Is "design thinking" helpful or It is exporting the dogmas of design to business strategy? Photos here are the Idea Couture D-school + B-school bears, we are having an art bear competition with the goal to customize 50 bears to be used for display in our new San Francisco office. I hope the bear collection can reflect on our diverse multi-disciplinary team, IC is a place where MBA meets MFA.
Is "design thinking" a hype? This deserves a broad and deep debate. I have no intention to bring this to a quick conclusion within a few hundred words. But it is worth discussing and hopefully inspires more meaningful dialogues. There is a lot of interest the last two years on “design thinking”; business was desperate looking for the next big thing that can become the management wonderdrug or at the minimal management Viagra.
Corporations are facing crises on several fronts, not only from low cost competition, economic and sustainability and social development: business leaders and governments are experiencing a profound crisis of trust and legitimacy. All or these triggered a loss of confidence in our old ways of doing things. The very core of many management theories are being questioned and “management ‘is close to a point of failure. People need to find something to make sense of what’s going on and organize for the future of unprecedented uncertainties.
Battered by system level economic failure, extreme uncertainties and the failure of traditional forms of leadership and management, many are gazing hopefully towards design thinking as a new management wonder drug that will help them make sense of what is going on and secure their next big bonus, election or promotion. Yes, design thinking is bringing a refreshing approach to management and strategic thinking, but it is far from a wonderdrug.
Will “design thinking” flounder in 2013 much like many other short-lived management fads? Or it will change business forever? Traditional design firms (and even branding ID/logo design studios) are quick to claim that they can change the world. Yes with a new slogan or a new kettle or toaster?
Corporations will be disappointed with the promise from these firms claiming their designers will help turn their companies around. Many of these companies hardly understand business strategy, industry dynamics, channel economics and capital intensity etc. Yes, adding a few MBAs do not make them a strategy consultancy and change requires more than just sexy designs and catchy slogans. Here are many ways to see “design thinking” and this is probably not exhaustive:
- Using design thinking as a way to instill customer-centricity and empathy
- Using design thinking as a means to solve complex problems
- Using design thinking as a methodology to foster exploration and experimentation
- Using design thinking as a design buzz word to tell you a designer can do more than design
- Using design thinking as a management buzz word sold as the “next” strategic tool
- Using design thinking as marketing slogan or tag line
The design community honors people such as Steve Jobs as one of the top design thinkers, people like Jobs are not only smart and creative business leaders, they are master strategists and entrepreneurs. I am not sure if their success is a direct result of premeditated "design thinking" effort. If you ask Steve Jobs if he is a design thinker, his response will likely be “What’s that?” There is even a business school case study of “Steve Jobs and Design Thinking” that is fiction writing indeed.
No question “design thinking” is overhyped, much as MBAs have been overhyped for years and people think that it could overnight transform them and every MBA grad is a strategist, that is hardly the case. Design thinking has a lot of value same as any high quality MBA degrees, the question remains… is it time for us to rethink and reinvent design or it takes a new organization to redesign design? IDEO is the IBM of design; well-respected founders and great people, but are they ready (and capable) to do more given their legacies? Idea Couture is a start-up and has a limited history; we’re built from the ground up on day one as a place where D-Schools meets B-Schools, can this model work? Is it scalable at all? Will this experiment fail? Or can we become the next hottest innovation shop globally? What other firms are out there are experimenting with similar new organizational model to take on these challenges?
The transformation of design agencies to strategy consulting firms is an interesting idea but extremely challenging one. The term “design thinkers” also implies that designers are craftsmen and not thinkers which sometimes is not the case. On the other hand it is definitely an 'overstretch’ for traditional design firms relying on the “design thinking” promise to solve strategic issues. It involves a big cultural change. It is like asking Microsoft to embrace open source and that's a complete cultural change. Design firms need to think about cultural transformation for themselves before they are ready to learn to do it for others.