Saturday, June 4, 2016

What's in a name?

One of the main challenges Design Thinking has faced is helping people understand what it is and how and why it works so well. You'd think that the most powerful and effective problem discovery and resolution process on the planet would be able to figure out a way to effectively sell itself, but after nearly half a century the controversy still rages.

Parents have known for generations that selecting a name can be a real challenge. Names convey meaning and identity. Thoughtfully selected, they can be powerful because they make a first impression. Sapphire Rose d'Stargazer leaves a much different impression than Fred D'Ull.

So, when someone with no prior knowledge hears "Design Thinking" for the first time, what impressions can they get? Unfortunately, Jay Leno didn't ask this question on his show.

Turning to the dictionary reveals cause for confusion. Design can mean one of at least three things; two are nouns and one a verb. Thinking has two meanings, one as an adjective and the other as a noun;

  1. A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made.
  2. Purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.
  3. To decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), typically by making a detailed drawing of it.
  1. Using thought or rational judgment; intelligent.
  2. The process of using one's mind to consider or reason about something.
This results in at least several different possible interpretations but two of the most obvious are;
(literally) to plan a process of rational reasoning (designed thinking) and the way designers think. which was was Nigel Cross' perspective when he wrote his 2011 book, Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work.

If we strung together all the possible meanings we'd have a plan or intention to decide to use rational thought to reason about something.

Compare that with the some of the core principles of Design Thinking;

1) Begin with empathy (Embrace feelings)
2) Ideate wildly (irrational/out of control)
3) Go Broad (radical collaboration)
4) Dive Deep (Embrace ambigutiy)
5) Build It (Prototype)
6) Fail fast and often
7) Have fun and work hard

The contrast here is striking.  Design Thinking's name is about using your cerebral cortex, the thinking part of your brain, in an organized fashion to create an intelligent plan.

Design Thinking's process starts with finding feelings, expands laterally thru brainstorming and radical collaboration, dives deep to uncover hidden interrelationships and needs, builds and tests rapid failure inducing prototypes, learning and refining until a solution is discovered.

It can look like the difference between a frantic off road, cross country race and a precision drill team marching in a 4th of July Parade to John Phillip Sousa.  Mad Max vs. The Music Man.

In previous posts we've explored how your three brains influence learning and deciding. We've looked at how low tolerance for ambiguity and complexity causes stress, which shuts down your creative processes. Now we're going to come at things from the other direction and ask the question; Based on traits, what would be a better name for design thinking?

As you recall, design thinking's purpose is to solve wicked problems, "cut cubes out of fog" and create modern day daVinci's who can guide others thru that process.  Design Thinking's ultimate purpose is to empathically clarify and simplify complex, ambiguous, situations. DT's methods and tools are intended to consider and balance the conflicts between humanity, technology and resources by clarifying ambiguity, simplifying complexity and unifying diversity.

Yes, its a big task. Properly done, the minds and hearts of all the stakeholders are harmonized and their purpose is shared. That is a very powerful combination and force for good in the world.

What would you call it?

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