Solving Problems with Design Thinking: A book review by Bob Morris

Solving ProblemsSolving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works
Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett
Columbia Business School Publishing (2013)

Here’s a blueprint “for deploying design thinking across levels and functions in order to embed a more creative approach to problem solving as a strategic capability in Organizations”

Here’s how Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett frame the information, insights, and counsel they provide in this brilliant book: “In the spring of 2010 the Design Management Institute (DMI) and researchers at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business (a team that included us) launched a multistage research program to assess the prevalence and impact of design thinking in business organizations. Sponsored by the Batten Institute, a center for the study of entrepreneurship and innovation at Daren, the study set out to develop an understanding of the extent to which the methods, techniques, and processes traditionally associated with design and designers had been adopted within established business and social sector organizations.” This, then, is a research-driven book, as are almost all other great works of non-fiction.

What they discovered “was so inspiring that we decided to write this book, in the hope that we could help the people we cared most about — managers and designers — see new possibilities to break through inertia and politics to use design thinking to accomplish the things we believed it was capable of, if we could only get it into the right hands.” Please keep that in mind when you read it, holding the book in your own hands.

I commend Liedtka, King, and Bennett on their skillful use of reader-friendly devices such as the format they use for mini-commentaries on the ten exemplary companies (IBM, Suncorp, 3M, SAP, Toyota, MeYou Health, FiDJI, The Good Kitchen, Citizens of Dublin, and Intuit): The Business Problem, The Context, Designer’s Contribution, and as a conclusion, “What do We Take Away from [given company’s] Story?” Also, “Design Tool” inserts such as these in Chapter 2: Secondary Research, Mind Mapping, Design Criteria, Learning Launch, and Cards. The devices serve two separate but very important purposes: they focus on key material, and, they facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of the book’s coverage.

o Building Bridges with Design Thinking (Pages 3-8)
o Incorporating the Four Questions Into a Three-Step Approach (18-24)
o Rethinking Metrics and Delivering Results (30-32)
o Why Take the Second Road? (37-40)
o Results!, and, What Worked and Why (51-54)
o Selling Design in the B2B Space (61-65)
o Building the Prototype (81-86)
o Including Engineers and Designers: The Importance of Context and Integration (99-100)
o Building Partnerships (109-111)
o Changing Views of Design (128-130)
o Stakeholder Workshops: Hatching & Blooming (148-151)
o Process to Repair Clongriffin (165-171)
o Creating Innovation Catalysts (182-186)
o Creativity Through Structure, and, The Ever-Elusive Issue of Management (189-191)
o The Role of Culture (191-192)

As indicated in the first chapter, Liedtka, King, and Bennett’s goal in this book “is to push the visibility of design thinking in business and the social sector to new places and demonstrate that design has an even broader role to play in achieving creative organizational and even civic outcomes.” They achieve this goal by providing an abundance on in formation, insights, and counsel while examining “ten vivid illustrations of organizations and their man agers and design partners doing just that — using design thinking in ways that work.”

Obviously, it would be a fool’s errand for any reader to attempt to adapt and adopt all of the material provided. However, once having read and (hopefully) re-read the book, most readers will be well-prepared to use design thinking to determine which portions of the material are most appropriate to the needs, interests, strategic objectives, and resources of the given enterprise.

To those who found this book as valuable as I did, I presume to recommend another: Rotman on Design: The Best on Design Thinking from Rotman Magazine, co-edited by Roger Martin and Karen Christensen, published by University of Toronto Press. Jeanne Liedtka is among the contributors.

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