Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Traits of Design Thinkers - and Imagineers

Back in 2012, SAP AG's Gerd Waloszek did a blog posting called Introduction to Design Thinking which is one of the best compilations of material on DT that I've seen.

It should probably come as no surprise that SAP is a big advocate of DT, since Hasso Plattner, who co-founded the company and has served as Chairman of the Supervisory Board since May 2003, is the same Hasso Plattner who has donated tens of millions of dollars to fund the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, aka the “d. school”, which is recognized as the first program of its kind dedicated to teaching design thinking as a tool for innovation — not just to designers — but to students from all different disciplines.

One point of confusion about the practice of Design Thinking is philosophical; If humans are all natural born designers, and natively creative, aren't we all native design thinkers? As usual, the answer is yes, and no.

Like most skills, once learned, Design Thinking is something which is refined and improved by practice. As with other creative skills, such as music, we are born with the ability to recognize good design when we see it, even if we may lack the (learnable) vocabulary to describe it.  This is why Dave Kelley says that at the d.school they discovered that they don't need to teach the students anything, they just need to overcome their fears of being judged.


Now, that is a very interesting assertion. If all we need to do to become wildly creative is overcome our fear of judgement, sign me for the next Overcoming Your Fear of Judgement Seminar and let's get going!

A little reflection on this will probably lead you to conclude that just overcoming fears alone doesn't turn someone into a brilliant and successful designer.  There is a lot of learning, study and practice which goes into it.  Fortunately, the problems most of us need to solve don't require genius class brilliance and execution to get the job done. What they do require is the mindset of a Design Thinker.

In the SAP blog posting, Gerd has two tables which summarize the Attributes of Design Thinking and the Characteristics of Design Thinkers.  I've combined and edited the two together here;

Traits of Design Thinkers
Think of this like a check list, or job requirements posting. These are traits and characteristics which will help you become more creative. If you don't have them, you can develop them, or get help from someone else who has them.  If some of these feel like personality traits, it's because they are. Being non-judgmental, open minded and curious are right near the top. By the way, this grouping sounds like several things which Walt Disney said about his process and Imagineering. I've deliberately strung them together into a flow, so it's not an actual, in context, quote;

I believe in being an innovator.  Around here... we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.  It's kind of fun to do the impossible.  Somehow, I can't believe that there are any heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. 

He also said; "We like to have a point of view in our stories, not an obvious moral, but a worthwhile theme." 

Getting the POV is also a key principle of Design Thinking.

Oh, I almost forgot; There's one more thing that D'(isney) 'Thinking (Imagineering) and d.(esign) thinking have in common; Storytelling.

We'll come back to all this later in some other posts.

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