Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Is “design thinking” old wine in a new bottle?

I co-facilitated a 2-day design thinking workshop at IIM Bangalore a week ago. One of the questions that came up from a participant during the session was – “Is design thinking old wine in new bottle?” My short answer is “May be”. This blog is an attempt to elaborate on the short answer.

To check whether design thinking is something that you already know, I suggest looking at three dimensions: empathy, experimentation and experience. Let’s look at them one by one.

Empathy: “We have been in services business for decades. Empathy is ingrained in us.” This was a remark from a senior manager at the opening module of a DT workshop in an IT services firm. Later when the participants went through an empathy exercise involving interviews with new joinees the team discovered that the new joinees had to submit their personal documents three times during the joining process. Moreover, during the induction program they would get a lecture on the core themes of the organization, one of which was ‘Connected world’. New joinees were smart enough to see the irony of the situation. The senior managers who were open enough realized that empathy wasn’t as ingrained in them as they thought earlier. Empathy is a dimension with endless depth. Cognitive illusions may be hindering seeing the others’ perspective. DT creates an opportunity to explore the empathy dimension more deeply than what one would have done so far.

Experimentation: Prototyping is an important element of DT. Many people are familiar with building prototypes or proof-of-concepts. However, when participants are asked build a working prototype in one day, they are typically lost. They are not sure how to identify a small part of the overall idea which they can build in a day. They are not used to thinking in terms of available resources at low-cost to validate assumptions. How do we design low-cost high-speed experiments? How to test some of the critical assumptions early? These are some of the questions DT nudges you to address. DT offers an opportunity to learn to pay attention to cost, speed and sequence while designing experiments. DT urges you to consider the possibility that your core assumptions could be incorrect. This requires a degree of openness which many participants aren’t familiar with.

Experience: This is a picture of a government school from the Udupi district in Karnataka. Principal of the school saved Rs. 3000 every month for a year to get the school painted like a train. This has resulted in attracting more students and ex-students to see the new look of the school. Principal’s efforts are certainly noteworthy. However, when I ask: What could be missing in this innovation? Not many participants are able to see that the outward appearance of a school may be a small part of the overall end-to-end schooling experience of a child. Unless the experience inside the classroom is changed, not much may have changed for students. What the principal did could be a good first step, however unless it is extended inside the classroom, its value may be limited. DT offers an opportunity to look at end-to-end experience of various stakeholders.

If you have explored these dimensions already, DT could very well be old wine in old bottle. However, after the design thinking workshop I facilitate, that is generally not the impression participants carry. Perhaps they discover that there may be one or more dimensions which they haven’t explored at a sufficient depth.

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