What is Design Thinking? – Musings from a business consultant, Part 1

16 Nov 2009|Leigh Marinner

There is a lot of confusion about what “Design Thinking” means, both among the design community and the broader business community. As a Boston Consulting Group-trained strategic business consultant, I have been struggling to understand what design thinking is and what it adds to solving a client’s problems. Cheskin Added Value integrates the disciplines of business consulting, design thinking, and understanding the customer experience in order to deliver innovation ideas, strategy and guidance to our clients. During my seven years here, I and many others have been working to figure out how design thinking and business consulting should be integrated in a firm that started as a market research firm 50 years ago, but now delivers innovation guidance which doesn’t stop at customer insight.

I have bristled at the used of the “design” word, because it sounded fuzzy and un-businesslike. “Design” conjures up graphic design or industrial product design – with the emphasis on how the product looks. I don’t think a CEO or division director cares as much about design as he/she does about producing results. I thought leading with describing ourselves as an innovation design firm risked setting up an initial hurdle that we would have to overcome by long explanations of what we meant by design.

Last week I attended a talk by Roger Martin, the author of The Design of Business-Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. Roger said that the “design” in design thinking was confusing and he could have called it anything –e.g. Rotman Thinking (he is dean of the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management). He said that 90% of designers and 90% of business consultants don’t know how to do what he calls design thinking.

So what is Design Thinking? My understanding is that it means being creative and generative and not just analytical about how one approaches a problem. That approaching a business problem using different thinking styles can generate more powerful answers. And that design schools have something to contribute in different tools to approach business problems.
To be continued.

prev next