The Jewel of Design Thinking is the Process

I’m taking a course right now on creative problem solving and one of the first exercises I had to do was write down all of the different uses I could come up with for a brick within a set amount of time. The instructor did a good job of trying to  make those students who might not be able to come up with many uses feel better in advance by saying that by the end of the course, their skills would improve. After all, that’s why you take courses. And hopefully the students will continue. But the danger with such exercises is that people will do them, not come up with “good” responses and then throw in the towel and think that they will never be able to pull creative solutions out of thin air.

And this, in turn, may turn people (managers) off to the notion of design thinking. But the great thing about design thinking is that it’s built around a process that helps you use both divergent and convergent thinking (as depicted by the widening and narrowing of the band around each step).


A bit of history about divergent and convergent thinking:

The psychologist J.P. Guilford first invented the terms convergent thinking and divergent thinking back in 1967. Divergent thinking is also loosely called ‘lateral thinking’, a term coined by the thinking guru Edward De Bono – author of ‘Six Thinking Hats’.

Divergent thinking is the process of generating multiple related ideas for a given topic or solutions to a problem. Divergent thinking occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to apply rules to arrive at a single ‘correct’ solution to a problem such as the answer to an IQ test problem. This process is systematic and linear.

The idea of divergent thinking has become important in the scientific study of creativity because many widely used tests for creativity are measures of individual differences in divergent thinking ability.
An example of a divergent thinking question is:
“How many unusual and uncommon uses can you come up with for a brick and a knife”
“How many uses can you make of a toothpick?”

The number of different responses, or the number of responses given by no one else, has traditionally provided a measure of how creative a person is.
Creativity and IQ Part 1: What is Divergent Thinking? How Is It Helped by Sleep, Humor and Alcohol? | The Creative Post

How The Design Thinking Process Encourages Both

The first step of design thinking forces you to look at “what is” instead of rushing to the stage of defining a problem or doing like some people do and rushing to a solution before everyone agrees on the problem. Once you start investigating “what is”  a better understanding of the current situation is going to be a natural outcome. And out of this one may end up reframing the definition of the problem. This isn’t something you pull out of the air. It comes from solid insights.  And from this, you get an understanding of user needs and can begin to envision what a good solution will look like.

The second step, “what if” may sound like the  “how many different ways can you…” but in reality it’s not. In this step

…we use a series of trigger questions that help us think outside our own boxes. Next we take these ideas and treat them explicitly as hypothesis (in the form of concepts) and begin to think systematically about evaluating them against our design criteria.

Solving Problems With Design Thinking | Liedtka, Jeanne; King, Andrew; Bennett, Kevin

The “what wows”step doesn’t involve pulling revolutionary ideas out of thin air either. By now you have a bunch of ideas worth considering. In fact you have too many. So you are going to start narrowing them down based on what gives significant benefits to stakeholders and matches the mission, goals, resources and capabilities of your organization.

The final step, “what works” involves testing your solution, getting feedback and refining your prototype.

So you see, the process is there to support you. And as you get more practice, the better you get at observing and coming up with ideas.

That’s the idea behind my creative problem solving class. As you progress your divergent thinking skills will improve.

By the way, how did I do? I came up with twenty uses of a brick and many of them were not on the list of common responses.