Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Experiences with Robert McKim

The design of products from the 1950s through 70s were illuminated by designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Eliot Noyes. Their iconic works, such as the IBM Selectric Typewriter and the distinctive Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Company logo, stand as testimony to why corporations in the post war period needed the skills of graphic, industrial and architectural designers as well as mechanical and electrical engineers.

In 1957, recognizing the need for design education in Stanford’s curriculum, provost Frederick Terman hired John Arnold from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to lead the effort. Arnold became founding director of the Design Division and began executing on his vision of human centeredness and creative engineering. Arnold next hired two PhD students; Robert McKim (Pratt) and James Adams (Cal Tech & UCLA), and together they laid the foundation for what became Stanford's “Joint Program in Design” (JPD) a multidisciplinary program combining engineering, art, and creative problem solving.
When Sindey Parnes, Ruth Noller and Angelo Biondi compiled their encyclopedic, 400 page, Guide to Creative Action in 1977, they cataloged the work of dozens of academics and researchers studying creativity.  Parnes also contributed writings on problem solving methods and idea generation techniques which discussed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Solving Process.

Guide to Creative Action refers to McKim's Experiences in Visual Thinking as a "classic" and included a full chapter on Relaxed Attention because it "stressed the nature and importance of of relaxation and attention in the creative process" and as an introduction to "valuable exercises in visual thinking."

We may never know exactly why Parnes, Noller and Biondi selected only those six pages of Experiences in Visual Thinking for inclusion, but McKim's material in the other 21 chapters is also worthy of our attention;

In the Introduction, McKim immediately turns to thinking; asking what is is, how to observe it in ourselves, and the importance of flexibility in thinking. From there he explores some background and preparation for the process of thinking visually and then dives into the process of seeing, imagining, and idea-sketching in problem solving.

The last few pages are a "strategy index" which diagrams his idea of a problem solving process flow, including methods and techniques;

These images lack the raw simplicity of McKim's Express-Test-Cycle view of problem solving, but provide significant insight into his ideas of a comprehensive problem solving process utilizing imagining, drawing and seeing.

Still in its second printing and available on Amazon, Experiences in Visual Thinking is a still a valuable reference after over three decades.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Road from Hypothetical Situations to Design Thinking

Publish or Perish
(Cartoon by Nick Kim, Massey University, Wellington)

Chapter Two of Part Three of Guide to Creative Action (1976) is an article by J. H. McPherson entitled; The People, The Problems and the Problem Solving Methods, which was reprinted from the Journal of Creative Behavior in 1968. The majority of the article is a spreadsheet of 18 problem solving methods varying in length from two to eight steps, including methods proposed by individuals including Dewey, Guilford, Osborn and Parnes, organizations including General Electric and the US Military and areas of study including Synectics and Operations Research.

Of particular interest is the entry for "Hypothetical Situation" by John Arnold with the following two-step description, three years after Arnold's untimely death.
  • Develop a hypothetical situation with many unusual conditions.
  • Using this situation as a stimulus, design practical answers to fit the situation.
Today, this approach is called Project Based Learning, a teaching method where students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. John Dewey promoted the idea of "learning by doing" as early as 1897,  in his book My Pedagogical Creed.

Arnold's classroom notes and material cover a much wider range of approaches and activities than are described by McPherson, with the creative process being a kind of problem-solving, distinguished from analytical decision-making. Arnold believed a handful of results made an outcome "creative":

  • A better combination, not just something different.
  • Tangible results; something you can see, or feel or react to in some fashion, not just an idea.
  • Forward-looking in time, relating to society’s needs, not merely “recreative.”
  • A “synergetic” quality—the value achieved in the combination is much greater than the sum of the parts (a multiplicative effect).
Arnold also believed that creativity can be enhanced by scientifically understanding the inventive process and improving it, so that it becomes more organized and deliberate with a step-by-step approach. Arnold defined a framework for the creative process involving a combination of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in three phases:
  • Question and Observation (Preparation / analysis)
  • Associate (Production / synthesis)
  • Predict (Decision / evaluation)

The value of a creative result was judged by its increased function, improved performance, and lowered cost. The most important aspect of the creative process was in figuring out what people need and thus would want to buy, in other words; technology applied to human-centered business.

Arnold sought to balance analytical approaches to technology by combining different perspectives for understanding and solving a problem, advocating a broad perspective. He stated that challenges of “the modern age” called for engineers to be bold, devising entirely new kinds of solutions.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

J. P. Guilford Discovers Empathy in the Creative Process

J. P. Guilford

Donald W. MacKinnon credited J. P. Guilford with stirring the scientific study of creativity with a presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1950. Guilford is best remembered for his psychometric study of human intelligence, including the distinction between convergent and divergent production. He proposed that three dimensions were necessary for an accurate description: operations, content, and products.

In November 1964, The UCLA Brain Research Institute, in conjunction with the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research, sponsored a conference on Brain Function and Learning, the proceedings of which were published in 1967.   In one session titled Creativity and Learning, Guilford characterized creativity as a learning process.

