5 Pervasive Myths About Design Thinking

Photo: Maureen Carroll

1. It takes too much time.

Typically when we have a problem, our tendency is to quickly, and with a laser-focus, rush to solve it. One of the best things about design thinking is that it calls for a pause button and challenges us to ask the question “Are you solving the right problem?” Design thinking is all about need-finding. There is definitely more time spent in the beginning phase of the design thinking process where your goal is to gain empathy for the stakeholder you are designing a solution for. But it is actually time well spent, because solving the wrong problem ultimately takes a lot more time.

2. You can’t connect design thinking to the bottom line.

You can think about design thinking in two different ways. The first is to consider how you might apply the process. Identifying a customer’s unarticulated needs changes the way you design products, the way you make sales calls, and how you create your brand experience. A good user need statement is worth its weight in gold. The second way you can think about design thinking is as a tool for creating innovators. When the people in your organization see themselves as innovators, everything changes. Everyone begins to look for opportunities to innovate, and that’s when a company’s culture changes. Questions about how things are done and how they can be done better become an everyday occurrence. Companies like Citrix, GE, Four Seasons, Intuit, Capital One, PepsiCo, Proctor & Gamble, SAP, Apple, Google and Kaiser Permanente know this. Ultimately, both these ways of using design thinking impact the bottom line.

3. You can learn how to do it, apply it, and teach it to your colleagues after one training session.

Design thinking is a game changer, not a Band-aid. As Tim Brown said in the Harvard Business Review article on design thinking “… in order to create sustained competitive advantage, businesses must be not just practitioners, but masters of the art.” It takes practice to build skills in conducting ethnographic interviews, analyzing and synthesizing data, brainstorming, prototyping and testing. When you first attend a design thinking workshop, the amount of information you learn is overwhelming. It’s a lot like learning to draw. You take a lesson, and you know a bit about drawing. You practice, and learn something new each time you put pen to paper, but you don’t stop taking lessons. Changing your company culture won’t happen in one day, so acknowledging the complexity of the process is essential. It’s important to really learn the design thinking process well. Do that first.

4. You have to change the way you do everything.

The first time you learn to play music, you are not going to have the expectation that you will be able to compose a symphony. Similarly, the first time you try design thinking you have to adjust your expectations accordingly. You don’t have to meet lofty expectations, nor do you have to change everything about the way you do your work. You do, however, have to be willing to try something, because design thinking is experiential and all about a bias towards action. For example, you should not have meetings about how you should have Post-it notes and Sharpies in a room for your next meeting. Instead, you should place Post-it notes and Sharpies in a room for your next meeting and see what happens. Every culture is different and change happens in different ways. And even if it is a small step, take it. Small changes can have a big impact.

5. You just have to follow the steps of the design thinking process.

Design thinking is not a recipe. We talk about process and mindsets, but what does this mean? When you embrace design thinking you are challenged to think differently, and reframe your perspective to solve problems in human-centered ways.

Embrace the mindsets of design thinking:

  • constraints foster creativity
  • have a bias towards action
  • fail forward and learn from it
  • take risks,
  • have deep empathy

You have to discover what this means to you as a person, and how this has an impact on the way you work. It’s about ownership and agency. You can’t read about it or talk about it. You have to do it. It leaves you vulnerable, and humble. You must be willing to acknowledge that you don’t have the answers and that you are willing to learn from trying, failing, and iterating. How this looks in your organization depends on how you decide to integrate design thinking as an approach to accomplish your goals in human-centered ways. Be design-driven. Make your own recipe and own what happens.