Design Thinking and Strategy Development

A little while ago I asked our LinkedIn group the question “Is design thinking dead in the water or does it still have something to offer strategy?”

I did it because I was on the fence a bit and Bruce Nassbaum who was one of Business Week’s major advocates for design thinking, had recently come out¹  and said he was moving on to something new.

But now I don’t agree with him and here are a couple of reasons why.

1. The Baby and the Bathwater.

Nassbaum states, quite correctly I believe, that design thinking is a process which generates the real deliverable – creativity.

He goes on to argue that because it had to fit with the existing concept of business process, design thinking “was denuded of the mess, the conflict, failure, emotions, and looping circularity that is part and parcel of the creative process.”

I can certainly see a few of the more analytically oriented CEOs and business owners I’ve known taking that stance! But Nassbaum goes on to say that in the few companies where CEOs and managers accepted the “mess along with the process” then “real innovation took place”.

So what’s the real issue? If it’s that design thinking only works where the culture supports it then the process isn’t the problem. As is so often the case, the real culprit would appear to be the execution or implementation of the process.

To abandon the process in these circumstances would appear to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

2. And In the Other Corner….

The MIT Sloan Management Review says that “Design thinking — distinct from analytical thinking — has emerged as the premier organizational path not only to breakthrough innovation but, surprisingly, to high-performance collaboration, as well.”²

And the Rotman School of Management (in the interests of full disclosure, I am an alumni) offers a “unique program that merges the practices of business and design at our Strategy Innovation lab”³

Being the skeptic that I continue to be, I am reluctant to believe something simply because an academic has said it.

But you have to attach credibility to an academic with an MIT pedigree (no pun intended). While Rotman, with its mission “redesigning business education for the 21st century” has it’s MBA program now ranked in the top 15 in North America by the Financial Times.

3. The Clincher.

I’ve encountered and read several other articles and blog posts which suggest that design thinking is alive and well and continues to have a role to play in strategy development. But the clincher is an article4 I read recently (oddly enough in the Rotman magazine) which lays out a design thinking tool kit for managers.

The authors link the concept of design thinking to the process they’ve laid out and the 10 tools they recommend. I like the logic and I’m familiar with the tools. I can see how it would complement the strategy development process we use.

I have some questions still about the practicalities of the tool kit but, for now at least, I’m off the fence.

There’s still time for you to express your views – either here or on our LinkedIn group

If you enjoyed this you will also enjoy Why Strategy Is Still Worth A Business Owner’s Time and Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal?

¹Design Thinking Is A Failed Experiment. So What’s Next? www.fastcodesign.com/1663558/design-thinking-is-a-failed-experiment-so-whats-next

² Design Thinking – Hard skills from a soft science http://sloanreview.mit.edu/special-report/design-thinking/

³ Rotman School of Management www.rotman.utoronto.ca/businessdesign/default.aspx

4 Designing For Growth: A Tool Kit For Managers, by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilivie in the Rotman Magazine, Fall 2011, page 17

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Tags: business, business owner, CEO, Design thinking, Jim Stewart, Process, ProfitPATH, strategy

Comments

  1. Louis says:

    If you like their toolkit, you can get a digital copy of the full book for $14. No relation to the authors, but I did buy the physical copy from the MIT Bookstore last time I was in Boston. I found it to be quite practical, especially when combined with the brief snippets of design in Steve Jobs’ bio as well as Jony’s memorial speech, and mapping business “design thinking” with traditional UX / design books and approaches. E.g. Becoming a designer or developer — a geek — who also understands business. Ultimately, design is about clarity, good design is clear thinking. And who doesn’t need more of that?

  2. Jim Stewart says:

    Louis,

    thanks for the input and information. Much appreciated.

    Jim

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