In addition to expanding the definition of creativity Guilford brought in another element which would not gain traction for another half century; empathy. What follows is an edited extract from Guilford's presentation;

"It is quite appropriate that there should be a session devoted to creativity in a conference on learning. A broad, non-popular view of creativity recognizes an act as creative when there is something novel about it; novel, that is, for the person performing the act. The act must also be relevant, a qualification added to distinguish the creative output from the productions of the schizophrenic or manic.

Novel behavior means a change in behavior, and change means learning when “learning” is defined as a relatively enduring change in behavior as a consequence of behavior...

The conclusion that learning and creativity are much the same phenomenon can be reached by another route. From my fifteen years of study of the intellectual aspects of creative production, it seems apparent to me that creative thinking can be equated essentially with problem solving.

Identifying these two phenomena with each other does seem to deglamorize the topic of creativity, and perhaps takes away some of its mystery. On the other hand, it gives some added significance to problem solving, which has been quite commonly recognized as an important instance of learning. 

By its nature, a genuine problem is a cognized situation for which the organism appreciates that it has no ready coping response; something new or novel must be done - in other words, a creative act. I use the term “appreciates” here deliberately, within implications of either conscious or human qualities."

Guilford's Model of Brian Function

In the area of behavioral information - my students found evidence for, and I added a category with, six new factors… the kind we get from cues other people give us (through what we see or hear) about our own states of mind, feelings, intentions, perceptions and so on. This represents what some people call the area of “social intelligence”, or the area including “empathy”, which may be equated with behavioral cognition."

nGram of Creativity and Empathy.

Creativity and Empathy doesn't begin to appear the in literature much until after 1960, with local peaks in 1970 and 1990. One paper; Promoting Creativity in Young Children, (2000) associated creativity and empathy in childhood education. n it, Alice Sterling Honig specifically addressed the relationship between creativity and empathy for others. Another reference is found in Martha Raile Alligood (1986); The relationship of creativity, actualization, and empathy in unitary human development.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Who Inspired Alex Osborn?

History may  have been kinder to me, if I'd written it.

Based on numbers of book editions, copies printed and sold, Alex Osborn inspired millions of people to become more creative. But who, or what, inspired Alex Osborn? His books are filled with ideas and opinions, supported by stories and quotes, so perhaps we can discover who he admired and learned from.

In the introduction to Your Creative Power; Osborn gives thanks and credit to nearly two dozen people and specifically mentions the books they wrote;
  • Julius Boraas (Teaching to Think)
  • Alexis Carrel (Man the Unknown)
  • James B. Conant (On Understanding Science)
  • Robert P. Crawford (Think for Yourself)
  • Paul de Kruif (The Microbe Hunters)
  • John Dewey (How We Think)
  • Ernest Dimnet (The Art of Thinking)
  • William H. Easton (Creative Thinking)
  • Joseph Jastrow (Effective Thinking)
  • T. Sharper Knowlson (Originality)
  • Matthew Thompson McClure (How to Think in Business)
  • Johnson O’Connor (Ideaphoria)
  • Harry Allen Overstreet (Let Me Think)
  • James Harvey Robinson (Mind in the Making)
  • C. Spearman (Creative Mind)
  • Graham Wallas (The Art of Thought)
  • J. F. Dashiell
  • Floyd C. Dockeray
  • Fryer and Henry 
  • A. T. Poffenberger 
  • F. Wayland Vaughan
  • W. B. Wiegand

Which of these authors did Osborn rely on most heavily? Consulting the Index and searching the text reveals his favorites;
  • Thomas Edison - 23 mentions
  • James B Conant, - 16 mentions
  • Alexander Graham Bell -10 mentions
  • Dr. Alexis Carrel - 7 mentions
  • Paul de Kruif, Paul - 7 mentions
  • Dr. R. W. Gerard - 6 mentions
  • Walt Disney - 6 mentions
  • Henry Ford - 6 mentions
  • Ray Giles - 6 mentions
Thomas Edison's contributions relate to the value of first hand experience, persistence, cautions about perfectionism and stubbornness, the value of optimism, self-confidence and courage, not fearing failure, dealing with discouragement, the value of curiosity, quizzes and puzzles, the principe of substitution, multi-tasking, luck, building on the work of others, and being open to all possibilities.

Osborn used Conant to illustrate the value of creative imagination, lots of wild ideas, withholding judgement, role reversals and time travel in ideation, following thru on accidental discoveries, the tradeoffs of working singly or in groups, the power of science in creative activity, the value of precision in experimentation, iteration, and the power of mixing science and liberal arts.

From Bell, Osborn learned that age need not be a damper to creativity, The Rule of 3 in self-education (Observe, Remember, Compare), the need for new facts, being cross-disciplinary and cross cultural, and the importance of finding out things for one's self.

Dr. Carrel emphasized the value of awareness, curiosity; pursuing the "impossible and unknowable," and persistence.

Osborn seems to have used de Kruif as a philosophical counterweight, as his quotes are typically about some great inventors being arrogant and overly confident.

