In answer to Slim’s blogpost around empathy in design thinking, there is an interesting connection
to make to Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. It is my strong opinion that this theory can add a lot of power to the
principles of design thinking.
Theory U explores a whole new territory of scientific
research and personal leadership. By moving through the “U” [curve]
we learn to connect to our originating Self. We travel down the left side of
the “U” to find ourselves in the realm of presencing, where we learn
to sense the future that is seeking to emerge. At that level of operating, we
experience the opening of our minds, our hearts and our wills. Yes, this is an
intellectual journey, but it’s one that is grounded in real life experience and
shared practices. On this journey of sensing, presencing and realizing, we
learn new ways of being—ways crucial for each of us at this chaotic time.(source:
The idea of Theory U can be described starting with a quote by Albert Einstein that fundamental
problems cannot be solved at the same level of thought that created them. The U curve then offers
various levels of thoughts while accessing deeper levels is seen as prerequisite for being able
to lead from the future. This deeper level of knowledge is where I want to make that connection to Design thinking.
More meaningful insights by looking at what really matters
By building empathy for end users, we want to connect with their needs, their values and
believes at a deeper level so that true added value can emerge, true innovation. This may
sound a little distant to fact-based thinking. It is. It is moving away from “I know what’s best for you”
towards “let me understand what matters to you as a being, where you aspire to get to”.
What it does to the way we build backlogs or create services is to become more humble,
as Slims said rightly. And it offers a chance for us to embrace some of the methods that coaches
would apply in their work, like active listening, paying attention to how things are said /not-said
instead just noting down facts from interview answers.
How can you make people move beyond what they already know?
However, this blog is not about theory,- so how can that be done? There is a good collection
of tools on presencing.com that you may want to skip through. I have been applying
the Journaling technique in workshop situations to bring people to that deeper level
and people were thrilled about how different they looked at things after this exercise.
I have come to describe this state of thinking as the antipode to ‘bingo-bullsh..ing’ – where
people are caught in empty notions, repeating the same-old same-old.
Journaling is a tool that builds on the U curve and enables people to move thru
the curve to access a deeper level of self-knowledge. It is a set of questions that
a facilitator will read out to the group while everyone is writing down their individual
answers. Afterwards, people can reflect on what they felt (not what they
answered) and the energy from the exercise can be transferred onto whatever
topic you may have on your agenda
The questions asked in this technique are similar to open question you might want
to ask when building and practicing empathy: what matters to you, what do you want
to look back on when you’re old, what keeps you up at night? There are plenty
of great questions out there.
As we see that design thinking is able to bring together so many different aspects and
things, I am happy to get more comments on what other links people have made
between DT and behavioral theories in the broadest sense!
Thanks for the initiative to bring more people onto this space,- happy to see many
insightful articles and discussions here soon!