BPI Club : Solving ‘’wicked’’ problems using Design Thinking

An introduction on Design Thinking by Simon Altmejd, MBA Student & Consultant in Design Thinking

In 1973, design theorist Horst Rittel coined the term ‘’wicked problem’’, describing complex interconnected problems where no single solution exists yet. Whether we think of global warming, growing inequalities, and the late-stage digitalization of just about every sphere of our lives, it becomes obvious that we are in an era where our reality is changing increasingly fast, with ‘’wicked problems’’ already making themselves seen in the horizons. As managers in an increasingly complex world, we need to be equipped for the challenge.

Design thinking is a mindset and a set of tools that extracts the design process of successful innovation in replicable steps in order to find creative solutions to complex challenges. Design thinking is an iterative and human-centered approach to innovation. It is a call to proactivity, to action instead of reaction, in order to start small and continuously improve. It seeks to maximize the collective intelligence of a team by giving a proven structure to innovation endeavors.

Design thinking uses a 5 steps approach:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Iterate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

As innovation teams go through this series of step, iterating until converging to an acceptable solution, they go through divergent and convergent phases: diverging when exploring ideas and problems, and converging towards a problem definition or a solution. This awareness of the convergence and divergence phases that occurs in any creative endeavor is an important asset for the managers of today because it teaches us the importance to take a step back and redefine a problem, allowing the emergence of innovative solutions.

Design thinking is a mindset of trial and error, it seeks to empathize with the humans at the heart of the design challenge rather than seeking expert opinions. It is hands-on and proactive, and values interdisciplinary teams where the knowledge can flow freely. It invites us to question the validity of existing paradigms and encourages radical innovation. While being used for innovation since the 90s, it is now also a popular tool for business and strategy, where the growing complexity of our world is increasingly rewarding creativity amongst managers.

If you want to learn more about design thinking and incorporate its mindset in your business practice, here is a great book I would recommend, written by Tim Brown, previous CEO of IDEO for almost 20 years.

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