Swarms, Pipelines, Design Thinking and Heraclitus

It always surprises me how things sometimes go together when you watch them for a while. Where shall I start?

I think it has been on Peter Merholz (Adaptive Path) blog where I’ve recently read about the term “Design Thinking” (even though his posting has been quite critical and focused on web design). Peter directed me to Dan Saffer who has tried to enlighten the nowadays widely used term “Design Thinking” by his (preliminary) list of things what “Design Thinking” comprises (the following list is quoted from his recommendable blog posting):

A Focus on Customers/Users. It’s not about the company and how your business is structured. The customer doesn’t care about that. They are care about doing their tasks and achieving their goals within their limits. Design thinking begins with those.

Finding Alternatives. Designing isn’t about choosing between multiple options, it’s about creating those options. Brenda Laurel speaks of her love of James T. Kirk’s “third option” instead of two undesirable choices. It’s this finding of multiple solutions to problems that sets designers apart.

Ideation and Prototyping. The way we find those solutions is through brainstorming and then, importantly, building models to test the solutions out. Now, I know that scientists and architects and even accountants model things, and possibly in a similar way, but there’s a significant difference: our prototypes aren’t fixed. One doesn’t necessarily represent the solution, only a solution. It’s not uncommon for several prototypes to be combined into a single product.

Wicked Problems. The problems designers are used to taking on are those without a clear solution, with multiple stakeholders, fuzzy boundaries, and where the outcome is never known and usually unexpected. Being able to deal with the complexity of these “wicked” problems is one of the hallmarks of design thinking.

A Wide Range of Influences. Because design touches on so many subject areas (psychology, ergonomics, economics, engineering, architecture, art, etc.), designers should bring to the table a broad, multi-disciplinary spectrum of ideas from which to draw inspiration and solutions.

Emotion. In analytical thinking, emotion is seen as an impediment to logic and making the right choices. In design, decisions without an emotional component are lifeless and do not connect with people.”

Further research directed me to Victor Lombardi’s blog (www.noisebetweenstations.com) and his six adjectives characterising “Design Thinking” (quoted from this posting):

Collaborative, especially with others having different and complimentary experience, to generate better work and form agreement

Abductive, inventing new options to find new and better solutions to new problems

Experimental, building prototypes and posing hypotheses, testing them, and iterating this activity to find what works and what doesn’t work to manage risk

Personal, considering the unique context of each problem and the people involved

Integrative, perceiving an entire system and its linkages

Interpretive, devising how to frame the problem and judge the possible solutions

Two weeks ago I’ve had a Skype-Chat (will “Skyping” become similar to “Googling”?) with Niti Bhan and I’ve written a post about it here. One of our conclusions has been to intensify the topic of “Design Thinking” and connect it closer to “Business Thinking” (which is worth another posting ;-). One of our ideas has been to embed this initiative into some sort of “organisation” (more later on in this posting).

Yesterday on CPH127 (with their current posting frequency the according posting is almost “old”) Hans Henrik wrote an informative posting about the basic ideas “Open Source Thinking” which extends the previously said perfectly (For reasons of posting space I’d like to recommend reading Hans’ original posting here). However one of the the quotes he lists says:

“Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.”

Unfortunately this has been rarely accepted by the business community and the recent story about LogoWorks and Laura Ries’ Blog (here on this blog) is a good example of this (however in this case the “solution” is still lacking and Laura/Marketing/Business has to realise that misunderstanding a concept is not a mortal sin).

One of the contributors of this discussion has been Michael Wagner (thanks for your insights, Mike). In a personal email today he pointed me to Tom Guarriello, author of “The TrueTalk blog”. Recently Tom wrote a posting (“Swarms and Pipelines”) about a presentation by Charles Leadbeater (one of Tony Blair’s favourite Thinkers) at the latest TEDGlobal conference in Oxford/UK. Here’s a quote from Tom’s blog:

“While innovation pipelines rely on special people (“creatives”) in special places (“departments”) doing special things, swarms provide open opportunities for users to create adaptive applications of the “kernel” presented by an originator.  That, plus a set of rules for self-monitoring (viz. Wikipedia) presents broad swaths of territory for large numbers of innovators.”

Interestingly both postings (CPH127 and “Swarms and Pipelines”) refer on a meta level to the ideas of open source and collaboration. And as if Niti could read my thoughts she’s done a posting on her blog named “Perspective” (and she’s really good in “creating” perspectives!) about “Organizations and Conferences” today. She somehow integrated all of the previously said by advocating:

Let’s create “… a venue for budding practioners and experienced professionals alike.” where “… business and design, design thinking if you will, come together …”

Well, here’s my reply and Niti’s reply (to be read in full on Niti’s blog):

“When posting my idea about the “Design Thinking Institute” I’ve exactly had the steps in mind which you’ve described. Let me summarise them as follows:

Collect: Set up a virtual space open to everyone who is willing to contribute with their views and ideas (BTW: www.designthinkinginstitute.com is already registered ;-)

Consolidate: Try to identify a pattern of issues which might be worth to be considered in a vision and mission statement

Collaborate: Take the opportunity to form the “real” institute with “real” people at the CPH127 forum next year. Maybe we can make it a conference topic? BTW: The “Design Management Institute” has bee founded in a similar manner some 30 years ago! Listen to Bill Hanon, one of the DMI founders here: http://kisd.de/uploads/media/discussion_dm_hannon.mp3

Stories like these are something which wouldn’t have been possible without blogs and days like this are something which I love (beside spending them together with my family ;-). – “Everything flows, nothing stands still” (Heraclitus)

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