Found at http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/merholz/2009/10/why-design-thinking-wont-save.html
3:57 PM Friday October 9, 2009
Whenever I see a business magazine glow about design thinking, as BusinessWeek has done recently with this special report, and which Harvard Business Review did last year it gets my dander up. Not because I don’t see the value of design (I started a company dedicated to experience design), but because the discussion in such articles is inevitably so fetishistic, and sadly limited.
Design thinking is trotted out as a salve for businesses who need help with innovation. The idea is that the left-brained, MBA-trained, spreadsheet-driven crowd has squeezed all the value they can out of their methods. To fix things, all you need to do is apply some right-brained turtleneck-wearing “creatives,” “ideating” tons of concepts and creating new opportunities for value out of whole cloth.
The first thing that’s distressing about this is the dismissal of the spreadsheet crowd. Should they be the sole voice? No. Can they contribute meaningfully? Hell, yeah. In the BusinessWeek piece there’s a slide show identifying the 21 people who will change business. I’m thrilled that among the chosen is my colleague and co-author, Brandon Schauer. Brandon is an excellent designer, but it’s important to recognize that key to his ability to identify innovations is that he has two master’s degrees, and one of them is the now-dreaded MBA. Design thinking alone is not sufficient, but when mixed with solid business thinking, it can produce a combustible mixture.
But talking about only “design thinking” and “business thinking” is limiting. Me? My degree is in anthropology. And a not-so-secret truth about “design thinking” is that a big chunk of it is actually “social science thinking.” Design thinkers talk about being “human-centered” and “empathic,” and the tools they use to achieve that are methods borrowed from anthropology and sociology. Believe me, until very recently, they didn’t teach customer research at design schools. In fact, when I began working in this field, the practice of design was remarkably solipsistic — I’d have to harangue designers to care about the person using what we created.
However, that’s still not enough. Two of Adaptive Path‘s founders, Jesse James Garrett and Jeffrey Veen, were trained in journalism. And much of our company’s success has been in utilizing journalistic approaches to gathering information, winnowing it down, finding the core narrative, and telling it concisely. So business can definitely benefit from such “journalism thinking.”
But wait — there’s more! We have librarians, and historians, and fine artists. All of these disciplinary backgrounds allow people to bring distinct perspectives to our work, allowing for insights that wouldn’t be achieved if we were all cut from the same cloth. Do we need to espouse “library thinking,” “history thinking,” and “arts thinking?” Should we look at Steve Jobs’ background, and say what business needs is more “calligraphic thinking?”
Obviously, this is getting absurd, but that’s the point. The supposed dichotomy between “business thinking” and “design thinking” is foolish. It’s like the line from The Blues Brothers, in response to the question “What kind of music do you usually have here?”, the woman responds, “We got both kinds. We got country and western.” Instead, what we must understand is that in this savagely complex world, we need to bring as broad a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives to bear on whatever challenges we have in front of us. While it’s wise to question the supremacy of “business thinking,” shifting the focus only to “design thinking” will mean you’re missing out on countless possibilities.
Read more from http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/merholz/2009/10/why-design-thinking-wont-save.html
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