Gerard emphasized the value of analysis in the creative process.

Disney was used to illustrate the power of what Osborn termed vicarious imagination, the importance of exercising your imagination like a muscle, exaggeration and transposition in ideation.

Henry Ford was used to illustrate that there is value in imagination other than money, that lateral thinking can lead to success, the importance of persistence and creative leadership.

Ray Giles also advised to be persistent in the face of discouragement, asking "Why not...?", recording everything and going for quantity in ideation and asking various forms of "What if..."; "What new use...", "What other use..." and "How might we..." questions.

This list of ideas and suggestions which inspired Osborn and which he used to illustrate the chapters of his book provide a useful reference to anyone interested in expanding and enhancing their creative problem solving skills.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

20 Questions on Design Thinking

The popular question and answer game "20 Questions" often opens with; "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?" If we were trying to get at the root identity of Design Thinking, we might start with; "Does in involve Feeling, Thinking or Doing?" The correct answer would be "Yes!"

Whether you prefer to think of it in the context of Root Cause Analysis, Effective Problem Solving, or just Learning, there seems to be broad agreement that several steps are involved. Here is one expression of a seven step process;

Step 1: Identify the Problem
Ask what the problem is. There may be multiple issues within the problem.

Step 2: Define Goals
Try to define your goals specifically, while making them as realistic and attainable as possible.
Step 3: Generate Ideas
Write down all ideas, even the ones that seem absurd or bizarre. Try to find 6-8 varying alternatives when resolving a particular problem.
Step 4: Assess Alternatives
For every alternative you formed in the previous step, weigh the positive effects and negative consequences that each solution would bring. For every and any option, determine its advantages and its risks.
Step 5: Choose a Solution
Carefully weigh all solutions. Think about which solution can highlight the positive effects that matter the most and which solution produces the mildest consequences.

Step 6: Prototype Solutions
Don't worry about "failures" - they are steps on the pathway to success.
Step 7: Evaluate the Results and Iterate
 Take and newfound knowledge, rturn to the beginning, and try again.

This looks a lot like the Science Technology Engineering and Math cycle;

And the Engineering is Elementary (EIE) Design Process being taught in Elementary Education today;

So, with these clear similarities in all these processes, is there anything about the Stanford/IDEO model of Design Thinking which sets it apart from the others? The answer is an unequivocal Yes! but we have to drill down a bit to find it because none of these models specifically highlight it in their images.

Let's look at two representations from IDEO Published materials;

Hexagonal DT Phases
Loopy DT Process

Let's take a closer look at the front end or Inspiration Stage of the "Loopy DT Process";

This phase is where a deep understanding of the user is developed thru observation, which leads to the creation of a persona and Point of View statements.  This section corresponds with EMPATHIZE in the Stanford/IDEO Hexagon model published by Kelley and Brown.

It is the inclusion of this element; which requires "emotional" intelligence, that is the single biggest differentiator between the Nigel Cross' (Cognitive) version of Design Thinking and the John Arnold / Stanford / IDEO (Comprehensive Design) model.

It is also 1/3 of the ways that Design Thinking can deeply fail. Can you guess what the other two are?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Design Thinking as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

If you've been following this blog for more than a few months you may recall some of my earlier postings where I compared Design Thinking to core concepts in other areas like Bloom's Taxonomy in teaching and Adizes' model of management theory. Today we're going out on the limb again, but this time in the realm of psychology, to compare DT with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This was prompted by my recent discovery of a graphic used to describe CBT, The Thinking - Feeling - Behavior triangle;

In layman's terms, cognitive behavioral therapy helps you learn to change your thoughts, feelings and behaviors so you feel better. By targeting your responses to situations, CBT can help you react more effectively in challenging situations, and even learn to feel better when you are unable to change situations happening around you.

Three areas of interest

Comparing these two; business is behavior, technology is the thinking and people are the feelings.

Although I had seen both of these before, I hadn't noticed the parallels between the three part (Feelings, Thoughts and Actions) brain model and the Feel - Think - Do/Build and Empathy - Technology - Busi-ness triads of Design Thinking or the meta-level Design is a process of Learning framework. Of course, now that I see it, it seems obvious. 

Another obvious parallel is that in CBT human needs are the focus of the process.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Alex Osborn on Judgement in the Creative Process

Alex Osborn is generally remembered as the inventor of Brainstorming, but that characterization falls far short of the breadth of his experienced insights regarding creativity.

In chapter 13 of Your Creative Power Osborn explored the value of judgement in the creative process. He suggests that there are two types of thinking, one he called Judicial and the other Creative. Many of his ideas are still alive, vibrant and illustrated in today's best creative engineering practices.

This post is an edited version of Chapter 13 from Your Creative Power, with emphasis on Osborn's key ideas about judgement in the creative process.


Our thinking is mainly two-fold: We have a Judicial Mind which analyzes, compares and chooses and a Creative Mind which visualizes, foresees, and generates ideas. These two minds work best together. Judgment keeps imagination on track. Imagination opens ways to action, and can enlighten judgment. In creative efforts, judgment is good, when properly timed.

