Questioning the norms: ‘Design thinking’ essential for unprecedented advances

6 years ago
innovAGEING > Media + Blog > Blog > Questioning the norms: ‘Design thinking’ essential for unprecedented advances
Category: Blog

Over time, the ‘revolutionary’ idea can become as logical and obvious as wheels on a suitcase.

If the last five years have all been about the collection of data, the next period of time could well be about connection … connection with business outcomes, decisions, and deep insights; connection between organisations and customers, and governments and citizens.

Creativity, innovation and design will be the foundation of such connections.

We have seen data and information collected at unprecedented levels. This growth has given birth to phrases like big data and bigger data. Without tangible insights, this data could represent nothing more than storage, and overweight cloud services. But if you believe business and technology author Daniel Pink when he writes about the emergence of the conceptual economy, then we sit on the edge of a very exciting phase in human existence, where creativity, innovation and design skills will become essential ingredients to making sense of the big data.

In its simplest form, there are parallels with the skill of drawing. Many of us believe we cannot draw, resorting to stick figures to represent people. However, anyone can be taught to draw; through small progressions, and learning techniques, anyone can be guided to master the art of drawing. The key is to maintain interest and motivation, and to keep people engaged in the process of guided mastery, and building confidence.

Design is creation with intent

A design process mindfully considers and determines every aspect of a final product. Creating with intent means decision making, and design is a way to bring judgement and intent to the forefront. The resulting output isn’t calculated or modelled, it’s designed. This is typical in creative industries when there is no single correct answer and certainly no way to measure or predict where one might end up when a ‘creative’ takes on the task. What is known is that there is a method and approach to such a task and there is a consistency in solving these issues and achieving an outcome.

In this model, science can be paired with art. An architect spends years learning structural engineering principles and construction techniques but his or her approach is fundamentally one of design in order to get to the final result. This is very different to the builder, however skilled and experienced, who goes on to build the house.

The focus in business has traditionally been on solving puzzles; problems where all the pieces are general available and need to put together. What hasn’t been tackled are the mysteries; those problems without any pieces, and in fact no single correct answer. Generally, we’ve played around the edges, tweaking here and there, not questioning the norms and ‘the way we’ve always done things’. This leads to relatively safe and reliable, yet minor gains, but ignores the biggest opportunities.

Innovation by its nature tackles the new and unknown, and therefore represents risk. It might not work. Nobody has done this before. A new approach can mitigate risk, but it requires trust in a mystery-solving process, and accepting that failing fast means insights sooner and getting closer to your destination without knowing how it looks.

Wheels on a suitcase were revolutionary once but now, like many innovations, they’re obvious.

There is a groundswell in the business world as leaders look for the new ways to achieve growth which means tackling the mysteries previously left untapped. Design is at the forefront of this movement as a way of addressing this unknown.
It requires trust and a new approach to risk but has an upside that cannot be estimated.

Luke Harvey Palmer, We Are Alive, a Gold Partner of the innovAGEING network. For more information go to