I have witnessed, many times, people get excited over a trend and jumping into the bandwagon to reap the benefits and to claim to their top management that we did it, and we are part of the emerging world. One of which that I saw, as an advisor for an agency, was the work of a consultancy firm that was promising to deliver a “Design Thinking” workshop that had nothing resembling the practice other than the name of the workshop!

The workshop started as a 3 hours activity where the participants, within and outside the organization, sat at tables. Then a consultant began to give a brief on the client situation and to the purpose of the workshop. By then, a group of consultants started to guiding people on defining problems, segmenting them, and innovating solutions. In the end, the consultancy firm organized and prioritized multiple solutions and concluded the workshop by thanking everyone and giving certificates & souvenirs for the workshop. After the workshop, nothing happened other than presenting the findings as PowerPoint slides to the client with no further action points. The rest is history, and the client has with him a document that is worth its weight in gold!

What happened is a typical scenario that you will find happening time and time, with different names and different faces. The design thinking practice was brutally misinterpreted and abused to a level where its actual benefit was lost even before activating the methodology. The whole purpose of having to say like Design 

Thinking is to allow organizations, teams, and individuals to navigate the complex maze of uncertainty to identify the problem and throw quick solutions to test if the hypothesis and fail it as early as possible. It is nothing but a non-holistic approach to analyze complex systems. And for those old geezers, you might remember the prototyping software approach, the 90s if I recall correctly, and how it eventually got absolved to resurface again as an outcome of the scrum and advancement of technology for rapid development & deployment (DevOps).

The Squiggle of Design & Continuous Feedback

I recall listening to a Gartner’s podcast where the host was talking with a guest who did a large project in India through the following Design Thinking approach to solve a problem facing Indian farmers. The farmers would gather their crops and go to the market, and the market was controlled by a monopoly of merchants who buy the produce at night and then substantially increase the cost on the end consumers. The guest was describing their approach in empowering the farmers to get their fair share from the transactions with complete visibility. Initially, the team thought about developing an app to allow the market to bid on the farmers’ crops. That idea failed even before inception cause they noticed the farmers only carry dumb phones, and the farmers were illiterate about the technology, and what is even worse is that some of the farmers don’t have phones to begin with. They changed their approach by developing multiple solutions and testing them in hypothetical scenarios in the field before committing to a solution. After various propositions and testing, they reached a solution where they give one individual in each village a dumb mobile phone and sending the prices in advance as simple messages with live data insights to provide better visibility to all.

The experiment is an instance where Design Thinking actually makes sense and truly works once it is embedded within the organization’s culture. And as Chris Lockhead said, it is The People Problem, not the technique.