Both judgement and creativity call for analysis and synthesis. Judgement breaks down facts, weighs them, compares them, rejects some, keeps others—and then puts the resultant elements together to form a conclusion. The creative mind does much the same, except that the end-product is an idea instead of a verdict. Judgment tends to confine itself to facts, imagination has to reach out for the unknown, at times making two plus two something more than four.

Basically there are two kinds of judgment—critical judgment and constructive judgment. Critical judgment relies on knowledge. Constructive judgment needs help from our imagination. Answering the question; "Is Nylon better than silk?” calls for a process of critical analysis.

Asking “Should we do this or that?” requires us to think up all possible alternatives, and foresee the results. We have to ask ourselves questions such as, “What are the consequences?” . . . “What if others did that?” “What if conditions change?” And in each case we have to tap imagination for the answer.

Circumstances force us to use our judicial mind every waking hour. We also study mathematics, logic, debate, history, discuss pros and cons. Much of our educations train and strengthen our judicial faculties. Another consequence of well developed judgment is dislike of failure. We often praise the unerring judge. You will hear; “He’s a wonderful man—he never makes any mistakes.” ten times as often as you hear, “He has imagination and he makes it work.” We are more likely to call creatively imaginative people “nuts.” A good slogan for all of us would be, “Judge wisely, but at the right time.”

The right mood for judicial thinking is largely negative. “What’s wrong with this?” . . . “What’s bad about that?” . . . “No, that won’t work.” Such reflexes are right and proper when trying to judge. We also need a negative attitude for caution such as: “Beware of it—it’s too new.” . . . “Are we sure this won’t be a mistake?”

In contrast, our creative thinking calls for a positive attitude. We have to be hopeful. We need enthusiasm. We have to encourage ourselves to the point of self-confidence. At the same time, we have to beware of perfectionism. (A trait exhibited by both Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. - df)

Edison looking somewhat critically at his invention

Edison’s first lamp was a crude affair. He knew that it could be improved—if not by him, by somebody else. He could have hung onto his imperfect version while he tried and tried to make it better. Or he could have junked the whole idea. But, he didn’t do either. His first electric lamps were better than candles, kerosene lamps, or gaslight, so he introduced them. Then he went to work on improvements.

Positive attitude is a characteristic of creative people. Form the habit of reacting Yes! to a new idea. First, think of all the reasons why it’s good; there will be plenty of people around to tell you why it won’t work. (Today we call this improv; The Yes and... or Yes if.... responses. -df)

Judgment and imagination can help each other if kept apart when they should be kept apart. In creative effort we have to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde. From time to time, we must turn off our judicial mind and light up our creative mind. (Similar to Disney's Three Roles. -df

We must wait long enough before turning up our judicial light again. Otherwise, premature judgment may douse our creative flames, and even wash away ideas already generated. Especially in approaching a creative problem, we should give imagination priority over judgment and let it roam around our objective. We might even make a conscious effort to think up the wildest ideas that could possibly apply. (On the doorstep of brainstorming here. -df)

Let’s not let judgment throttle imagination. Instead, let’s check our ideas through tests. If we can’t test and have to rely on somebody’s judgment, let’s not allow our critic to sap our creative energy. Let’s judge such judgment. If it’s adverse—and we’re convinced it’s right—we should then get busy, do a backtrack and turn up more alternative ideas. If unconvinced, we should “damn the torpedoes” and go “full speed ahead.” (This is re-expressed in McKim's  "Express - Test - Cycle" -df)

Derived from; Osborn, Alex. Your Creative Power (pp. 88-95). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ode to Elephants in the Room

Four wise men of D'sign Land, to learning much inclined,
wanted to know of Design Thinking, every fact and find.
That each might grow in wisdom strong, and practice, most refined.

The Engineer approached the task with stout and mighty brain,
to logic was his trust inclined and feelings he disdained.
''Tis truth! he cried, the name declares, the subject's clear to see,
based in science, cognitive, and ever so shall be.

The Artist, sensing something up, across a wider plane,
implored his fellows urgently, to not deny the pain
and pleasure felt, by one and all, proclaimed songs and rhymes,
emotions hid and plain were key to understand mankind.

The Academic squinted hard and tried his best to see
only the parts which could be proved, with facts and history.
By Jove!, he cried, this stuff is fluff, and everyone should know
there is no substance here at all, there is no there to go.
There's nothing new within these walls, it's all been done before,
by Alex, Bucky, Nigel, Phil.  Researchers know the score!

Up next, a businessman approached as they oft do,
and focused on the processes and the profits they lead to.
Think of Design, she cried, as ways to overcome,
inefficiencies in making cash for everyone.
Analyze the gaps and slice processes lean,
to even make the dullest coin take on a brand new sheen.

So went the argument went on, exceeding loud and long
And although each was one quarter right
All four were triply wrong.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Three Faces of Design Thinking

One of the hot topics in the Design Thinking Group on LinkedIn is the question of exactly what Design Thinking is. This is often manifested by the length of conversations with titles like; "Why Design Thinking Will Fail" or which accuse Design Thinking of being mere marketing hype.

