The Artistic Attitude In Business

Dennis Hambeukers
Dec 30, 2018 · 6 min read

Design thinking is based on something deeper. We all know Tim Brown’s definition that tells us how design thinking is human-centered and how it draws from the designer’s toolkit:

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO.

If we look at this definition, I see that:

  • Design is not necessarily human-centered. If it is, we call it user-centered design (UCD). So the needs of people are not always top of the list for design.
  • The possibilities of technology are not necessarily known to most designers.
  • The same goes for the requirements of business success.

The four elements of design thinking

Design thinking is often tightly linked to design but from the 4 elements in the definition, only 1 is really about design and that is the designer’s toolkit. It is the crucial part of the definition because design is what differentiates design thinking from all other approaches.

It’s not the toolkit

But the designer’s toolkit is not what makes design thinking into design thinking. Anyone can grab a toolkit and go to work. And that is exactly what you see in a lot of design thinking activities, workshops, and projects. Although I have never seen designers use post-its, that seems to be the toolkit that people seem to associate with design thinking.

Google “design thinking workshop” and you see a lot of post-its.

When you google “design tools”, you see something else:

Google “design tools” and you see something else.

You see either physical tools to create stuff or digital tools to create stuff. Designers create stuff so their toolkits are aimed towards that. The tools in design thinking and the tools of designers are quite different.

Apart from the fact that I think design thinking would be far more effective if people used the actual tools of design more than the post-its they do now (make stuff, prototype more!), there is something deeper that constitutes the real power of design thinking. If you tap into this real power, the tools you use don’t actually matter.

The real power that drives design thinking

If you look at it like this, the influence of design on design thinking might be smaller than people think. But it’s not. There is something underneath design that is powering design thinking, giving it its power. That something is the artistic attitude.

Design is an art form, it is taught at art academies, it has its roots in art. And the artistic attitude is part of design as it is part of art.

Although there are also many similarities, the artistic attitude is in many ways the opposite of the scientific attitude.

If you look at pure science, the artistic attitude is not so different. But when you compare the artistic attitude with the scientific management attitude that is a derivative of the scientific attitude, the differences are fundamental, quintessential, colossal. The scientific management attitude, spawned by Fredrick Taylor in the 19th century, is the dominant mental model in business today. The introduction of the artistic attitude in business is, in fact, the biggest disruption in business that will propel business into the 21st century. The artistic attitude is what will unlock creativity, the right half of business brains, the agility, the problem-solving virtuosity that are necessary to operate in the 21st century.

Herein lies the true power of design thinking. Design thinking is the vessel that enables the artistic attitude to enter the business world and take it to the next level.

The artistic attitude

What is the artistic attitude? What are it’s characteristics?

The artistic attitude …

  • … is free of rules and plans. It only creates rules for a specific purpose. It never accepts rules as a starting point.
  • … is willing to question everything, including itself.
  • … actively searches for uncertainty and complexity because it knows that is where the most potential for interesting stuff lies.
  • … always pushes things forward, because repetition kills the artistic attitude.
  • … is willing to throw everything out the window if that is necessary to get ahead.
  • … is always willing to risk everything.
  • … doesn’t do things just for the sake of doing them. It accepts no paper exercises. It does things because they matter. Not everybody may understand the purpose of the things it does, so it might seem ridiculous to outsiders, but everything matters.
  • … treats all experiences, the total human as input for the things it does. There is no difference between work and life.
  • … sees each project as a journey, an adventure that will become better if you don’t know where it will take you and if you just learn to rely on your skills. The adventure will strengthen your skills. The more adventurous, the more you learn.
  • … uses the visual realm as a way to learn.
  • … interacts deeply with the matter it works with in order to learn from it. It engages in a dialogue with the matter, learning where it bends and where it breaks.
  • … uses systems and rules to learn about these systems and rules, to learn how systems and rules produce results. The systems and rules are co-creators. You design the system and then the system designs you.
  • … uses tools to find new ways, new possibilities, open new doors. New tools open new doors in the mind. The artistic attitude is always conscious and aware of the impact of the tools you use on the results you produce.
  • … actively works on the connection to the subconscious because that is where great, new, exciting ideas come from.
  • … does. The artistic mindset doesn’t keep staring at the blank page or keep discussing abstract ideas, it starts without having all the information, without knowing where it will end up. It just starts doing.

Translation into business

The trick, the challenge for design thinking is how to translate the elements of the artistic attitude into the scientific management thinking that permeates business. Once people start to create, to draw, to prototype in business projects, doors open to introduce the elements of the artistic attitude. Quick wins and leading by example are the ways for people to learn about the delicacies of the artistic attitude and the fact that it is a great partner to solve complex business challenges. When you just do post-it sessions these doors will not open. You have to start doing, seeing, creating: prototyping. Every meeting should have a prototype in it. Everyone in business should have the opportunity to learn about the benefits and inner workings of the artistic attitude.


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, don’t forget to hit the clap button. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

Dennis Hambeukers

Written by

Design Thinker Thinking About Design — Strategic Design Consultant @zuiderlicht. https://www.zuiderlicht.nl/

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

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