Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Theory X and Asking How

Five Guys Who Ask HOW
Since you are following this blog you already know about the power of Storytelling and the Five Whys and One H.  There is another Five; the Five Steps of the Engineering Design Process;
  • ASK: What is the problem? How have others approached it? What are the constraints?
  • IMAGINE: What are some solutions? Brainstorm ideas. Choose the best one.
  • PLAN: Draw a diagram. Make lists of materials
  • CREATE: Follow your plan and create something.
  • IMPROVE: What works or doesn't? Modify your design to make it better.
Notice that all these are about some-thing. They are What statements.

Compare these with the six phases of the Design Thinking process;
  • UNDERSTAND: Immerse yourself in learning. Talk to experts and conduct research.
  • OBSERVE: Become keen people watchers. Observe spaces and places. 
  • DEFINE: Become aware of peoples’ needs and insights. Ask “How might we....”
  • IDEATE: Brainstorm a myriad of ideas and suspend judgment. Become savvy risk takers.
  • PROTOTYPE: Sketches, models and cardboard boxes. Express ideas quickly and fail early.
  • TEST: Learn what works and what doesn’t and iterate and modify it based on feedback.
Looking at these you can see that they are HOW to do something.
While there are a lot of similarities. Ask/Understand/Observe, Ideate/Imagine, Prototype/Create and Test/Improve do line up pretty well in terms of subject matter This is probably why some people have argued that Design Thinking is nothing new.

Let's take a closer look at the steps of both processes as if they were a recipe for baking cookies;
In particular, the steps before and after brainstorming;

The Engineering Design Process says we should;
  • Ask what the problem is. 
  • Ask how others have approached it.
  • Ask what are the constraints.

The Design Thinking process says we should;
  • Immerse yourself in learning. 
  • Talk to experts.
  • Conduct research.
  • Become keen people watchers. 
  • Observe spaces and places.
  • Become aware of peoples' needs.
  • Become aware of peoples' insights. 
  • Ask “How might we....”

The difference isn't in what is being done but How you do it.  In both models there is a clear focus on asking questions and getting answers. The difference is in how those questions are asked and the way the answers are interpreted.

This is why Design Thinking calls its first Phase Interview with Empathy. (I call it Empathic Inquiry.) No matter what you call it, the ability to recognize and appreciate the client/user's emotional state in the situation is a key differentiator. This ability, which some call emotional intelligence, isn't something they teach in college engineering courses, although they should. It is taught at the d.school.

The next differentiator is in the Create and Improve stages. Design Thinking is a team sport. Its about Radical Collaboration. In DT it's not your plan, or your design, its the team's plan and the team's design. This shift away from the Designer as the Brilliant Lone Wolf Inventor to a team is also reflects a shift in philosophy in management theory over the past 50 years.

Two models of management 'Theory X' and 'Theory Y' were created and developed by Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s. Your current boss may have been taught, or has unknowingly adopted, one of them.

Wikipedia describes the differences in Theory X and Theory Y in these words:

Theory X is based on pessimistic assumptions about the average worker. This management style assumes that the average employee has little to no ambition, shies away from work and responsibility, and is selfishly-goal oriented. Theory X style managers believe their employees are less intelligent than management, lazier and work solely for the pay. The 'Theory X' manager believes that all actions should be traced and the responsible individual is given a direct reward or a reprimand according to the results. 

This managerial style is more effective when used to motivate a workforce which is not inherently motivated to perform. It is usually exercised in professions where promotion is infrequent, unlikely or even impossible, and where workers perform repetitive tasks.

Theory Y managers are optimistic. They beieve that people in the work force are internally motivated, enjoy their work and try to better themselves without a direct "reward" in return. Theory Y employees are considered to be one of the most valuable assets to the company, and drive the internal workings of the corporation. 

Theory Y assumes employees thrive on challenges and seek to improve their performance. Workers tend to take full responsibility for their work and do not require constant supervision in order to create quality and hold to a higher standard of product.

Because of the differences compared to"Theory X", "Theory Y" managers gravitate towards relating to the worker on a more personal and relatable level, as opposed to a more conductive and teaching based relationship. As a result, Theory Y  workers may have a better relationship with their superiors, as well as potentially having a healthier atmosphere in the work place.

With its focus on optimism, emotional intelligence, collaboration and embrace of ambiguity, Design Thinking is squarely in Theory Y territory. These traits also present a challenge to Theory X managers, who are likely to view Theory Y employees with suspicion and mistrust.  (BTW - Theory X is poison to a Design Thinking effort.)

So, why does someone ask you Who, What, Why, Where, When and How?

Maybe its because they are a Design Thinker.

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