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What is Design Thinking? Who Teaches it Best?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 7, 2007

Check out this video on design thinking. It’s amazing. You have Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman Management School, Harry West head of strategy and innovation from Continuum, Dan Pink, Jeff Huang and others. It’s part of our package on Talent.

Continuum produced the video as part of its Support Design Education program. Continuum has been working with Rotman to develop design thinking in its MBA program. From the Contiuum site, here is some of what the two partners are doing:

“Designers from our studio worked closely with a designworks team (DesignWorks is a Rotman program that encourages new ways of thinking to managers) coaching them through a consumer strategy project for elite bike company Cervelo. We shared processes, studios, outlooks and approaches. What resulted was an enlightened understanding from both parties, some solid ideas for the client, and an ongoing partnership.”

And check out Harry West’s article on a new, multi-skill approach where traditional design tactics are wedded to the needs of business.

It just may be that B-Schools are the best source of creative management—or programs that include business and design. What do you think?

Reader Comments

Christopher Fahey

October 8, 2007 12:12 AM

Here's an idea: A young person goes to an art school or a design school to learn design hands-on among designer peers, then they get a job in the real world to learn about business, then if they work hard and pay attention in a few years they flower into what you call a "design thinker".

Or they go to a business school and then start messing around with Photoshop, HTML and CSS, Visio or CAD, pencil and paper, or whatever design tools they can. They get a job in the real world working closely with designers. They actually practice design more and more -- they "pay their dues". And then, again, after a few years of work and dedication they also blossom into a "design thinker".

Bruce, I agree with you that design will more and more be the driving force behind business decisions, and I agree that business leaders with a deep understanding of design values and processes will have an edge in the future over their peers who do not. Which makes it all the more perplexing why you consistently advocate creating and cultivating the next generation of design managers through training them in business, not design, skillsets -- instead of cultivating business skills among those who already have strong foundation design talents and skills. Is it not obvious to you that these emerging design-conscious business leaders might be most profitably drawn from the ranks of, say, *designers*?

I'm not sure how someone with what is basically a business education and a smattering of hands-on design education is being trained to be a design leader (what's worse, many d-school programs seem to have no hands-on design whatsoever). As a design leader, I wouldn't hire anyone to directly manage designers who didn't actually have expert-level hands-on design skills. I fear that your d-schools are not training people to be hired by the innovative designers who are ascending through corporate America today -- they are, perhaps, actually training people to be hired by the MBAs the real design leaders are replacing.

Or maybe the subtext of your platform is that, despite all the hype around the value of design thinking, it's still just a subset of business thinking. Which might explain why we designers are constantly perplexed and put off by the whole idea.

I'm not trying to throw a Molotov cocktail here, but I've always found this "design thinking" thing confusing because you and others never explain what role designers -- people who sit down with pencil and paper, mouse and screen, and actually design things -- have to play in the design thinking equation. I personally think the role they (we) will have to play is profound and unprecedented in scope -- but what do *you* think? It would be great to hear your thoughts about design thinking as it pertains to someone who might not be an MBA -- e.g., for a *designer*.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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