Better Than New

‘Design Thinking’ Over the Hill as a Fad by morepete
May 21, 2007, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Design Thinking Fad, Snark

By Pete Mortensen 

Bruce Nussbaum highlights a quote from Diego Rodriguez at IIT’s Strategy Conference that I think is as good a measure of the health of current thought around innovation as any:

“Design thinking can be used to formulate business plans for new ventures.” Which, while true, doesn’t tell me why anyone who isn’t bought into these ideas should care.

A commenter, Rich, follows up with an even more optimistic take:

Design thinking must be used to formulate business plans to ensure successful new ventures.

Now, as excited as I am about the possibilities created when an iterative approach to creation is applied to new field after new field, I think it’s a step too far to call such an experiment a necessity that will ensure success.

On the other hand, I think Diego’s a bit behind the curve if he thinks that design thinking-driven business planning is brand new. Of course it can be used to formulate business plans for new ventures. That, in itself, doesn’t answer the most important question here: Will they be good business plans for successful new ventures?

Everyone is excited about design thinking these days, but I think we’re in for trouble if we view the innovation landscape solely through that lens. Great innovations are most likely to succeed when they are built on equal parts culture, design and business. Hybrid thinking, fluent in each of these domains, is more important when you look beyond the development of individual products. A lot of prototyping, by itself, does not a great business plan make.

If we want the current innovation boom to be more than a punchline in business courses 5 years from now, we need to see underneath the fad we’re currently a part of to discern the enduring ideas that will help promote long-term, sustainable growth in economies around the world.

Otherwise, we might as well go back to proclaiming that Six Sigma alone can secure the future of a business, or that the Internet will eliminate world poverty, or that TV will make the education of mass audiences so simple that schools will be unnecessary.

I mean, seriously. Design thinking can also be used to read the newspaper. But that doesn’t matter. Here are the questions to ask: Does it make it better? Does it look noticeably different from existing methods in the world? Does it connect with what people really need? Novelty alone is a dead end.