Your Break Through Post # 48 {Vol. 2, Ed. 2}

At the beginning of 2016 I posted a series under the title, Seven Questions Innovative Leaders Ask^, which are what I believe to be the foundation of Creative Leadership and Design Thinking, and thus the foundation for how the Rocky Mountain Innovation Lab approaches strategic planning, coaching, and problem solving. So early here in 2017, I want to make note of last year’s series, and refresh my own perspective on design.

What is Design Thinking?

As recently pointed out in an article by the Atlantic about design thinking in schools, Design Thinking is not something to be boiled down to one definition or one set of traits.  It is instead a nuanced process that involves extensive contextual thinking, early deliberation about the potential solution and the impact that solution will have on users (communities, workplaces, consumers, clients, students, customers etc.), and careful, thoughtful, fun, and exhilarating brainstorming, trial and error, editing, and hard work. One of my favorite youtube clips, a video of an IDEO team redesigning a shopping cart, best illustrates this incredible process.

Why Does Design Thinking Matter So Much?

Design Thinking gets us closer to the most ideal solutions to our most pressing challenges. There are so many great ideas out there that get turned into solutions without considering context and impact. And when the idea flops, everyone immediately assumes that the answer wasn’t so great.

My challenge to that through Design Thinking is that it might not mean the whole solution needs to be thrown out, but instead carefully revisited, put through more divergent brainstorming and convergent editing, and tested against some pertinent questions: How will this impact people?  How might they respond to it? How can we adjust it a bit to make it more palatable, user-friendly, helpful? What is it that we really want to achieve?  Does the solution match our mission and our goals? Design Thinking certainly involves trial and error, even failure, but it moves the needle and has the power to make our work more effective, maybe the most effective possible.

What Else?

I also encourage leaders to ask: Are we trying to change too much too fast? Are we doing so much that no one is slowing down to really give one project the time it needs? Are we sacrificing quality solutions for quick-fix ideas? Is there one essential thing we could do that would matter more than a menagerie of programs and projects?

Here I am back to asking questions as a way of describing Design Thinking and my own use of it.  I suppose for me, asking questions and engaging in critical reflection are paramount. We need to shelve our fears of thinking deeply and instead become curious, creating a habit of inquiry in ourselves and a culture of inquiry in our organizations and communities. The inquisitive mind gets us a step closer to Design Thinking.


These questions are based on the Creative Problem Solving process designed by Alex Osborn and advanced by the Creative Education Foundation. I deepened on these questions and this process while teaching “Creative Leadership” at Johnson & Wales University, and it was this course material, along with the design firm IDEO that helped me understand the somewhat complicated, but incredibly powerful process of Design Thinking.