Be a Design Thinker


There are too many problems, issues, or things that need fixing in your organization, and not enough people are trying to solve them.


Anything can be improved if you learn how to become a design thinker.  Being a design thinker means that you notice the ‘design’ of the bigger picture.  If you observe what forces are causing behaviors, and notice the design of the entire system, you can find solutions that are powerful and innovative.  You can ‘design’ a new system that is better for everyone.

I don’t usually do book reviews here (and this isn’t one, really) but I want to reference where this idea of a ‘design thinker’ came from.  It is from Tim Brown’s book, Change By Design, and I recommend you check it out.

Of course, being an engineer, I might be somewhat biased toward the concept of design, but Tim Brown’s book isn’t about the engineering part of design, nor is it about the artsy aspect of design. It is about the general concept that everything – organizations, businesses, processes, interactions, or things – has a design.  So, becoming a ‘design thinker’ means that you begin to become aware of the bigger picture and understand why things happen the way they do.  With this mindset, you have the capacity to design more comprehensive solutions.

Tim Brown describes a few practices that I think can be helpful to everyone if carefully applied.

1) Gain insight through close observation.

Like a keen anthropologist observing human behavior, what people do, and what they don’t do, design thinkers can uncover details hidden in the ordinary.  One way to make critical observations is to personally experience the path or journey of the customer or the product.

2) Develop a culture of experimentation and prototyping.

Learning is best achieved by doing.  And the way to ‘do’ things quickly and easily is to call it an experiment or a prototype.  Constantly applying this practice fosters an environment where it is okay to fail.  Curiosity drives learning when there is no fear of failure. Prototypes can be built for processes or concepts and are the fastest way to clearly communicate ideas.

3) Build on the ideas of others.

All of us are smarter than any of us.  Collaboration and brainstorming must be an integral part of the culture of any organization that wants innovative solutions to their problems.  If even a simple, single event contains multiple angles, then gaining understanding of a complex system will require input from many individuals.

These ideas aren’t new.  They just seem to lack effective implementation in most organizations.  But any change must have a start, some ignition that creates movement.  And it might as well be you.

Where will you start to implement these concepts?

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