Design Thinking; an obituary in advance

Design-Thinking-01I am a management consultant of 15 years and in that time, there is only one immutable truth. That which says that everything can be structured, rolled up into a framework, split into a method, repurposed as training materials and then sold onto clients. You can’t sell an idea but you can sell the process to get the idea.

Each consulting epoch (2-3 years) has it’s own special flavour. Lean went from manufacturing through the sausage machine into desks at public sector offices and faded into standard operations. Agile started with software developers, scrums mutated into sprints and now gets applied everywhere and nowhere (especially in proposals). Design thinking is the current chef’s special and the signs are all there that it’s about to begin it’s process of becoming commoditised and therefore go gently into the good night.

Let’s examine the signs.

1) Training – I sat in a lecture from a well known consulting firm who were extremely proud that they were rolling out training to everyone in the whole organisation on design thinking; through a 1 hour online mandatory training course. Hmmmm

2) Use of the term Design Thinky – as in, we aren’t going to run design thinking but we are applying a Design Thinky approach

3) Certification – once real saturation point is reached, the only way forward is to propose a tiered system of accreditation to support multiple layers of training and expense; green belt, master user, 4th dan. It’s only a matter of time before we see a linked in profile extoling a person’s role as a 4th Level grandmaster Design Thinker – with proof of 400hrs of Design Thinking led work supported by 5 testimonies and a formal exam.

Here is what I find wrong with this. Design Thinking relies on some real skills which aren’t built by learning the process. You have to have people instincts which allow you to run interviews and assessment based on building rapport, applying psychology and to create real empathy. You can’t do this from a pro forma spreadsheet. You also have to have the imagination and insight which enables you to manage the creation of ideas. This requires facilitation skills which come from experience and again applies a lens of psychology into how you get the best out of people. To develop the ideas, you need the ability to prototype past the point of drawing some lines on a page or building a model with some sticks; there is dev ops, UX/UI right, process/op model, supply chain right behind which needs some specific skills. To run a linear process, you look at inputs and outputs/outcomes as points of certainty to progress. By definition, the approach should go back and forward, up and down to get the best out the people and the process.

Design thinking is not a new idea. The HBR published a article about it in 2008 and even that came 30 years after a book on visual thinking – idea-sketching, seeing, and imagining which formed the basis for the psychology behind the approach. Each element comes from having years of experience and range of people who can support and deliver the method. Ironically, if you have these people together then you wouldn’t need any process or model to get good outcomes, you would rely on the group genius and the skills to bring out the insight and the answer.

Should we not abandon teaching design thinking as a method and teach psychology, facilitation, customer centricity, dev ops, product design? Sounds a lot harder right?

I am therefore declaring Design Thinking dead just as I did that social media site when my Mum signed up; all the cool people would leave and find something new, no-one would use the full access to the facilities and surely there would be other better options. (Facebook I think they were called).

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