5 Ways Design Thinking Can Raise the Collective IQ of Your Business

Business executives love stability and the cold imperatives of logic. Ambiguity gives them fits. Designers, by contrast, can't abide the status quo. "That tension never goes away between inventing the new and preserving the old," Sam Lucente, vice president of design for Hewlett-Packard, said yesterday at a panel discussion conducted by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum during its National Design Week. "It's like navigating no man's land," he said.

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The panel, entitled "The Business of Design," addressed ways to integrate designers, and design thinking, into organizations that usually resist change. Here are some of their observations:

The most effective designers know instinctually how to navigate bureaucracies. They handle matters "often in subversive ways," Lucente said. "They quietly figure out how to end run the system and get things done. They know how to work it."

It helps for a designer to have multiple interests. "The people who are going to flourish are the schizophrenic ones," said Bill Moggridge (shown at left in the photo above), co-founder of IDEO. "A lot of people at IDEO have degrees in different areas than they work in. You have to be great at one thing, but interested in working with people in different areas." His term for this personality type: "cross-dressers." Example: Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfus both designed theatrical sets before turning to industrial design.

Design thinking works best when integrated. Engineers start with technology. MBAs start with funding. Designer start with people. The trick is to get interdisciplinary teams to raise their collective I.Q. by working in the overlap of those three areas. "That's where innovation flourishes," said Moggridge.

PowerPoint is the enemy. The kind of discourse associated with Power Point presentations, with bulleted observations marshaled in support of an argument, tends to be team divider, not a unifier. "What organizations are good at is debating," said Jeanne Liedtka, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. "Debating very rarely leads to real solutions." That’s because debates tend to revolve around data and examples drawn from the past. Design thinking should be about future possibilities.

Be stupid often, but early. Executives often harbor the unrealistic ambition of being right 100% of the time. A few stupid mistakes can actually make you smarter, in the same way that physical exertion rounds you into shape. For obvious reasons, mistakes are less costly if they're committed early in the process.

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