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I Did Not Invent Design Thinking (Honest)

I know I did not invent design thinking.

Sure, I co-authored a book about it, but that’s because I feel so strongly that it is learnable, not some immutable gift that can only be unwrapped by the chosen ones.

My most recent reminder that I did not invent design thinking comes to me compliments of my Google crawler. Today it reported (as a result of the string “design thinking”) about a Design Thinking challenge being held at a California school:

‘For Saturday’s event, [Middlefield Independent Day School] second, third and fourth graders will join in teams to wrestle with a Design Thinking challenge about improving outdoor learning and play areas on the school’s campus.

Design Thinking is an emerging educational concept that is a process for creative – yet practical – problem solving by groups of learners. It is truly an innovative approach to learning that asks students to define challenges, real world problems – and then supports their creative and collaborative efforts to solve them.

“As educators, we are responsible for helping to prepare our students for the challenges they will face as adults,” said IDS Head of School, John Barrengos.’

Harumphhh.  This makes California once again the center of all that’s cool and edgy. Which it may be. (I live in DC. Which is … um, not.)

But hold on, California, I have evidence of prior art: In 1978, two New Jersey college professors introduced a creative, team-based problem-solving program which became Odyssey of the Mind. Thirty-four years later it is going strong. My 7-year-old is on an OM team at our local elementary school in northern Virginia.

In fact, the finest natural design thinker I know, my colleague Jenny Lynn Cargiuolo, was a devoted OM participant during her formative years in Massachusetts public schools. Before she turned 30 she consulted to CEOs and won Design Strategy awards from the IDSA. Hey, wait a minute, is she really a “natural” design thinker? You mean she cheated and learned the “innate” skill that always impresses me so much?

That’s right, design thinking is just a dressed-up version of creative, collaborative problem-solving and 7-year-olds are learning it right under our very noses! How California of them! (May they rule the world. Including New Jersey.)

How We Think, Past and Present

I’ve just finished Richard Holmes’ mesmerizing book on the romantic age of English science, “Age of Wonder.” It describes a time when science and poetry walked arm-in-arm, with awe-inspiring breakthroughs in botany, astronomy, chemistry, and aviation. No sooner would William Herschel redefine the nature of the heavens, than Coleridge or Byron or Shelley would put it to verse.

The time period is 1769 through 1834, and it is populated with the giants upon whose shoulders Darwin would stand (“On the Origin of Species” was first published in 1859). Holmes is an exuberant reporter with great care for his subjects’ blind spots. And he gives fair credit to the fairer sex (something the Victorian men could not manage to do), especially Caroline Herschel, Sir William’s sister who became the first woman to be on the royal payroll as a scientist.

Last night I started Daniel Kahneman’s reflections on his 40+ years of studying the psychology of decision-making under uncertainty. The book is called “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

You may have heard Kahneman’s name associated with the field of behavioral economics. Indeed, his article written with his late collaborator Amos Tversky in 1974 on “Judgment Under Uncertainty” provided the foundations for behavioral economics. Just as the philosophers in Richard Holmes’ “Age of Wonder” opened new pathways of understanding the external world, Kahneman and Tversky cast our inner world in new light. Among the gems in the first 25 pages:

• “We documented the systematic errors in the thinking of normal people, and we traced these errors to the design of the machinery of cognition rather than to the corruption of thought by emotion.”;
• “We are prone to over estimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events.”;
• “Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight.”; and
• “A recurrent theme of this book is that luck plays a large role in every story of success.”

Here’s hoping you’re lucky in 2012! [And not overconfident.]

Does Your Company Provide a “Responsive Classroom”?

You heard me: Does your company provide a “Responsive Classroom”? Maybe it should. Mine certainly does.

I often advise firms on their innovation strategy, and I ask them two questions:

1. Where is your petri dish?
2. What is your learning design?

Well, the learning design could take its cues from the Responsive Classroom. My grounding in the Responsive Classroom comes courtesy of Mrs. Mallard, who teaches my 2nd Grader. She sent a note home today (it is the first day of school here in Virginia) outlining the guiding principles of the Responsive Classroom:

1. Learning social skills is as important at learning academic skills.
2. How children learn is as important as what they learn: Process and content go hand-in-hand.
3. Children gain knowledge most effectively through social interaction.
4. To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
5. Knowing the children we teach – individually, culturally, and developmentally – is as important as knowing the content we teach.
6. How the adults at school work together is as important as how skillful each individual teacher is: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

OK, now read the principles above but substitute “associates” for “children” and replace “adults” with “senior leaders.” Now tell me, do these sound like attributes of a successful workplace?

You might ask, “Does it work for your firm?” Here is an indication, an unsolicited e-mail from a new client that I received at 930AM this morning:

“I just wanted to tell you how impressed I am with the diligence, hard work and professionalism of your team. They thrive in ambiguity and are a lighthouse when the storm clouds of confusion and chaos roll-in.” [Note: Yes, after taking my kids to their first day of school, this was a GREAT message to start my Tuesday-after-Labor-Day.]

That Used to Be …US (aka, A Clarion Call for Innovation by Tom Friedman)

Lawyers can innovate, and if you don’t believe me, ask Tom Friedman. His new book, “That Used To Be Us,” is a clarion call for more innovation from … US (pun intended). The book includes an interview with one of my favorite lawyers – and people – Jeff Lesk, the managing partner of Nixon Peabody’s Washington, DC, office. A recent Fast Company article shares this tidbit:

“If I have to make tough compensation choices between lawyers, a significant factor now for me is their ability to invent,” Nixon Peabody partner Jeff Lesk told Friedman, in his response to a question about which lawyers he was retaining at his law firm.

