Embrace The Design Thinking Mentality

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How do you truly push ideas to the right space? How do you truly re-invent the industry you serve?

It’s easy to get analytical. It’s easy to look at the raw data. It’s also (somewhat) easy to look at how things have been, and think about how to push that thinking just a little bit further. The big, massive and hairy ideas usually don’t come from that kind of mental framework. More often than not, when you look at something new, it has been imagined and developed by someone who is (truly) an artist in what they do. They act as a designer or architect in thinking about things with a fresh perspective and from a different angle. They usually do this with their brains… and with their hands.

Living it. Breathing it. Feeling it.

I have become fascinated (and somewhat obsessed) with the notion of design thinking and how it applies to business. Here’s the Wikipedia definition of design thinking: "Design Thinking is a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. It is the essential ability to combine empathy, creativity and rationality to meet user needs and drive business success. Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the ‘building up’ of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the ideation and prototype phases. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in these earlier processes since this can often lead to creative solutions."

Leave it to Wikipedia to remove all emotion and sentiment from something… but the definition fits.

How many people think Twitter is stupid? How many people think Facebook is useless? How many people think that YouTube is a waste of time? And, this is long after their proven success (I’ll define "success" here as something that has been adopted and is used by a mass of people). Imagine what was said to the designers of those platforms as they were working through the initial prototypes and beta versions? If people feel that way now about these platforms, imagine what the inventors were being told as they tinkered with the early versions?

Design thinking can free your business.

Sit down with a two-year-old and watch them create (this notion was put in my head by C.C. Chapman at a recent Third Tuesday event where he was discussing the book, Content Rules, which he co-authored with Ann Handley from MarketingProfs). Kids naturally create content (out of anything) and they live and breathe within this design thinking mentality. Design thinking is a part of who we are and (much like creativity) it is slowly stripped away from us as we socialize within the constraints and constructs of the educational system and what those who have walked before us consider to be the social norm (i.e. prim and proper).

Great ideas comes from re-thinking everything in terms of design. 

If you have yet to read Richard Florida‘s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, you should (it was published in 2003). Creativity in our new economy is critical to our success. The development and nourishment of cultural initiatives is a well. We’re going to see a growing rise and need for design thinking in business too and these worlds continue to collide. Those building their business in the Marketing industry should pay even closer attention to how design thinking can help build their business models.

Looks, feels and sounds interesting… doesn’t it?


  1. “How do you truly push ideas to the right space?”
    Ideas in the right space are something like people in the right company. This is true and subtle designing, giving ideas the topological space that make them go. Great analogy.

  2. Your idea of design thinking sounds like you are following the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. You simply be still, be present, and let the ideas flow through you. That’s where true creativity exists.

  3. To me, it’s all about looking at how artists (of any kind) approach their art and applying the concepts of the process to any business (in our case marketing) and getting better results or completely new successes not even counted on.
    It’s funny that artists (I refer to the ones who don’t make a ton of money) are often sneered at by society as useless. Our governments do the same by having such small amounts of money go to the arts and yet, in my estimation, that’s the R&D of such a big part of our future success. We are stupid as a society for not giving “the arts” more credence. All of business would benefit.
    Of course, we need it all. We need engineers and we need artists. Put them together and we get incredible things and a vibrant society. We just need more people thinking and acting like artists.

  4. @Mitch, I truly believe that businesses that fail to embrace creativity in their communications will struggle.
    Blogging has matured to the point now that the B2B space needs to embrace more creativity. You’re doing it here with the variation of text and podcasting, and we’re seeing more business blogs embrace video as a means of showing who they are and engaging visitors with creative content.
    Creativity is my word for 2011.

  5. Albert Einstein once said that ”Imagination is more important than knowledge”.
    For my imagination to flow and become the tangible things I design and built, I also need a big dose of confidence.

  6. Great ideas comes from re-thinking everything in terms of design.
    Great ideas comes from breaking large ideas into smaller ideas and then smaller ideas…

  7. “There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the ideation and prototype phases.”
    That really stuck with me. That’s what creativity is all about, and that’s where the brilliant ideas are realized – when you are not clouded by fears, and instead are free to imagine your vision what could be, and how you’ll accomplish that vision.
    I’m sure plenty of people told @biz that Twitter wasn’t going to be useful, or was too niche (originally designed for bike messengers), but there was a larger vision that was probably imagined on the back of a napkin, where nobody was passing judgement.

  8. Enlightening post, as always, Mitch. This is the kind of approach we’ve been using to develop new ideas, although I was unaware that there was a specific term associated with the technique. I must say that it works really well. We talk about every idea that is brought up, and encourage the team to explore areas that used to be off limits in traditional problem-solving sessions.
    This kind of ‘all ideas welcome’ method is incredibly effective, and I think it will become the standard way of cultivating ideas for all successful businesses. If you’re not fully utilizing the creative talent that you have in your organization, then you’re limiting your capabilities.

  9. Designing something that is needed and adding some creativity to standout will definitely put you on the right space. The creativity that I’m talking is not only pleasing to see but something that “we as a human” always trying find and that is how to shorten some process and making life easier.

  10. I also had this quotes on my mind when reading this post! Sometimes it’s hard to have confidence in just pure knowledge, sometimes what we need is better than that something that can surpass what we are already thinking.

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