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Hackathon Pilot Update #3: A design thinking primer

by Chris Grams on March 24, 2011


chris-grams's picture

Hackathon Pilot Update #3: A design thinking primer

As I mentioned in a previous update, we are using a process inspired by design thinking for the Hackathon Pilot. Some of you will already be familiar with design thinking principles, but just in case the concept is new to you, I thought I’d write a short design thinking primer.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a process by which groups can collaboratively solve problems or explore opportunities by building ideas up instead of tearing them apart.

Because of its “building up” approach, design thinking is quite distinct from the analytical problem-solving process used regularly in the business world. Typically, analytical thinking attempts to break something down into its component parts in order to study it.

Design thinking is a great tool for community-based projects like the MIX because it is optimized for collaboration and inclusiveness. Because the process celebrates all ideas and contributions and allows for the best solutions to come from everywhere and anywhere, it is great way to generate fresh ideas from diverse groups of people. In my experience, design thinking is a wonderful way to engage people in a positive way, and it helps build relationships that can endure beyond any one project.

How does the design thinking process work?

Although different people have slightly different views of how the design thinking process works, most typical design thinking projects will roughly follow these seven steps:

1. Define: Define the problem or opportunity.

2. Research: Complete or review the necessary research.

3. Ideate: Generate as many ideas as possible.

4. Prototype: Build models that test the concepts.

5. Choose: Choose the models that are most effective.

6. Implement: Try the models out in the real world.

7. Learn: Study the results, and use them to begin the process anew.

You’ll notice we’ve started the Hackathon Pilot by defining the opportunity (which I covered in this post) and over the next few weeks, we'll be deep in the heart of the research phase (which I kicked off here).

Ten Design Thinking Rules

One of my business partners at New Kind, David Burney, is a master facilitator of design thinking projects. David introduced me to design thinking, the foundational work of IDEO on the subject, and taught me everything I know about facilitating design thinking sessions. At the beginning of any typical design thinking session, David shares a set of rules that help get everyone in the room on the same page. The rules apply to everyone (including executives) and help create an optimal environment for creativity.

As your benevolent dictator for the Hackathon Pilot, I’ll be enforcing these rules for our project, and I’m hoping many of you will help me. Here are my ten favorite design thinking rules:

1. Avoid the devil's advocate: The devil’s advocate is someone who (on purpose or accidentally) shoots down the ideas of others without taking any personal responsibility for their actions. The devils advocate often begin their objection with the phrase “Let me be the devil’s advocate for a second…”

2. Make agendas transparent: Everyone should make their personal agendas as clear as possible. If you are tirelessly promoting an idea because you just finished writing a book about it and have a vested interest, just ensure you make your agenda clear. Hidden agendas lead to politics.

3. Leave titles at the door: No one person’s ideas are worth more than anyone else’s. Anyone can have great ideas.

4. Generate as many ideas as possible: During the ideation phase, we are not trying to generate the best ideas, we are trying to generate the most ideas. So don't sell or debate ideas, at least not until we get to the “choose” phase. Selling and debating takes time away from generating new ideas.

5. Build on the idea of others rather than judging them: If someone else has an idea you like, build on it. If you don’t like an idea, share another one rather than critiquing or debating someone else’s.

6. State the obvious: Sometimes things that may seem obvious reveal great insight from their simplicity.

7. Stupid and wild ideas are good: Sometimes the craziest ideas lead to the best ideas.

8. DTA: Death To Acronyms: Avoid acronyms—they are exclusionary because people who don’t know what they stand for will quickly be lost. If you must use an acronym, also include what it stands for somewhere prominent.

9. Know where you are: Always understand which stage of the process you are in. When you are ideating, you are not critiquing ideas. But when ideation is over, and you begin the process of selecting the best ideas, you’ll want to discuss the merits of each idea in a more traditional analytical way. And once we are done ideating, we’ll want to move on the prototyping, choosing, and implementing so we don’t fall into an infinite ideation loop.

10. Play is good, have fun: The more fun we are having as a group, the more creative ideas we’ll generate.

So hopefully you now have a better understanding of design thinking. If you have additional questions, feel free to post them below, or consider checking out one of the following great books on the subject:

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, by Roger Martin.

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO).

Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Thomas Lockwood.

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aaron-anderson's picture
P.S. I'm a member of the ICOS (Interdisciplinary Committe on Organizational Science) based out of the University of Michigan.  They have a weekly series of speakers that present their works in progress or recently published to the general community - another example of a community of passion hard at work. Any way, this article from the forthcoming speaker looks to be on point related to this hack-a-thon forthwith.

Paper download: "Cognitive Heuristics In Design: Instructional Strategies
to Increase Creativity in Idea Generation"


aaron-anderson's picture
I like the notion of using design thinking to see if we can crack the management kernel.  I have a post which links to this blog post to the Executive MBA facebook location pending for Friday. I like to pose a few questions to the community over the weekend to see what folks think and see if we get a response.

Here's a teaser to suggest that Design is the right way to go for us, from RSA, one of my favorite mental shift youtube channels - which may be elevated as a community of passion, if you think about the number of hits they get:

Here's an example of what RSA does to make some esoteric topics more compelling: