Maturity of a Movement

So I’ve spent some time thinking about and comparing the work we’ve been doing for the past few years with what we’ve been working on for the past 20 months or so. Year to year, the work we’re doing and the requests we’re getting are more advanced and complex than in years past. And yes, this is partly due to expanding our services and experiences but I think this more importantly speaks to the maturity of design thinking as a movement.

My hunch is that leaders are seeing more evidence of what a design based approach is doing for companies/industries. There are more stories. More anecdotal evidence.

If in any way this is a barometer, we are getting less requests for something like a ½ day introduction to design thinking and more commonly seeing interest in longer term engagements where design is thoughtfully introduced to an organization at large and more deeply infused to pockets of teams and individuals. Leadership is seeking help transforming cultures into groups of curious problem solvers. They want teams acting like internal start-ups. “Innovation Labs” are all over the place and even though they seem to be having a tough time getting started, there is a sincere desire to do things differently. To accomplish more work. Better work, in an authentic way.

Leaders aren’t coming to us to find new ways to increase revenue or cut costs, they genuinely seem to care about the people they serve as well as their customers.

So what? What does this mean?
Well, to me, it means a few things.

It means that awareness is way up.
There are more stories with meaningful results.
We are meeting more and more “Directors of Innovation”, or “Design Strategy Leaders”. Titles that didn’t exist 5 years ago are now commonplace.

It means that design thinking as a movement is growing up and showing prodigious results. And not just in the ways it was promised to us. Not just as a methodology for finding consistent innovation, but as a fresh set of behaviors and mindsets… new ways or working on lots of things, not just “innovation” work.

And last, but not definitely not least, it means that we get to do good meaningful work that changes people lives for the better. And personally I have to be doing that in order to wake up every day and bring my A game. To bring the energy and presence and interest required to move the needle. 
I have to give a shit or I just won’t do it well.

So a question that I think about often is ‘where is this going?’
And the super cool thing (to me) is that I don’t know. I don’t have to know. I get to continue to observe and be involved and even help drive to some degree. And in this way I get to employ several classic design thinking mindsets like radical collaboration, bias to action, staying human centered, and embracing experimentation.

So this one mans observation. I didn’t poll anyone or sit down for some long empathy interviews with hundreds of people. So take it for what you will. But from my point of view, design thinking as a movement is growing up and getting more sophisticated. It has broader application and the language surrounding it feels more accessible by more people. Maybe design thinking is still a teenager. Gangly and awkward and unsure in certain situations…but it’s no longer a little baby who needs our constant help all the time. It can definitely stand on it’s own two feet!

So my question to you, those we have worked with us in the past and/or those of you who have been practicing human centered design is where do you think this is headed? What does the next iteration look like in your minds eye?

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