My training in DT goes back four decades. I was at Stanford, in the Product Design Program, in the late 70's at the same time that David Kelley, founder of IDEO, was getting his Masters and Matt Kahn, Robert McKim, Jim Adams and Larry Leifer were teaching.  The Joint Program in Design, which had been formed in 1958, was a step on the way to the creation of the d.school in 2004.

Expanding on Herbert A. Simon’s work, Robert McKim wrote Experiences in Visual Thinking in 1973. It focused on the ways which perceptual thinking skills can be observed, utilized and improved, and how powerful these skills are in their "capacity to change your world of ideas and things.”

John E. Arnold, arguably DT's grandfather at Stanford had picked McKim to teach there and was also a significant influence on Jim Adams, both of whom wrote books which were used as texts in the Product Design program.

Beginning in 1984, Rolf Faste expanded on McKim's work, defining and developing the core concepts which David Kelley would later call "Design Thinking" in describing IDEO's design process, which he had learned at Stanford.

The focus of  the PD program was to explore, learn, and develop ways to solve problems creatively, in a multi-disciplinary context. The core sequence included classes in art as well as engineering, with heavy emphasis on what would today be called project based learning.

 In 1991, Kelley merged David Kelley Design with Matrix Product Design, ID TWO and Moggridge Associates to create IDEO.  In 2004, David led the creation of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design also known as the "d.school." Kelley recalls that it was about that time that he started to refer to IDEO's process as Design Thinking. He also credits Bob McKim with being his primary influence and mentor at Stanford.

In a very informative and revealing 2016 interview with Kelley, Maria Camacho mapped out the trail from PD to DT at Stanford;

Upon my graduation, David's and my path began to diverge; I went to work in industry, including Apple Computer from 1986 to 1996, followed by PD and PE roles primarily in consumer high tech and aerospace, while David began teaching and consulting.

Fast forward four decades and the controversy over what is and isn't DT still rages. Unfortunately, that creates ambiguity, complexity and confusion around the value of what is arguably the most powerful tool to resolve ambiguity and complexity. David is aware of this, as he stated to Camacho;

"Everyone means something slightly different by the term. I guess this is OK. It doesn’t bother me, but I hear people using design thinking to mean something quite different from what I mean. There are many words in the English language that people use, and they all mean something different by the same words."

Reflecting on this, I recently realized that what has happened may actually be worse; People are also using different words to describe the same things. This came to the forefront for me recently while reading Alex Osborn's 1940 book Your Creative Power.

Osborn is probably most remembered for his theories on brainstorming. In fact he came from a marketing background and was a prominent creativity theorist in mid 1900's. With Sidney Parnes, he developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process.

Your Creative Power is a handbook of Osborn's thoughts on imagination, creativity and creative problem solving. It contains a wealth of ideas which parallel the core principles of Design Thinking. This should come as no surprise, as they are exploring the same subject area. There are also touch points between Osborn and John Arnold, who's 1956 summer program included presentations by R. Buckminster Fuller on the “comprehensive designer,” J. P. Guilford’s concept of measuring and developing creativity,[ and A. H. Maslow’s “Emotional Blocks to Creativity,” with considerable attention given to Osborn’s notion of brainstorming. James Adams would later expand on the subject of creative blocks in his book Conceptual Blockbusting.

So with such common roots, how have we come to this state of confusion? Perhaps the trouble lies in the multi-disciplinary nature of the subject.

Design Thinking purports to encompass three areas; Technology, Humanity and Business;

One of the consequences of this blending is that conversations about DT span three areas having to do with three areas; Feelings, (Art/Humanities) Thinking (Science and Technology) and Business (Doing). Today, each of these areas has become so specialized that they are treated differently in graduate education and have their own academic vocabularies.

I've written previously about the idea that DT actually is whole brain problem solving, but a consequence of that can be problems in communication, like the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, we are biased in our perceptions and expressions.

“Think” statements refer to the denotative aspects of the environment. They attempt to define, assert, opine, rationalize, or make causal connections between environmental events. They are bound by the rules of logic and scientific inquiry; they may be true or untrue. Many times a think statement can be proven or disproven. Think statements require words to be communicated. They are the venue of the rationalists, the engineers.

“Feel” statements refer to the connotative aspects of our environment. They attempt to report our internal affective, immediate, non-rational, emotional, “gut” responses to environmental events. Usually, feel statements are personal and idiosyncratic in that they refer to inner states, what is happening inside of us. 

Feel statements, like dreams, cannot be true or false, or good or bad, but only honestly or dishonestly communicated. Feel statements may not require words at all; when they do, they usually take the form of “I feel (adjective)” or “I feel (adverb).” They are the framework and coin of artists and designers.

The difficulty is that Engineers tend to be more comfortable with the verbage of Thinking, Artists/Designers are more comfortable with the vocabulary of Feeling and Business-people are more comfortable with the language of Doing.  Simply throwing them together and not expecting some conversational conflict is unrealistic.

