27/1/2014

Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You (or any other discipline)

Coming from a investment banking background, an MBA degree and a focus on social change, I easily saw the value of business thinking to create value in this space. At the same time, I have been using design thinking in combination with business thinking and the value has increased. To create social change through innovation we all need to be entrepreneurial. In that sense, lean startups and the entrepreneurial thinking is key. Ofcourse, social sciences are key to understanding the change you are creating. What about measurement and evaluation?

I am sure you get the drift. The point is not that design thinking or business thinking or any of the other disciplines - it the ability to work across and together that is the key. Our experience in The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) and the people in TACSI coming these various backgrounds showcase this most vividly.

Why is this important? Imagine you are a leader with a social sciences background and you face a problem in child protection area. What do you do? You have reference points” from your education and your experience. Using them you think about how to solve them. Your colleague comes from a business background. Her lens is different and so is the solution. The point is as Charlie Munger would say, It’s like the old saying, To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And we need to move away from this one hammer view of the world.

His suggestion: And the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.”

In Latticework of models for social innovation I discuss the thinking of Charlie Munger on Elementary Worldly Wisdom. We are a lot further from bringing this type of thinking to our work. But we are on the way.

What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.

What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you’ve got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine.

It’s like the old saying, To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models.

And the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department. That’s why poetry professors, by and large, are so unwise in a worldly sense. They don’t have enough models in their heads. So you’ve got to have models across a fair array of disciplines.

You may say, My God, this is already getting way too tough.” But, fortunately, it isn’t that tough—because 80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person. And, of those, only a mere handful really carry very heavy freight.

This post is inspired by this HBR blog post by Peter Merhoiz


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