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At first glance the design thinking methodology looks pretty straightforward. Even the way it’s represented as either linear or circular lends itself to the misperception that it is fairly prescriptive. And I’d posit that many people continue to believe this even after several experiences.

I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms it is simply not so straightforward. Why? Because without the right mindset it’s just not design thinking. I’d like to share with you a story to illustrate what I mean.

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The starting point

Yesterday I completed a 2-day design thinking workshop with one of our customers. It was a large event, with a total of about 40 attendees. I met this customer in the Executive Briefing Center in Palo Alto for what we call their “Innovation Days” event. The day before my presentation on design thinking they had a deployment ‘workshop’ which according to the customer and the SAP account team was largely unsuccessful. As I talked through my 60 minute presentation something clicked for them – what they had been missing the day before was some sort of structure – and something about design thinking peaked their interest to potentially provide such a structure for future meetings.

After my time was up we went on a tour of the d.school at the Stanford University campus on a beautiful afternoon. As we walked through and saw the artifacts from so many design thinking projects they felt even more inspired. You can imagine that this only strengthened what they felt during my introductory presentation.

The workshop

So we scheduled the first session as a test run. As always, in both my presentation in Palo Alto as well as the introduction in the workshop I stressed the importance of the iterative process and the ‘fail early, fail often’ mantra in design thinking. By and large I think people ‘get’ it, even if they need some time to actually adopt it for themselves. It’s not an easy transition, but eventually everyone understands it at the level of creating prototypes that might just fail.

This time though, I recognized something that hasn’t had my focus in the past as I explain the necessary mindset shift. While failure of prototypes is relatively easy to grasp, it’s the ‘failures’ in applying the design thinking methodology that differentiate it from others. In scoping you might identify the wrong personas to focus on in the research phase. You may get the wrong research or miss something. The synthesis tool you use might not lead you to real insights. This one is especially critical since you need that deeper level of understanding if you really want the chance to have great results; and it’s exactly here that I found myself at the end of day 1. I tried to use a new tool (to me) and it just didn’t work: F. A. I. L.

The lesson learned

Naturally I worked to still get them to the level of having insights. Some of them, including the project sponsor, noticed this and brought it to my attention. I was happy to hear this because in my opinion if you don’t get this part right then you’re probably not really design thinking. My moment of clarity came when he told me he saw now that it wasn’t about just the failure of your ideas and prototypes, but also in following the process itself. Sometimes the tools and techniques you use just don’t work but they’re still key to the journey and the needed mindset. Lessons are learned, new directions are discovered, all because we’re willing to try things that may or may not work.

So don’t waste the necessary mindset just on prototyping or trying to bring it to market – it’s the very nature of design thinking itself that you fail and iterate all along the way. As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

See you at SAPPHIRE NOW! I invite you to come chat with me (and other DT coaches from Services) at the Services Lounges at Sapphire Jun 3-5th or sign up for the DT education session on Jun 5th.

Follow me @jeremycthomas

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