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Reflections on the Design Thinking Conference June 5, 2018

Reflections on the Design Thinking Conference

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Shaun Gummere

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Recently, Krista and I spoke at the Design Thinking Conference in Austin, Texas. It was a great event. Conferences tend to have a lifecycle, and this year’s felt like it was in its golden age. There was something that was right about how all the pieces came together. What was it?

Design Thinking Conference welcome

While our fellow speakers had some amazing stories to tell, there was also an energy from the attendees. As Andy Raskin, who consults on strategic narrative, would say, they had ‘seen the promised land.’ And they couldn’t wait to take design thinking to the next level.

Yet, it was clear from our many conversations that while design thinking is making inroads, it needs to move even faster, to find its way from the periphery to the center, from a nice to have to the new way of doing business.

Design Thinking isn't a workshop
📸 credit: PHEAA Financial Aid

Indeed, one theme we heard again and again was that of culture. Most everyone had seen some success in exciting their teams or getting some small design thinking initiative off the ground. They knew it could work because they had experienced it. But, they were struggling with how to go big. Culture—what everyone else knows—was a point of resistance.

It makes sense, change is hard. Every organization resists it. In fact, every organization is forever in tension between efficiency and innovation.

On the one side, the efficient organization is built around the known, repeatable, measurable activities that keep it in business. And this is what most people focus on when they come to work every day. Every process, workflow, and system is tuned to support and guide employees in delivering what the organization has been designed to produce.

On the other side lies innovation, the need to adapt and change, to embrace the unknown and turn it to your advantage. This is where design thinking lives. Yes, it can result in breakthrough products like the iPhone, or disruptive services like AirBnB. But it’s just as common for change efforts to flounder and for people to say “I told you so.” After all, when you introduce change, you’re asking people to step outside their comfort zone, to set aside the work that still needs to get done, all for something that frankly can’t be proven at the outset.

And this is the key point.

Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Business and one of the world’s top business thinkers, says the enemy of innovation is the mandate to “prove it.” As he states: “You cannot prove a new idea by inductive or deductive reasoning.” Rather, you must embrace creativity, which can be informed by data, but always demands the embrace of the unknown.

The culture challenge so many attendees identified, then, comes down to this: how to get the analytical side of the business to accommodate creativity, which introduces uncertainty into a system designed to reject it.

At Cantina, we’ve developed an experience strategy methodology to bridge this gap. At the conference, we shared our new Experience Strategy Method Cards, and they were a big hit. That tells us people who want to fully realize the promise of design thinking need a process like this.

Now, method cards will never replace creativity (and that’s not the point). At the core, their purpose is to bring actionable evidence to the intersection of the desirable, viable, and feasible. Of equal importance, they also help people develop a common vocabulary and direction essential for creativity to take root and for design thinking to thrive. If you’d like a copy of our method cards, let us know.

Request experience strategy cards


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