HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Design Thinking: A Book Review by Bob Morris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Design Thinking
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (April 2020)

“Where you innovate, how you innovate, and what you innovate are design problems.”  Tim Brown

This book is one of the more recent volumes in a series that anthologizes what the editors of the Harvard Business Review consider to be “must reads” in a given business subject area. In this instance, design thinking. Each of the selections is eminently deserving of inclusion.

If all of the ten articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $70 and the practical value of any one of them far exceeds that. Given the fact that Amazon US now sells this volume for only $17.75 that’s quite a bargain.

The same is true of volumes in other series such as HBR Guide to…, Harvard Business Review on…, and Harvard Business Essentials. I also think there is great benefit derived from the convenience of having a variety of perspectives and insights readily available in a single volume, one that is potable.

In all of the volumes in the HBR’s 10 Must Read series that I have read thus far, the authors and their HBR editors make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Action” sections, checklists with and without bullet points, boxed mini-commentaries (some of which are “guest” contributions from other sources), and graphic charts and diagrams that consolidate especially valuable information. These and other devices facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review of key material later.

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Those who read HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Design Thinking can develop the cutting-edge thinking needed to achieve a decisive competitive advantage.

More specifically, they will learn the dos and don’ts with regard to HOW TO

o Conceive of a fully developed marketplace, not simply a discreet product
o Structure design thinking initiatives so that they create a natural flow from research to roll out
o Select the right way to lead design thinking
o Use intervention design to reengage with users sooner with a series of iterative rapid-cycle prototyping
o Become a design-driven innovation with catalytic leadership
o Identify and then respond effectively to customers’ “jobs to be done”

o Engineer reverse innovations
o Use new strategies to increase and improve learning from failure
o Benefit from what PepsiCo learned from turning design thinking into strategy
o Create an organizational environment within which design thinking can thrive
o Enable people throughout the workplace environment to develop or reclaim their creative confidence
o Adopt and then adapt appropriate best practices from design-driven powerhouses

Here are three key points keep in mind. First, beware of “Whack-a-Mole” innovation. Be pro-proactive in finding out from your customers and other credible sources which unmet needs must be addressed.  According to Tim Brown, “Rather than thinking to build, build to think.” 

Also, I again agree with Brown: “Where you innovate, how you innovate, and what you innovate are design problems.” However, ultimately, there are no design issues or customer issues; there are only business issues. The process to solve design problems should be guided and informed by design principles (i.e. thinking innovatively about innovation). Only then will business issues be fully addressed.

Finally, whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need innovative thinking at ALL levels and in ALL areas of the given enterprise. That is, people who are solution-driven when focusing on a problem’s root causes rather than its symptoms. Peter Drucker nailed it: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

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