Design Thinking Mindsets

By Andrew on 6th March 2020 — 3 mins read

(What are they? Can they help unlock new ways of working?)

Popularised by IDEO, Design Thinking is a toolset, a process, a methodology and a way of approaching design that prioritises empathy, co-design and experimentation. It’s a distillation of the most learnable and teachable aspects of their design practice.

The promise is this: Think like a designer and you’ll unlock all sorts of possibility. Creative confidence, collaborative Human Centred problem solving, valuable experiments, faster learning. Many good things.

Can it really promise all this?

Well… thinking like a designer can sweep aside some unhelpful default thinking styles and behaviours. For example, by fostering a desire to understand the human recipients of our products / services (often called ‘Empathy’), we replace the default behaviour of thinking that we know best (based on our own personal experiences). Embracing optimism (another Design Thinking Mindset – or DTM) creates the space to dream big to see things afresh (replacing a constraints-first viewpoint). Embracing ambiguity (another DTM) opens the possibility for wider consideration of ideas (as opposed to latching on to the first good idea that comes along).

Folks who might previously have been a set in their ways, embrace a beginner’s (or perhaps even a growth) mindset. Folks who might previously have been overly theoretical, develop a stronger bias towards trying things out. Folks who might have been quiet or marginalised are reached out to and included.

And you don’t have to be a designer to do this. You just have to think like one.

Wow! The power to transform an organisation’s ways of working – is just a few thoughts away!

Ok, perhaps not.

Thinking styles and diversity and inclusion

The way you think is a deeply personal thing. No-one should tell you to how to think. Imagine telling introverts that they need to be more extraverted (UX Design often seems to glorify extraversion in endless collaboration and co-design). Imagine asking someone on the autistic spectrum to demonstrate empathy (if they struggle with this). Imagine asking someone who suffers from depression to be more optimistic.

Engaging with diverse folks in the right inclusive way, can unlock much more that imposing a new way of thinking on to them!

Useful ways of thinking

However we don’t have to impose it (we can be careful not to) – and it is still true to say that there are useful and not-useful ways of thinking. There are mental spaces we can occupy that are fertile ground for good things to grow out of. And there are mental spaces we can occupy that are toxic places where nothing good can happen. We’ve all been in both of these places.

So as long as we avoid saying that particular ways of thinking are right for everyone and/or always superior (in every context), then perhaps we can still offer guidance to each other about thinking styles to try.

Training = engaging

Getting started with a new way of thinking takes time and perhaps a little training.

Training comes with a few key advantages. 

1.No one will ever say “no” to training. We all want to develop. “Become a Design Thinking guru?” “Yes please!” There’s no better way to persuade folks to adopt new ways of working.

2.Good training provides a taster… you get to try stuff out and find out what works for you. You get a sense of the way in – and what it can give you.

3.You normally start with the basics. You’d be given a some instruction on where to develop things further should that be of interest. You’d know what’s safe to do yourself and when to enlist someone with more knowledge and experience.

Everything starts with ’Mindsets’?

Real change begins with a change in thinking. The development of new skills begins this way too.

To illustrate this, I’ve drafted something! Very much a work in progress…

48 ways in which designers think differently!

I’ll share this in a subsequent post…

The thought is that by adopting the mindset – you get some of that fertile soil for getting going with each Design skill. Each one attempts to sweep aside a less helpful default way of thinking and behaving – laying the way clear to develop the corresponding skill…

Ultimately there’s more than one way to get there I suspect. But it’s worth trying to list out some useful thinking habits – and it’d act as a bit of a definition for what I mean when I say Design Thinking.

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