This can be illustrated by some images from three different sources, all claiming to be describing Design Thinking:

Jeanne M. Liedtka is an American strategist and professor of business administration at the Darden School of the University of Virginia, particularly known for her work on strategic thinking, design thinking and organic growth.  Here is her explanatory design thinking "Invention" graphic:

Of design thinking, Liedtka states:

"Design thinking is a problem-solving approach with a unique set of qualities: it is human centered, possibility driven, option focused, and iterative. We ask the question “What if anything were possible?” as we begin to create ideas. We focus on generating multiple options and avoid putting all our eggs in one particular solution basket. Because we are guessing about our stakeholders’ needs and wants, we also expect to be wrong sometimes. So we want to put multiple irons in the fire and let our stakeholders tell us which work for them. We want to manage a portfolio of new ideas."

For Liedtka, Design Thinking exists within the world of Business, integrating People and Technology by examing the relationships between Possibilities, Uncertainties and Constraints (a.k.a Gap Analysis)

Here is Liedtka's process flow chart:

Compare this to the 2011 IDEO model;

Or this model, from the inside cover of Tim Brown's book;

Or this image from MIT's DT program;

Or this recent expression of the Osborn-Parnes CPS model;  (BTW- Osborn had no illustrations in his 1940 book, but displayed a masterful grasp of the skill of writing - unlike some engineers.)

Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process

"Judicial thinking must be kept out of such brainstorming. Even discretion is unwanted. As one of our radio-men remarked, 'At any brainstorming table the villainess is a gal named Prudence.' In this operation all present must shoot wild and pile up every possible alternative by way of ideas."

Now, we can start to see the differences and similarities; 

Alex Osborn is the quintessential Ad Man; smart, witty, good with words.  He fills over 350 pages with written insights from decades of experience in problem solving and, like the Product Design Program at Stanford 30 years later, his central theme is creativity and the need for imagination.

Steven Eppinger, a self-declared systems oriented engineer, uses simple, direct PowerPoint style graphics and a mere dozen words to describe the phases and skills of Design Thinking in the terse, precise language of an engineer. His YouTube video on MIT's Design Thinking process feels like a design review. 

IDEO's Tim Brown, MA - Industrial Design, Royal College of Art, lays the process out like a hand drawn, spilled spaghetti, cartoon.

Is there something wrong going on here, or something perfectly normal, even expected?

More to come...

Saturday, August 5, 2017

MIT's Steve Eppinger on Design Thinking

I recently came across a video which is part of the MIT Executive Education series which featured Steven Eppinger speaking on Systematic Innovation by Design and Design Thinking. (see below)

Dr. Eppinger is a well known and respected educator in Product Design and I am very familiar with his book; Product Design and Development, which is used as a text for college level design courses.
He is by his own admission a Systems oriented guy with a preference for clear processes.

d.school/IDEO Design Thinking Phases

Eppinger's Critical Skills of Design Thinking

Eppinger retains the reference to Empathy and includes a reference to Go and See in his first phase.
Create includes Many Designs and Prototyping, which correlate with Ideate and Prototype.
Implement calls for Iterations and declares that Details Matter which loosely corresponds to Test.

One interesting thing about the MIT model is that it re-frames Design Thinking from five phases to three, similar to the reduction that Alex Osborn did to his Creative Problem Solving model;
Orientation, Preparation, Analysis, Hypothesis, Incubation, Synthesis and Verificationwhich he repackaged into three activites; Fact-Finding, Idea-Finding, and Solution Finding

Osborn appeared to be expanding his perspective in both directions, adding more details to the parts while also generalizing the whole.

Osborn's Creative Problem Solving Framework

The differences are more of presentation than content, in that a deeper examination of the d.school/IDOE model, as illustrated by this annotated version of the five phase process;

Empathize is for learning about the audience, from which Points of View and User Needs are extracted. Ideation includes Brainstorming multiple solutions. Prototype is where representations of concepts are created, followed by User Testing and feedback - starting the cycle anew.

Design Thinking with explanations

Eppinger only makes an indirect reference to the d.school/IDEO framework, by using IDEO as an example of a company applying Design Thinking.  There is no mention of John Arnold, David Kelley, Larry Leifer, Jim Adams, Bernie Roth, Matt Kahn, or how IDEO was founded by Kelley, staffed with other Stanford Product Design Program graduates. (Perhaps the rivalry between Stanford and MIT is percolating under the surface.)

The original presentation was an hour. I have edited it down to 15 minutes and restricted the subject matter to Eppinger's comments about MIT's interpretation of Design Thinking. 

Next up; My week with Alex Osborn and some observations on Creative Problem Solving.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Many years ago I began to notice parallels in the vocabulary of different engineering disciplines. For example, both electronics and hydrology use the word current. In one case it is a measure of the flow of molecules of water and in the other, refers to the flow of electrons.

