d:t trifft

Design Thinking is „Mindset“? … Not Exactly.

*** thanks for sharing, GK VanPatter. thanks for meeting us in NYC this summer ***

With some design thinking related discussion groups on LinkedIn now exceeding 80,000+ members, many new to the subject terrain, it is not so unusual for enthusiastic fuzzy misperception waves to build from one conversation to the next at a rapid rate. Like a fire-hose of run-away freight trains misperception waves seem to appear via social media at volumes that are no longer possible to intercept or comment on.

With everyone busy, most practice leaders just let the waves flow, hoping they will sort themselves out eventually. Some do. Some don’t. Some fuzzy waves are at times humorous and at other times painful to watch as they take hold and or grow.

Opposite to Donald Trump’s twitter postings, most practice leaders try to select their discussion participations and contributions carefully in consideration of limited time constraints. In this vein and considering the increasing impact of discussion groups we try to pick and choose which fuzzy misperception waves are important enough to comment on, to make more sense of and or to offer an alternate perspective on for our readers.

One such misperception wave, popular at the moment is depicting Design Thinking as a “mindset” thing. Often seen in discussion threads is this murky phrase: “Design Thinking is a mindset not a process.”…On and on it goes being reposted many times by its advocates.

This might be good or not so good depending on what you think that statement means and depending on what you are trying to do in your organization. It would be easy to misunderstand what that means. When it comes to the task of scaling capacity and building culture it is probably going to be useful to have some clarity around what it means for your organization. If you are not focused on innovation capacity building, culture building it might not matter to you.

I am happy to share with our readers here a simple sensemaking lens that we often use in our initial conversations with organizational leaders. In our innovation enabling work we have, for more then a decade, differentiated between MindShift, SkillShift and CultureShift.

Due to the amount of crap that is now continously present in the media (including discussion groups), many organizational leaders are under the mistaken impression that onboarding a bunch of MindShift experiences is going to be enough to change their culture in the direction of innovation. It isn’t.

MindShift experiences are lightweight and introductory in nature. If you have never heard of the subjects of Design Thinking or Innovation and are starting from scratch onboarding MindShift experiences can be useful and represent the first step in your organizations innovation enabling journey. MindShift experiences include watching YouTube videos, or TED presentations, reading innovation books, inviting guest speakers, attending conferences or unconferences and reading discussion list conversations. MindShift is about raising initial awareness. None of those activities build the kind of skill that is required today to realize SkillShift or get to CultureShift.

There is a huge, often unrecognized chunk in between MindShift and CultureShift that is all about learning new cross-disciplinary changemaking skills, not currently present in most business organizations. If you miss that chunk nothing much in the way of changemaking is going to occur in your corporate culture. To keep it simple: CultureShift requires SkillShift not just MindShift.

Unlike the impression you might have received from the statement: “Design Thinking is a mindset not a process.”…The truth is, the skills inside SkillShift are primarily process skills, not content skills. Externalized process skills have become a necessity in any industry where complex challenges are being tackled by multiple disciplines. This is not an abstract design community thumbs up or down idea but rather a practical necessity when multiple disciplines are present.

While it is true that with considerable work you might get yourself and your team to the point where everyone present has internalized process navigation, lets recognize that as advanced skill. That is not something mastered by watching YouTube videos or other basic MindShift experiences. Advanced mastery of process skills is at the upper end of SkillShift. Setting expectations realistically: Even with an appropriately geared skill-building program it takes considerable work to get a cross-disciplinary team to that upper level, let alone an entire company. Lets be real.

From a methods perspective, it is true there is not one Design Thinking process, but rather many. With our sensemaking hats on, it is not difficult to organize those diverse methods into upstream and downstream types. In terms of practical capacity building choices that looks like this:

Upstream Innovation Capacity

Capacity Goal: We want to build/scale the adaptable capacity to address a wide diversity of organization challenges on an ongoing basis.

What to Build: Strategic Design Thinking/Doing capacity, also called Strategic CoCreation capacity or Meta Design Thinking capacity.

Downstream Innovation Capacity

Capacity Goal: We want to build/scale the capacity to create more/better products.

What to Build: Product Design Thinking/Doing capacity.

Capacity Goal: We want to build/scale the capacity to create more/better services.

What to Build: Service Design Thinking/Doing capacity.

Capacity Goal: We want to build/scale the capacity to create more/better experiences.

What to Build: Experience Design Thinking/Doing capacity.

Don’t go build a downstream Design Thinking capacity and expect it to perform the feats of an upstream capacity. Force-fitting, assuming or pretending that downstream methods are upstream methods tends to create alot of confusion in organizations.

At the end of the day acknowledging that many Design Thinking processes exist is different than saying process skills are not important. They certainly are. The truth is adaptable process knowledge/skills have a much longer career shelf life then content knowledge/skills.

Today our advise to organizational leaders seeking to embark on any form of innovation capacity building, CultureShift expedition is to first understand what your organizational needs are (what you need help with) and what methods fit those needs before you begin your journey. Generalizing that Design Thinking is a “mindset” is not going to get you there.

Our Humantific clients tend to recognize that externalized adaptable process mastery is among highly valued future work skills that are already required and are already here. Not everyone in the business community or the design community is going to be ready for the arrival of that externalized reality. Some will surely resist. So be it.

Good luck to all. Watch out for those fuzzy misperception waves!


Humantific: Making Sense of Service Design Thinking

Humantific: Making Sense of Design Thinking & AGILE Method

Humantific: Making Sense of “Why Design Thinking Will Fail”