design thinking

DESIGN THINKING SERIES || Part 1 of 4: Busting the myths on Design Thinking

DESIGN THINKING SERIES || Part 1 of 4: Busting the myths on Design Thinking

design thinking

George Panakal


The buzzword of the third millennium so far has been ‘Design Thinking.’ So, what is it?


The definition of design thinking will depend on whom you are asking the question. So, it is also one of the most debated topics today, with advocates of most methodologies trying to prove their superiority over the next. While some people swear by the Stanford D-School method, others will accept nothing but the Ideo design philosophy. As a discipline, design thinking is not a complicated practice. And like any simple practise, can help you solve complex challenges. Let’s understand design thinking by first understanding what it is NOT. We will look at the three most widespread (mis)conceptions on design thinking.

1. Design thinking is NOT a silver bullet to solve all your problems. Immediately.

I once worked with a VP of a banking major who wanted a program on design thinking to help his sales team meet their monthly targets. “Oh sure,” I said. “Give me a couple of weeks to speak with your team and draw up a program design.”

“That’s too much time,” he said. “I need a four-hour workshop to help them come up with closure techniques they can use, to show me results by the end of this month!”

Unfortunately, that seems to be the approach to design thinking as well. The popular sentiment being that you can call a group into a classroom, show them a few sides for an hour and miraculously transform their outlook to solving problems.

I am confident that design thinking can be used to arrive at effective closure techniques. However, my experiences tell me that I cannot be as assured with the efficiency of the solution I design, given the time constraints, to see visible results. As a learning designer and practitioner of design thinking, I will need to follow a design philosophy (thinking) to even begin to understand if I am solving the right problem. This is followed by a series of steps that assure me of arriving at the appropriate and relevant solution. And while it can be applied to most situations, one must be sensitive of tight deadlines and defined boundaries. For example, I cannot create a rich media design thinking online multiplayer game in a month, programming only using Delphi.

This is also a sneak peek into one of the important steps of design thinking which we shall cover in part three of this series – choosing the right problem to solve.

2. Design thinking is NOT only for creative people.

I can’t think of a statement that is farther from the truth than this one. Creativity helps when you have to come up with solutions. No debate there. However, that’s not the ONLY skill to help you come up with innovative solutions. There are multiple tools and techniques one may use if they find themselves creatively handicapped. As a design thinker, you can harness tools like empathy map to figure out what people want, you can use rapid prototyping tools or Lego blocks to create designs, and so forth. And if you are able to harness the power of a collective on top of that, there’s nothing that stops you from creating stellar solutions!

In my experience, I have found that people with discipline have the most success with the design thinking process. I refer to discipline here are a practice of consciously following set guidelines. Like the Six Sigma process, which requires one to be guided by the DMAIC process and follow the principles laid therein.

As Scott Barry Kaufman writes in this blog, anyone can cultivate creativity by exploring both inner and outer experience. And that, mind you, is a mindful process that needs discipline.

So the next time someone tells you that they are not creative, tell them, “Good. You can be like Steve Jobs then, and cultivate your creativity!”.

3. The best use of design thinking is for inventing new products. NOT!

Design thinking is not a process limited to greenfield situations. Many successful design thinking outcomes have been a result of solving existing shortcomings. And not just for products. It can be successfully used to come up with solutions for a multitude of applications in services, processes, strategy, interactions, and such. You can be inspired by some wow stories like how “Keep the Change” initiative by Bank of America motivated people to open bank accounts, or how GE Healthcare used it to make their MR scanners more child friendly, or how Airbnb used it to turn their company around from the brink of bankruptcy to becoming a billion-dollar business.

One of the most popular applications we have used design thinking for is in designing performance conversation guides for managers! We use this as a warm-up in our workshop that uses our design thinking simulation to help learners engage with the process of design thinking. Our learners are presented with a very common problem: Make the performance conversation more ‘enjoyable’ for your direct reports. They then get around to creating a process or a document or a video that explains their version of a performance conversation that meets development goals while keeping the appraisee at ease. The solutions often surprise the learners and our facilitators, both in terms of their creativity and simplicity.

Now that we have busted the three most common myths around design thinking, here’s what up next in this series:

Why design thinking?

Is design the only effective way to solve my business problems? Isn’t it just a 20th-century fad? Why should I use design thinking? Does it fit within my business process re-engineering framework? Why am I asking so many questions? ?

The log looks at why design thinking is a great fit for problem-solving and why you should have this method in your toolkit as a professional at any level.

And in the blogs that follow, we will also look at how you can effectively use design thinking as a method, followed by an introduction to our new design thinking simulation that has our clients and partners raving about it!

Stay tuned!


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