Design Thinking: How, why and why now?

The popularity of the term “Design Thinking” seems to be spiking at the moment. So I did a talk about it recently at Cape Town’s Western Cape Funding Fair.

The talk is at the bottom. First – some thoughts!


Design Thinking isn’t…

Design Thinking tends to inspire passion. I think the primary reason is that it’s a lot of fun, and it promises a solution to a pretty dreadful status quo. But sometimes people expect Design Thinking to be a universal approach for situations of all types – which it isn’t. In Digital, for example, Lean Startup builds on Design Thinking with a much more robust approach to taking an innovation all the way to market. Design Thinking, on the other hand, tends to focus on the beginning part: discovering and validating a new idea. This is a very important thing to do, but it doesn’t automatically create profitable new businesses.

Me giving the talk... Swanky, eh?

Why now?

I’m also interested to understand “why now?”. Design thinking dates back, arguably, to the 1970s. And definitely the 1980s. And yet it’s continually re-discovered and it popularity is growing steadily.

I think Design Thinking is more relevant than ever now because:

  • Humanity is learning and discovering that we want digital to improve our lives, rather than fill them with distractions,
  • The complexity of the systems we have built is spectacular,
  • Our appreciation of the complexity around us is more mature: we have some tools for noticing and talking about complexity
  • The next wave of technologies, which is breaking over us now, is going to be unparalleled. We have a lot of work to do to to find out how to use them. AI and VR are my two favourites.

Better than other ways of thinking

People often talk about the power of Design Thinking, but spend less time talking about why it works. I find it easier to believe that something is effective if I understand the reasons for its effectiveness.

A good answer: Design Thinking combats a number of cognitive biases that tend to lead to poor decision making.

Here’s the talk.

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