Design Thinking (Part 2 of 2): Think Bigger and Adopt a Beginner’s Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”, Shunryu Suzuki

When I started learning Design Thinking, I knew it was applicable to designing products. Design Thinking has obvious value for creating user interfaces, clothing and cars. What I did not know is that it could be applied to more abstract concepts like sales strategy, data governance, and business models. Yet, those were my first opportunities to practice Design Thinking. What is the most important lesson that I learned? Be creative. Design Thinking is not a set process.

If done well, Design Thinking enables us to think bigger and bolder. The approach starts by enabling many people to participate and express their ideas. Instead of having a meeting where people speak one-at-a-time, participants each write ideas on post-it notes and later do a “playback” to discuss the collective contributions.

It has been one year since I have rejoined IBM. The company is in the middle of reinventing itself. For years, IBM has had an engineering-centric culture. Design Thinking is being applied to shift the culture towards one that is focused on user outcomes. The company has its own variation of the method branded “IBM Design Thinking” that splits up big problems into small ones and aligns individual teams with the big picture.

Design Thinking can employ a number of potential activities such as scenario maps, big idea vignettes, and storyboards. After participating in my first two sessions, I noticed that order of activities was not the same. When I facilitated for the first time, I realized that there is no defined order. One can pick activities and experiment. One can even reshape an individual activity.

Examples of Modifying Design Thinking Activities

IBM Design Thinking’s “Hills” activity defines milestones in phases, e.g. cupcake, birthday cake and wedding cake. Adding layers made it work better for data governance. Those layers included governance strategy, organization and customer success.

Working on a co-creation business model, it was useful to split up an “As-Is” activity, one for each co-creation partner. That made sense because, in the current state, each partner creates independently.

Be creative with the activities. A pre-defined set of activities is like a cooking recipe. It can help one get started with started. An “Iron Chef” does not follow a recipe. One need not follow defined set of activities for Design Thinking either. Big established companies find comfort in a process. Do not fall for that trap. Design Thinking is about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Some of the Design Thinking activities can be uncomfortable for participants. In one session, I observed that only a few participants drew the pictures for a “Big Idea Vignettes” activity. The participants who did sketch pictures, however, came up with the bigger ideas. Lesson learned? Draw the pictures, especially if you are left-brained.

To continue to get even more value from Design Thinking, I have started reading “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”. Beginner’s mind is an approach that Steve Jobs applied to his work at Apple. Jobs, as described in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, advocated the need to develop a beginner’s mind to see beyond the constraints that lead us to old answers for difficult problems.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”, begins the book. The idea is to take a step back, to look at something as if you did not know anything about it. Learn to see the world with fresh eyes. Learn to adopt a beginner’s mind. Couple that mindset with Design Thinking and we can all be more creative and innovative.

Post in this Blog Series

Design Thinking (Part 1 of 2): Transforming Organizations with Entrenched Cultures
Design Thinking (Part 2 of 2): Learn, Practice … and Adopt a Beginner’s Mind

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