I generally tend to be hopeful in regard to the future. I am a dreamer, and while I can sometimes find myself looking too far ahead, I am also a realist. I use a quote from R. Buckminster Fuller on my email signature – “Dare to be naïve” that captures part of my general perspective. I guess it was no surprise that I took to the concept of “design thinking” after watching a “Nightline” episode in 1999. Watching the episode, I was immediately captivated by the process. In the years since the company was featured in the episode, IDEO, has emerged as a leading organization facilitating the growth and application of design thinking.
If you are curious, you can view the original “Deep Dive” “Nightline” episode on YouTube, simply search IDEO Shopping Cart Deep Dive. Design thinking has emerged as a promising practice used in multiple settings. At Stanford University’s d.school (Institute of Design), students learn the practice and develop skills to apply the process to the challenges of everyday life. IDEO offers online courses where you can learn aspects of the design thinking process.
According to David Kelley, founder of IDEO, design thinking can be applied to anything. Be it a product or process, effectively employing the underlying principles can lead toward a strong, workable solution. A recent article in “The Atlantic” offers a perspective on design thinking and the risks of popularizing and simplifying a process at the same time. Yet, from my perspective and experience, it works.
Students at Luther have been introduced to this approach in various settings. I led a session on design thinking for Student Senate and a student who interned with a design thinking firm also facilitated a training session. Management professor Tim Schweizer has taught design thinking in classes he teaches. And emerging student leaders were taught the principles of design thinking during a leadership workshop.
The power of design thinking is the process. From my perspective having taught the process to students at two institutions, it leverages the best of the liberal arts. The process requires a diversity of perspectives contributing to the development of prospective solutions. The ways of thinking that come with a liberal arts education – both the broad and the deep – benefit the process.
One of the greatest takeaways for students is learning about stakeholder mapping. The process employs an anthropological approach that brings the design team into the environment, engaging with people who would be affected by or use the solution. It teaches students to consider solutions not simply from an organizational hierarchy approach but from those who would best have insight into how something works. They learn to empathize with those they are trying to help.
Students learn the value of getting out and seeing things in action, asking good questions, and putting together a brief on what they learned. Additionally, the practice of scenario building or prototyping provides them the opportunity to test ideas while not getting wed to a solution that may not work. As mentioned in the “Atlantic” article, the infamous scene in “Apollo 13” (where the engineers toss all kinds of supplies and tools on the table to figure out how to get the astronauts home safely) provides a good idea of how the process works.
Through a generous gift, students have the opportunity to develop a better understanding of self through taking the StrengthsFinder assessment on campus. The PE 100 Fitness and Wellness course is where first-year students complete the assessment. As students internalize their identified strengths, they recognize how this has helped them to better understand, appreciate, and work with peers.
While the assessment is not designed to tell students the answer to the big question – “what should I do with my life?” – it does provide insights into how they might best apply their natural talents. A recent story on NPR suggests design thinking can help individuals answer that very question. By learning the practical skills of design thinking AND knowing one’s strengths, I believe students will be better positioned to successfully wrestle with that question. And, like one of the subjects in the NPR story, that question can come up at different points in our lives.