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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.)

  • John Barrengos

    By the way, the school you refer to is not in California, but Connecticut. I served as Head of School at IDS (Middlefield, CT) when that quote was published. Just thought you’d like to know (cool as California must be…). Tx – John Barrengos