The problem with using seemingly common words to explain things is that it can lead to confusion, or disagreements, as illustrated by this example from Kaiser Aluminum's booklet, Communications;

Another opportunity for confusion comes when we don't see the whole situation, as told in the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant;

It was six men of Indostan to learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind),
that each by observation might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the elephant, And happening to fall
against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the elephant is very like a WALL!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk, cried, "Ho, what have we here,
so very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
this wonder of an Elephant Is very like a SPEAR!"

The Third approached the animal and happening to take
the squirming trunk within his hands, thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the elephant Is very like a SNAKE!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, and felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant is very like a TREE!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear said: "E'en the blindest man
can tell what this resembles most; deny the fact who can,
this marvel of an elephant is very like a FAN!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,
than seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant is very like a ROPE!"

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong!

There is another way, which I think of as the Walks Like a Duck principle, illustrated by a story about ideas which come in the night;

Kowloon at Night

On June 24, 1995, the Chief Executive Officer of a worldwide organization spoke at a meeting for regional leaders and their wives, giving them directions to guide their next few years of service in the company. He advised them;

Listen for the ideas which wake you up at night, and respond to them. I don’t know why they happen. I only know that they do. They can come in the day as well, of course. But listen to those night-time ideas. In the middle of the night, ideas have come to me which have been very creative. 

For example, in July 1992 I was responsible for finding space for a new facility in a large and crowded city where land was very expensive. The company had been searching for a new place to build there for a long time. I went to bed one night, feeling unsettled about the decision I had to make. I woke up very early the next morning.

Something very interesting came to my mind; I thought; We already own a piece of property; a district office with small conference room. It is in the heart of the city, in a prime location with the best transportation. Why don’t we build up rather than out or on another parcel? We can remodel the first two floors of existing offices and build more on the top, adding two or three additional floors. Having had that inspiration I relaxed and went back to sleep.

Today in Kowloon, a densely populated section of Hong Kong, a taller building stands where the small office once stood, providing a temporary residence, offices, a library and conference rooms. It is a testament to the power of ideas which wake us up in the middle of the night.

This type of experience is well enough known to have a name; The Eureka Effect. It refers to the moment of insight when a puzzling problem is suddenly solved. It is named after a story about the Greek polymath Archimedes.

The Eureka Effect has another name; Insight, a psychological (scientific) term to describe the event in problem solving when a previously unsolvable puzzle becomes suddenly clear and obvious. Often this transition is accompanied by an exclamation of joy or satisfaction, an Aha! moment. MRI scans showed more connections in the brain —a key element to the creative process.

These two stories are describing the same type of event - call it inspiration or an Ah Ha! moment. What is particularly interesting is that one comes from a scientific perspective, the other deeply religious.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Art and Science of Religion

Universal Genius - from leonardodavinci.net

The Art Institute of Chicago has an article entitled The Enduring Relationship of Science and Art on it's website which is adapted from a lecture by Robert Eskridge titled “Exploration and the Cosmos: The Consilience of Science and Art.”

I'm going to quote from it heavily in this posting, in support of the idea that art, science and religion are nowhere near as incompatible as many would have you believe today and that science, art and engineering naturally overlap. They involve ideas, theories, and hypotheses which are prototyped and tested in places where thought and action come together; model shops, laboratories and studios.

Artists, scientists and engineers are investigators. They study people and things and then transform what they learn into something else. In ancient Greece, the word for art was techne, from which our modern words technique and technology are derived—terms that are equally well applied to artistic, engineering, scientific and even religious practices.

Leonardo da Vinci is known as an artist whose works were informed by scientific investigation. He observed the world closely, studied physiology and anatomy in order to create convincing images of the human form. He believed that the moral and ethical meanings of his paintings would emerge through the accurate representation of human gestures and expressions. For Leonardo, science and art were different paths that led to the same destination—a higher spiritual truth. His extraordinary drawings are revered as examples of the Renaissance concept of the integration of all disciplines.

Leonardo wrote; "We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God."

The Astronomer and the Geographer - Vermeer

The Astronomer and The Geographer, paintings by Johannes Vermeer, are other examples of the connection between science and art. Equally interested in this world and the larger universe, the 17th century Dutch were intent on both looking and investigating. It was here the microscope and telescope were first developed. Vermeer’s paintings celebrate science, the work of artists and the materials of the world.  These paintings represents the link between science and art by demonstrating the combined interest in finely crafted objects and scientific systems, such as cartography and astronomy.

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt - Monet

The effects of color, light and time were key elements of the works of Degas, van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, and Monet. 

Monet suggested that our sense of our physical environment changes continuously with our shifting perceptions of light and color. On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, captures a fleeting “impression” of the landscape through loose brushwork and composition. It expresses feelings, even before the mind labels, identifies, and converts images into memory.  Monet’s captures the oscillation between impression and perception in an instant; the shifting of light and color across the landscape with the passage of time.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
As an art student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, Georges Seurat studied the physics of color, with help from French chemists who had recently developed premixed paints, conveniently packaged in tubes, and synthetic pigments such as ultramarine blue, which previously were very expensive.  As poor artists, neither Seurat nor Monet could have created their blue-filled, experimental works without the availability of scientifically and commercially produced and packaged paint.

