Design Thinking & Business Thinking – divergences & convergences

In today’s post we’d like to go to level 2 of our response to this question raised in our previous post:

How different is “thinking like a designer” from “thinking like a business strategist”?

Let’s take a look at some of the divergences:

One: Approach to problem-solving

Design thinkers tend to privilege the process by which the problem will (eventually) be solved. The reliance is on thinking by doing. While strategic thinking might rely more heavily on the tried-and-tested, design thinking is unafraid of trial-and-error.

Two: Approach to validation

Design thinkers validate success or failure by empathetic and experiential means – i.e. by putting themselves in the end-user / receiver’s shoes. Does it work? Was it easy? What could be better? These are the kind of questions they ask. Strategic thinkers of the old-school may prefer to validate success/failure through numbers alone. How many people responded positively? What was the percentage of satisfaction in the TA? Surveys and reports may take precedence over first-hand observations and on-the-ground testing.

Three: Approach to communication

While strategic thinkers might simply rely on verbal and written language, design thinkers like to pick the (mix) of languages that suits their needs best. A hybrid approach of using images + words + motion + sound clearly indicates that for design thinkers “one size does not fit all”. Customization is key – not only for the solution – but also for the communication of that solution.

Four: Approach to information

Business thinkers go to market analysis and reports on aggregate consumer behaviour, while the go-to guys for design thinkers are the consumers themselves! This is in fact related to point two above (and is true of design thinking in general – where everything connects back to everything else – and all elements form a continuum rather than being segregated into water-tight compartments).

Five: Approach to work

Top-down versus collaboration – that’s the first and crucial difference that comes to mind. Not “you do this” but “let’s do this together”. A design thinker knows that all the moving parts need to gel in order for the mechanism to work smoothly. This is true of both process and product, and the design-thinker is always learning from those outside his/her immediate domain of expertise.

Six: Approach to presentation

It also strikes us that one key difference continues to be the business thinker’s reliance on traditional tools for presentation. So while PowerPoint and Excel sheets rule the business thinker’s working life, the design thinker has a wider range of tools and modes – which include scenarios and prototypes, or case-studies that could very well be interviews, one-on-ones, talking heads, rather than written data or reports. (Important to note that increasingly, business thinkers have begun incorporating some of those design thinking modus operandi into their presentation modes.)

As more and more leaders and strategizers reveal the efficacy of applied design thinking to even the most tried-and-tested methods – like your PPT presentation! – the differences will become intersections, and each will use their best to make the other better. Thereby adopting the syncretic osmotic mode that really summarises what design thinking can be within the context of business thinking!