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We need critics in design thinking

When creativity goes off track, strategy pulls it right back again.

Brainstorming, a prevalent and well-known technique for generating new ideas. It‘s been a common theme in the other blogs. However, the most ideation workshops often have difficulties moving on to the next stage: execution. People think the ideation process is only about coming up with new ideas, but they forget there are good and bad ideas during the process. The bad ideas then become distractions hindering the move onto the next stage. Everyone enjoys being creative during ideation, but creativity can go riot without strategic thinking.

In the process of design thinking, each step is critical and integral.

Empathise – Define – Ideate – Prototype – Test

The logic makes sense, and it creates a loop for continuous improvement. However, design thinking should be more complex than the design thinking process illustrated above. There is a big gap between ideation and prototyping. There should be a process of narrowing down, filtering good ideas and conducting risk management.

To do that, there are three techniques that I recommend applying after a brainstorming workshop. Firstly, using the SMART framework to filter out those “bad ideas”, making sure the ideas left in the bucket are achievable.

- Specific (What? Where? Who? Why? How?)

- Measurable (How many? How much?)

- Attainable (How realistic? What’s the restraint?)

- Relevant (timing? people? environment? strategy?)

- Time-based (When? How long?)

The SMART framework is widely used for determining individual and business goals, but I also find it very handy to narrow down options after an ideation process.

Secondly, conducting a premortem to brainstorm what can make these ideas fail. Premoterm is a team that imagine a project or an organisation that has failed then work backwards to determine what lead to such failure. It can be an effective remedy of overconfidence in the design thinking process. My project management aphorism is Optimistic ideation, pessimistic planning, optimistic execution.

Thirdly, what kind of problems can this idea bring? Today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems. One project can involve many stakeholders. Sometimes, the solution for one stakeholder can be a problem for the others. Therefore, it is crucial to imbed system thinking into the design thinking process. Multiple stakeholders should be consulted before an idea moves to the prototype stage.

Now, you can see why it is difficult to take an idea towards execution. Sometimes, after a half-day brainstorming workshop, none of the ideas can pass through to the next stage in a design thinking process. However, knowing something won’t work is equally important to understanding something will work. A well-documented project report, including the failed, is a valuable, intangible asset to the company for knowledge-sharing and data-gathering.


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