Pointillism was in a way the forerunner of the full color digital display. Up close, the surface of Seurat's paintings contain thousands of painted dots and dashes, discrete areas of color. He placed dots of complementary colors next to each other. At a distance, they interact to create vibrant blended colors and larger, whole forms, representing the range of the visible spectrum.

Picasso's Portraits of Kahnweiler and Vollars

Picasso combines took Monet’s ideas about the contingency of time and Seurat’s theory about the perception of discrete elements and pushed them into distortion of space, breaking up the figures and objects, even varying the points of view within the same image. Painted just a few years after Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity, understanding Picasso’s Cubist style, like understanding Einstein, requires multi-disciplinary perspectives to be fully comprehended.

The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The invention of photography in the middle of the 19th century was a technological breakthrough, both artistically and scientifically. Photography - Light Writing - captures and presents the physical world accurately and quickly, but also the emotional - even spiritual worlds. Ansel Adams' majestic vistas of mountains and rivers embraced the bond between man and nature while recording with astonishing technical accuracy the effects of light and atmosphere.

The ancient Egyptian sky goddess, Nut, arching over the earth.

This connection between art, science and religion is evidenced as far back as Egypt, preserved in the pyramids and hieroglyphics, illustrating again how art, science and religion co-exist in an enduring, evolving, relationship.

Next up; The bridges between feeling, thinking and doing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Neurological Basis of Design Thinking

Design Thinking;

  • What is it?
  • Who invented it? 
  • Why is it needed? 
  • When would or should you do it? 
  • Where can you learn it? 
  • How is it done? 
These questions, and their answers, point to a deeper set of issues about DT which are rooted in differences in both our vocabulary and points of view which are outgrowths of our brain structure and the ways our tolerance for ambiguity and complexity express themselves in problem solving.

To illustrate this idea, let's build on our current understanding of neurophysiology;

Core to Design Thinking is being Human-Centric. This is an often cited trait of DT, but it is usually mentioned in the context of empathic inquiry. Perhaps more important is the implication that there are humans involved. This is important because humans have brains and those brains work in certain observable and predictable ways. Thanks to real time imaging techniques we've begun to pull back the curtain on how the brain works and how we perceive that activity.

Cross Section of the Human Brain

This remarkable collection of neurons fundamentally operates in three spheres; Cognitive, which we associate with thinking, Emotional, which we associate with feelings and Behavioral which we associate with doing.  Real time scans of neurologic activity in the structures of the Cerebral Cortex, Midbrain and Primitive Brain generally correspond to our experiences of Thinking, Feeling and Doing.

The Design Thinking framework also has three main areas; Humanity, Technology and Business which have their associated expressions of Desirability, Feasibility and Viability.  This correlation isn't accidental. As humans, we use our multifunctional brains to ThinkFeel and Act our way thru the process of learning and problem solving. What is learning but simplifying the complex and clarifying the obscure? (a.k.a Handling "Wickedness")

The DT Triad

Note the three other correlations between these areas in the DT framework;
  • Thinking is about what happens in the Technology space.
  • Feeling/Emotions are at play in the Desirability space.
  • Viability is what is tested and proven in the Busi-ness (action) space.
What sets the DT apart from other approaches is its consideration *all* aspects of the situation; Emotional, Cognitive and Behavioral. It provides a comprehensive "whole brain" framework to uncover and address the known and unknown elements in all three domains when discovering and developing solutions. This point is often overlooked when discussing DT, which leads to a great deal of confusion, particularly when being compared to mainly rational frameworks like the scientific method.

A Circular DT Model

One Pass thru the DT Phases

DT also acknowledges a core aspect of dynamic systems; It takes time to converge on a predictable solution; This has an analog in Control Systems in the concept of Damping or Feedback.

Even with optimum (critical) damping, oscillating systems don't settle in the shortest amount of time until about the third cycle, which is why in we plan for at least three express-test (prototyping) cycles.

Degrees of Feedback vs. Cycles to Settle

Design Thinking's prototyping element addresses the need to manage risk (ambiguity and complexity) by using inexpensive tools to rapidly model ideas and outcomes, thereby discovering errors and problems more quickly. Prototyping also highlights the need to turn customer needs into quantifiable requirements with tolerances as soon as possible.

Rapid Prototyping Tools

The practical implications of this correlation between how your brain works and the Design Thinking framework are powerful and simple;

Thoughts + Emotions + Experience = Deep Learning  

If you have an idea, you have a theory.
If you have an emotion you have a reason to act.
If you have acted, you have first hand knowledge.

Put all this together and you have a comprehensive approach to solving a wide range of problems. Design Thinking brings your full range of mental tools, methods, and actions to the table.

It is also what differentiates DT from other problem solving methods which emphasize analysis, ("scientific") or emotion (the "arts") or "business" (managing people, time and money) to solve (or create) problems.

Design Thinking is using all of your your tri-part brain, to act, feel, and think, in solving problems or create new realities, which increases the quality of your solutions.