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Book review: Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation

By Tim Brown

Harper Business ($35.99)

You want to keep the faith but it ain't easy.

You want to believe we’ll find solutions to big problems and  the opportunity in every challenge.

You want to believe that we’ll get it done with a shared sense of purpose and a real sense of urgency.

And you want to believe we’ll aim high, dream big and do something great. Something gamechanging and groundbreaking, transformational and transcendental.

But lately, you find that keeping the faith has been a real test of faith.

You head into workshops, retreats, summits and brainstorming sessions energized and excited, fired up and ready to go.  But you come out empty handed and exhausted. And frustrated that the only deliverable to come out of these meetings is to have yet more meetings that will be scheduled at a later date.

But don’t give up.  

For your next brainstorming session, bring along the rules of engagement used by IDEO, a global design consultancy that’s ranked as one of the world’s most innovative companies.

“Brainstorming is a structured way of breaking out of structure,” says author and IDEO CEO Tim Brown, who believes nothing beats a good brainstorming session for uncorking a whole lot of ideas.

Bringing people together without ground rules is a bad idea that leads to predictable results.

“Without rules there is no framework for a group to collaborate within, and a brainstorming session is more likely to degenerate into either an orderly meeting or an unproductive free-for-all with a lot of talking and not much listening.” Sound familiar?

So here are IDEO’s ground rules for better brainstorming. Defer judgment. Encourage wild ideas. Stay focused on the topic. And most important, build on the ideas of others. “It’s right up there with ‘thou shalt not kill’ and ‘honour thy father and thy mother’ as it ensures that every participant is invested in the last idea put forward and has the chance to move it along,” says Brown.

Nike hired IDEO to work on a product for kids. While IDEO has toy designers on staff, they opted to use expert consultants. IDEO waited for Saturday morning cartoons to end and then brought in a bunch of eight to ten-year-olds. The group was split into boy and girl camps, told the same instructions and given an hour to come up with ideas.

The girls dreamt up more than 200 ideas. The boys managed fewer than 50.

“Boys, at this age, find it more difficult to focus and to listen – attributes essential to genuine collaboration,” explains Brown. “The boys, so eager to get their own ideas out there, were barely conscious of the ideas coming from their follow brainstormers; the girls, without prompting, conducted a spirited but nonetheless serial conversation in which each idea related to the one that had come before and became a springboard to the one that came next. They were sparking off one another and getting better ideas as a result.”

So in your next brainstorming session, stay true to the “IDEOism” that all of us are smarter than any of us. And act like eight-year-old girls.

Brainstorming is one of the ways to jumpstart divergent thinking. In the ideation phase of innovation, you want to generate, develop and test a whole lot of ideas.

Convergent thinking helps you eliminate options, make choices and implement an innovation. “What convergent thinking is not so good at is probing the future and creating new possibilities,” says Brown. So keep convergent thinkers away from your next brainstorming session.

Design thinking is about finding what Brown calls the rhythmic exchange between divergent and convergent thinking.  You don’t create that rhythmic exchange by memo. And it doesn’t happen by accident. Brown spells out six essential preconditions for creating ideal conditions for innovation.

  1. The best ideas emerge when everyone, and not just a privileged few, has room to experiment and permission to fail. Fail fast, succeed sooner is another IDEOism.
  2. Folks who are most exposed to what’s happening on the frontlines and out in the world are in the best position, and have the greatest motivation, to come up with innovative solutions.
  3. Ideas should not be favoured based solely on who creates them. “Repeat aloud,” says Brown. Folks who talk the loudest and the longest or have the biggest office don’t have a monopoly on great ideas.
  4. Ideas that create buzz should be favoured. “Ideas should gain a vocal following, however small, before being given organizational support.”
  5. Put the gardening skills of senior leadership to work in tending, pruning and harvesting ideas. A culture of innovation needs bottom-up experimentation and top-down guidance.
  6. Clearly communicate an overarching purpose so there’s a common sense of direction and innovators don’t need constant care and supervision.

Above all, never stop asking how might we? This is the question IDEO asks at the start of every design challenge. Given the company’s track record, how might we is a question we should start asking ourselves over and over again at work and out in the community. And it’s a question that will help you keep the faith and design a brilliant solution.

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