One of the LinkedIn posts I came across today titled "DESIGN THINKING – Drowned, mutilated and murdered" very much echoed some of my current sentiments around the topic. Somehow this had to happen: after making it onto the HarvardBusinessReview cover late in 2015, Design Thinking entered the management methodology hype cycle and was suddenly part of the everyday corporate strategy and innovation vocabulary - with those that hadn't tried their hand at it having some real FOMO. Then the inevitable happened as the traditional management consultants became interested and started making massive investments into acquiring design thinking skills - this M&A feeding frenzy spilling over into corporates (mostly software firms and large banks) as documented by John Maeda in his annual report.
This meant that some of the most amazing design firms were integrated and morphed into software sales organisations e.g Fjord into Accenture, DesignIt into WIPRO, FrogDesign into Aricent etc. Much credit is due to IDEO that was hunted down by some big players and rather chose to enter into a creative collective called "kyu" to retain some level of independence. This has created the situation that many independent design thinkers find themselves in - were design thinking as a human-centered problem solving mindset is used as a software pre-sales innovation circus show. There are countless examples of typical Design Thinking workshops or "sprints" as the friends at Google like to call them that we and others have hosted over the last few years were the outcome was biased towards a software solution - and clients expected us to start building "an app" on Day 1 only to invite the users in on the final day of a "typical design sprint" to see if they like the drop-down menus. One should not underestimate the massive effort put into this deployment of a very narrow usage of Design Thinking by the likes of Deloitte, McKinsey, PWC and others - who often offer these sessions for free and also "train" large clients in Design Thinking - all premised on a large software sell at the end. This reduces Design Thinking to filling out a bunch of templates and also limits the impact the design thinking has on corporate innovation efforts - by narrowing down the innovation conversation into one dimension only: technology.
We need to come together as a community of design thinking practitioners and share applications of the broader, people-centric practice of design thinking to rescue this powerful antidote to a singularity-infused tech utopia from oblivion. We invite you to share your stories with us e.g. like this article from Gemic I recently saw.