Design Thinking Features: Why can such a distinction be made?

Firstly, the distinction arises from the application of the mind to a kind of territory – either the territory of things that “cannot be other”, or the territory of things that “can be other”. The world enacts us.

a) We have a repertoire of thinking capabilities that we derive from running into trees while playing in the garden, burning our tongues on hot food, and dividing up 4 chocolates between 2 children. There are some things where the world “talks back”, where it defines the rules of the game, and where probing into those rules is satisfyingly regular and productive.

b) There are equally those fuzzier, sometimes bewildering experiences of life where we have to make the calls, form patterns and trust our judgments, listen to all parties and make our choices. Generation after generation, infant to child to adult have had to walk that experience pathway and learn competent ways of proceeding. And at a social level we have codified those competencies, and attempt to accelerate our learning and minimize risks to our viability by passing them on.

Secondly, as a correlative to the first point, but distinctively: This divide is one created by and through the application of our intent and our intended purposes. Not only do these major arenas of thought – the “can” and “cannot be other” shape us tacitly, we set out to master these arenas, and find that we must progress in very different ways.

But as such it is also systemically self-reinforcing. It is not usual to be able to hone your mind as a technical specialist and also hold spaces open and tolerate prolonged ambiguity. It is not usual to be intensely empathic and human-centric and to find personal gratification in the world and work of high finance. What we exercise our minds in shapes what our minds are capable of. Despite this neuroplastic phenomenon being observed through centuries, some people feel like the observations lead to caricatures that limit and oppress people. But in my experience observations such as this don’t trap people, they free them. Those who name the truth about themselves arrive at a sense of comfort that they are not “broken” in some way because they can’t hold it all together according to some abstract ideal of the full spectrum thinker. They seek out the ways that are true and comfortable to them, and relinsquish an illusory and elusive omnicompetence.

I will blog more on this in the future because there are some key recurring themes here

a) the way fads oppress people. And I fear that we will see businesses making design thinking the next capability to be displayed across every performance management agreement. That is wicked.

b) And the role of truth telling about our finitude in setting us free to excel at who we actually are.

These observations about the epistemology of Design Thinking are not mere abstractions and playing with ideas. They will be played out in corporations across the world, so we better get them half-way straight! What is currently an internecine dispute for a bunch of discipline based design professionals is not an abstract issue for what is unfolding in corporations everywhere. Which makes the blindness of some design disciplinarians responses even sadder.


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