The Employee Engagement Network

Jeanne Liedtka on "Some Defining Characteristics of Design Thinking"

In 1969, Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon noted: "Engineering, medicine, business, architecture, and painting are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent -- not with how things are, but with they might be -- in short, with design. Every one designs to devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training."

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In her contribution to Rotman on Design, published by University of Toronto Press (2013), Jeanne Liedtka observes, "Despite the avowed plurality that design theorists describe in their attempts to define the field, a set of commonalities does emerge from their work about the attributes of design thinking."

First, design thinking is synthetic. It seeks internal alignment and understands interdependence.

Second, design thinking is abductive in nature. It is future-focused and inventive, providing the focus that allows individuals within an organization to leverage their energy, to focus attention, and to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal.

Third, design thinking is hypothesis-driven. In an environment of ever-increasing information availability and decreasing time to think, the ability to develop good hypotheses and test them effectively is critical.

Fourth, design thinking is opportunistic. Within this intent-driven focus, there must be room for opportunism that not only furthers intended strategy but that also leaves open the possibility of new strategies emerging.

Fifth, design thinking is dialectical. In the process of inventing the image of the future, the strategist must mediate the tension between constraint, contingency, and possibility.

Finally, design thinking is inquiring and value-driven. Because any particular strategy is invented, rather than discovered, it is contestable and reflective of the values of those making the choice.

Source: Rotman on Design: The Best on Design Thinking from Rotman Magazine, co-edited by Roger Martin and Karen Christensen and published by University of Toronto Press (2013)

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Jeanne Liedtka is the United Technologies Corporation Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business and author of three books, most recently Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, co-authored with Andrew King and Kevin Bennett and published by Columbia Business School Press (2013).

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