Thinking about design ‘thinking’

August 18, 2019

DESIGN MATRIX 20AUG19I’ve been thinking about the whole approach we are adopting to  design thinking  as the Whistler retreat approaches.   We started a journey on this at the same location last year and we are currently shifting into a formal method with associated tools and training.  In our initial work we contrasted the general SenseMaker® to distribute both ethnography (discovery of need) with ideation (identification od solutions) on the one hand with the more linear approach you see in IDEO and others where the expert (or these days the certified practitioner) is responsible for both.

Thinking about it I realised there were more options and the two by two matrix here is a first attempt to define approaches.   Basically I have taken a key distinction between the role of ‘expert’ and a ‘distributed’ capability and applied it to both ideation and ethnography.   By distributed I mean using multiple, cognitively, behaviourally and culturally diverse groups working independently of each other (wisdom of crowds) to reduce bias and pattern entrainment as well as to increase the possibility of outlier identification and novelty.   

To be clear this is a both/and not an either/or approach.  It allows me to identify four types of practice that apply in different circumstances.  For the context setting I added the ideas of unknown and knowable from Cynefin and elsewhere.  So that allows us four conditions for which different approaches apply.

  1. Expert on expert, where we are dealing with an issue or problem which is knowable or known and for which we have confidence our creatives can find a solution.  I’ve designated this as ‘industrialised’ given IDEO’s latest approach to training and certification.  My experience of some of the early IDEO work and their expertise would not be so restricted.
  2. Expert on distributed, where we use SenseMaker® to gather day to day frustrations, needs and ideas and as they statistically causer focus people with expertise to generate ideas and prototypes.  This is useful in situations where people do not know what (to take one example) technology is capable of so they don’t know what to ask for.
  3. Distributed on expert, where we have a problem defined but we want to get multiple perspectives on the situation; we often do this by presenting the issue with a degree of ambiguity then distributed both situational assessment and solution identification to diverse groups.  We can then look at dominant and outlier clusters to find novel solutions.
  4. DIstriuted on distributed; where we need to find ways of rapidly repurposing existing capability for novel purposes.  That means we need to pay attention to granularity and also what I will call association through abstraction.  We’ve got some experience of that but sharing more would require an NDA at least – we’ve had some bad experiences of people stealing ideas so I am being more cautious.

I’m going to be playing with this over the next few months and refining it – interested in other views 

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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