I know Jeff personally and he walks the walk. Years ago, Jeff saw ways to make affordable housing and community development into something other than a pro bono practice. His “Legally Green” initiative is a firm-wide success that makes an impact – and a profit. And it helps Nixon Peabody retain talented and committed lawyers in a field famous for burnout.

On Thursday, I will attend Tom Friedman’s reading and book signing in DC. Stay tuned for a report!

It’s Nice To Be Understood

It’s always great when someone out there really hears you. Today my Google crawler found an online review of our book by Kathleen Allen, the Director of the USC Marshall Center for Technology Commercialization. Dr. Allen specializes in entrepreneurship, and she immediately recognized the applicability of our book to entrepreneurs. Here is an excerpt from her review:

“One of the things I like most about a great non-fiction book is that it challenges me to look at what I know (or what I think I know) from a completely different perspective; and that’s exactly what Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie did in their new book, Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers. Using real examples, graphics, and guides, Designing for Growth puts the reader into the mind of the designer and then provides a plan and a tool kit to help readers practice some of the techniques that designers use to gain empathy with the customer so they can design products and services that have meaning and meet real needs.”

Find the entire review at:

First Moso Cohort a Big Success

The clever team at Moso completed their inaugural cohort of the Unfinished Business School earlier this month. They provide a six-week live-via-Internet course on innovation for manager from six different firms, five slots per firm. The participating firms ranged from a high-end bicycle manufacturer to a Fortune 200 health care provider to a Fortune 500 software-and-services company.

The feedback from the first cohort included these juicy bits:

• “Great job. You’ve created a perfect cross between business school and design school.”

• “The virtual classroom environment was rich beyond my imagination. I feel like I truly know (my cohort) and we looked out for each other.”

• “UFBS released us from stagnation. Tim Ogilvie finally explained design thinking so it made sense and didn’t sound like horseshit!”

The truth is, a lot of people are working to make design thinking more practical and transferable. The Moso team is just one of them, but their virtual cohort model is an innovation whose time has come. Expect to hear more from them.

Playing for Keeps, with Stuart Brown

Some people take their play seriously. Some just think its fun. Stuart Brown falls into both categories.

Stuart is the founder of the National Institute for Play, and the photo of a polar bear playing with a sled dog is from his wonderful TED talk from 2008. I had the pleasure of working with Stuart a few days ago to develop new experiences that incorporate play. “Play is pre-verbal,” he told us, “and it is a behavior shared by all animals, often across species” (as we saw with the polar bear and husky).

Stuart shares many of his discoveries about play in his wonderful, rigorous, and (of course) playful book, PLAY: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Here are the key properties that distinguish a play state from other behaviors:

• Apparently purposeless
• Voluntary
• Inherent attraction
• Freedom from time
• Diminished consciousness of self
• Improvisational potential
• Continuation desire

Dr. Brown’s research shows that people who engage in play have greater resilience and adaptability in the face of change, attributes that are crucial to successful innovation. I would say more about that, but I’m heading out for an apparently purposeless run.

Mind Map of Universal Human Needs

Chuck Frey’s excellent blog, Innovation Tools, has a wonderful example of a mind map. He took the list of Universal Human Needs from the Center for Nonviolent Communication, and turned it into a mind map. We’re going to print this as a poster and keep it as a reference. Check it out:

What’s OUT and What’s IN (Mid-Year Edition)

Since change is the only constant, I keep a running list of what’s OUT and what’s IN when it comes to creating growth. Below are the top 12 items presently on my list. [Notice the last one. It is OUT to say something is OUT. Instead, the items on the left are still necessary in some form, but not sufficient to get extraordinary growth. They need to be supplemented by the item on the right side.]

Oh Man, This is F-U-N.

Wow! Yesterday I dropped a casual note to, oh, about 1,000 people in my contact database, letting them know the book had launched. This is a new experience, so I was not prepared for the delighted replies I have received in the first 24 hours. Here’s a sample.

Congratulations Tim!!!!! What an amazing accomplishment. I can’t wait to read it.

Congratulations on the book and I was very impressed with the thinking at the off-site a couple of weeks ago.

It will no doubt change the lives of you and Jeanne! I look forward to being among your emissaries.

CONGRATS TIM! Since we met, I have always been impressed with how you think and communicate. This is a natural step in your career. I will certainly be looking for the book!

Congrats on this fantastic achievement! I plan to buy the book today—hopefully you will inscribe the book for me the next time I see you. I want to get to you before you are even more rich and famous! J

Congratulations on your book!!! I just checked it out on Amazon and see the section about [XXXXX] and [YYYYY]. So very exciting. Do I get a signed copy from the authors??!!

Congratulations! Having our discussions in mind, I am sure that the book will be inspiring and hands-on likewise. NB: I have also had the pleasure to act as author and co-author of three business books in the past years. None of them ever became a bestseller but the feeling of seeing it published after months of sweat & tears is priceless.

Great news! I immediately ordered the book over night (European time zone).

Fantastic. Watched the video which is great. Congrats. I am so proud of you. This is a huge achievement.