April 25, 2019

Creative problem-solving through design thinking

Design thinking has been gaining in popularity and influence for the past few years. It is usually associated with pushing innovation in businesses and organizations. Many educational institutions now offer design thinking courses in various forms, but all of them lead toward helping people innovate and solve complex problems.

Design thinking, by definition, is a design-based methodology that focuses on solving an underlying problem at its root through new ideas. It uses elements of design to solve problems with a human-centered focus in mind.

Design thinking, however, is not a new concept. Its origins can be traced back to a 1973 paper by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, both urban planners at the University of California at Berkeley. They coined the term “wicked problems” to describe challenges that are difficult to define and inherently unsolvable. This was the start of a movement to promote human-centric problem solving, especially in public-policy areas such as urban planning, education, and environmental protection.

There are many ways to approach the design thinking process, such as that of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, commonly known as the Stanford d.school. The process generally begins with empathizing with the user or customer, defining the problem, ideating ways to solve the problem, prototyping the product or service, testing the product and service, and looping back when necessary to refine and improve it.

Design thinking might sound like a great way to solve problems, but it isn’t foolproof. It takes a lot of practice, perseverance, and thick skin because chances are, you’re going to fail multiple times. It doesn’t mean the process failed, it just means that you have a step back and find out what went wrong.

With design thinking, you need the mindset of a lifelong learner, as such people are willing to make some mistakes in order to be able to learn and grow.

Although there are some downsides to this, the advantages of design thinking outweigh those negative points. The beauty of design thinking is that you not only come up with breakthrough innovations once you get going, but you can also solve problems for your customers, your organization and business.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can apply some aspects of design thinking.

First, each part of the design thinking process can be a standalone element or mixed and matched with other steps. It isn’t a step-by-step linear process. You can loop back to certain steps and even break them down to learn lessons from each stage.

For example, empathy can easily be a great standalone component. You can practice empathy in your daily life as it is all about opening your mind and understanding other people and their perspectives. Another example is the use of ideation to brainstorm ideas for a project.

Second, design thinking isn’t just for big projects or breakthrough innovations. No matter how big or small the problem, design thinking can be scaled to help you find the right solutions. So, if you think you haven’t arrived at that big innovation you hoped for, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. You can choose to go back to the drawing board or proceed with prototyping and testing it with real users and customers.

Third, design thinking helps you discover and learn new things. You’re constantly learning at all stages of the process. With the right mindset, you’ll be able to learn and develop yourself, and also your team and possibly even the organization.

Finally, design thinking can be applied at work and in your personal life. It is all about creating a better and meaningful life for your user or customer through human-centric solutions. This doesn’t mean it can’t be applied to your own life and those of your loved ones.

In sum, life — much like design thinking — isn’t as linear as we think. By age, definitely — but with everything else like learning, it isn’t a fixed linear process or timeline we have to follow. We all face problems that the world throws at us, but if we can help it, let’s try to solve them in the most creative ways possible that no one has ever thought about before.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at https://www.yournextu.com/