, let me give you my two cents on it. You wouldn’t need to explain it to a 6-year-old because that’s all they do! It’s their only kind of thinking. So now that we reframed Design Thinking as childlike thinking it’s easier to describe what it is. So how would you describe it? Let’s give it a shot.
“Design Thinking aims to remove all constraints from your thought process. The laws of physics, financial theory, reality as we know it — all gone! It’s basically science fiction at this point. But at the same time it’s not.”
A Million reasons why… not?
For adults, these constraints end up being reasons why our ideas and solutions won’t work. We stop the creative process before it even started. Bernie Roth, co-founder of the Stanford d.school has a big sign that says:
“Reasons are Bullshit!”
The reason for this is that the part in our brain that is responsible for reasoning only activates after we say something. More often than not, we speak first, think about it and only then explain our reasoning, falling ill to bias that reasoning led us to what we said, while in reality, it’s the other way around.
Roth is in good company with his blatant statement. In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, author and researcher Daniel Kahnemann outlines how we think. His research in behavioral economics, which he conducted together with Amos Tversky, was awarded the Nobel prize of Economics in 2002. Here is a 2-minute video explaining how our decisions are made in two different sections of our brain.
What does that mean for you or your company trying to apply design thinking? Don’t judge someone else’s idea, no matter how expensive, silly or unrealistic it is! Fight the urge to tell the person how ridiculous they sound!
Because the next step is telling them WHY you think it’s ridiculous and that just gets you somewhere you don’t want to go — it gets you back to reasoning, hindering true creativity. What I learned is one of the best ways to fight that urge is to laugh it off. Laughter or an even better, a charming chuckle or smile is rocket fuel for the creative process. It encourages participants to see challenges as opportunities to be taken, instead of problems to be solved. In a perfect world, given you were able to hold back your instincts in telling people why something won’t work, you came up with a few ideas. That takes you to the next step which is “doing.”
Just do it!
Tell me you read this slogan and didn’t think about Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods or another athlete. Many of you might even have an elevated pulse or dilated pupils just from reading this slogan. Why? Because it speaks to the fast-thinking part of our brain, which is system 1 (system I is impulsive, automatic and intuitive while system II is thoughtful, deliberate and calculating). But guess what? Read it a few more times and it loses it’s effect because you’re starting to push it over to system 2 of your brain, the slow thinking part. You start picking it apart, thinking about what it truly means, while all it truly means is not to do what you just did — picking it apart.
“Trying and doing are two different states of mind.”
The home of “Doing” is system 1, where you just go after it. The home of “Trying” is in system 2, where you dissect the slogan first into 3 separate words, then 8 different letters and last but not least, geometrical figures that happen to look like letters.
I do want to highlight the fact that one system isn’t inherently better than the other. Both systems are useful and have their applications. However, one thing is for sure — “trying” has no place in Design Thinking. Don’t just try to quiet your inner critic, shut him/her up for good!
Silence is better than bullshit (or critique)
The reality is that we hate silence — it feels awkward and unwanted. The problem with our war on silence is twofold:
- First, we start processing our thoughts verbally — and let me tell you, some of these thoughts were not meant to be shared with others. Our own thoughts are not only our biggest critic, but they’re also the biggest critic of others. What happens is that we end up shooting down ideas before they can be fully developed. This is lethal to the creative process.
- The second problem is that our attempts at filling the silence with the spilling of our thoughts end up leaving no room for the ideas and creativity of others — another lethal threat to the creative process.
“Creatives want to be heard, they don’t need to be understood.”
Making creatives feel heard is vitally important to the health of companies, especially the ones that differentiate themselves on outstanding design and intuitive user experience. Take for example Jony Ive, Apple’s legendary head of design, who is speculated to have left the company due to too little interaction with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Companies such as Apple live off of people who have crazy ideas because it’s those crazy ideas that drive innovation.
The Harvard Business Review has an interesting article on “Managing the Crazy Ideas Conundrum”, that touches on the dangers of not allowing crazy ideas all throughout the organization, but instead “silo-ing” it to only a handful of people. In my experience, this is the case in several (especially) European companies where innovation is usually a department, rather than a modus operandi. This is an absurd approach to innovation and the reason why many (European) companies find it so difficult to innovate. But back to design thinking — how do you bring all these ideas back to a focus point again? Keep reading.
Specificity = authenticity
Now, say you’ve opened up the creative process, ideas are flowing, everyone on the teams feels heard and enough raw ideas are on the table. This is the time where you slowly introduce the constraints of physics, financials or logic back into the thinking process and you slowly reduce the number of potential solutions back to a select few. This is where specificity in the form of a basic game plan comes into play.
This is the critical point where organizations have to decide whether they want to keep fancying themselves with the idea of innovation or if it can take the first step towards taking action.
The level of specificity in the action plan decides over the authenticity of the action plan. Or like Dave Evans would say:
“Specificity leads to authenticity.”
And from here on out you’re on your own. You are the expert in your industry, so only you can bring specificity into your project to steer it towards a successful project. You’re left with JUST DOING IT! Not the slogan, but the actual doing.
Where do you go from here?
This is where my notes end and innovation starts. For all of you, who have made it this far, I collected some more curated resources on Design Thinking:
- David Kelley’s TED talk on “How to build your creative confidence”
- David Kelley’s TED talk on “Human-centered design”
- IDEO’s framework on design thinking
- HBR article on “Why design thinking works”
Leave a comment if you have any questions and let me know if this helped. If you want to connect please make sure to add a note to your request, letting me know why you want us to get connected — or just follow my account so you can stay up to date on new articles or posts. Thank you for reading!