Category: Brainstorming

How Effective is Design Thinking as an Innovation Methodology?

Published on: April 16, 2018 в 3:02 pm


Categories: Brainstorming,Creativity,Uncategorized

My First Impression of Design Thinking


A few years ago, I took part in a Design Thinking workshop. My first impression: the room was a mix between an atelier and a day-care facility for children. So, initially, I thought, this is going to be fun!

Our task was simple – we split into groups of two. We needed to design a new wallet for our partner. First, I interviewed my partner. Then, I came up with a variety of different wallet models, which I then presented to him. Based on his feedback, I built a prototype of my best idea and consulted with him again. My result was an impressive and futuristic wallet – a piece of advanced technology – and indeed, the process was enjoyable.

Like most people that apply this innovative method, I enjoyed the process. The wider question, however, is: How useful is Design Thinking for generating ideas?


So what is Design Thinking (DT)?

Searching for “Design Thinking” on Google, we get 32,700,000 hits. But you don’t need to see more than the first few results to get the gist.  Although there are quite a few definitions, the majority are based on the following five steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.

And indeed, it’s not surprising then to see that these five steps are the core of Design Thinking. According to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, the birthplace of this innovation methodology, this is how the steps are defined:

  • Empathize: In the first step, you “view the users and their behavior in the context of their lives.” You “engage” with the users and “experience what they experience.”
  • Define: In the second step, you “unpack and synthesize your empathy findings into compelling needs and insights.” Based on a deep understanding of the user, you come up with an “an actionable problem statement.” That is, we clearly define what we wish to create.
Design Thinking Innovation methodology
  • Ideate: Now it is time to ideate and “generate radical design alternatives.” Similar to brainstorming, the goal is both a “large quantity of ideas and a diversity among those ideas.”
  • Prototype: Prototyping means “getting ideas and explorations out of your head and into the physical world.” The idea is to perceive and interact with your idea. In the beginning of a project, prototyping goes “rough and rapid” and later becomes more detailed with your progress.
  • Test: The fifth step includes testing your prototypes and getting feedback about your solutions. This is a chance to “refine your solutions to make them better and continue to learn about your users.”

Two Tough Questions


These five steps constitute the basic formula of the Design Thinking innovation methodology. Due to its apparent simplicity and clarity, the method is extremely appealing. It’s no wonder then that Design Thinking has become such a buzzword, so much so that it is often used as a synonym for innovation.

However, two essential questions arise:

  • Do users of DT compare it to alternative innovation methodologies and find it superior? Or is it selected for merely being the only game in town? We claim that the latter is the case, i.e. DT is more placebo than remedy.
  • Let’s assume then that DT is fun, easy to use, and provides useful customer insights. However, is it effective for changing the way people think and helping them generate new ideas? As we explain below, the answer is negative: DT is not designed to help create novel concepts.

To the first question, here is our recommendation. One must not compare Design Thinking to a complete lack of systematic methodology. Rather, one should consider other innovation methodologies and evaluate DT in relation to them.

Does Design Thinking Have a Flawed Core?


Empathize: Engage with users and view their contextual behavior.

Define: Come up with insights and understand the user.

Ideate: Brainstorm, get a large number of ideas.

Prototype: Perceive and interact with your idea.

Test: Test and get feedback, refine to make better.

innovation methodology design thinking

Reviewing the five steps in this innovation methodology, it is immediately obvious that the central element, the core of the entire process, is the middle step: Ideate. At the end of the day, the entire point of the exercise is to think of new things, right? So, what does Design Thinking tell us we should do in order to generate new ideas?

We’ve collected plenty of useful insights in the first two stages of the process, and we have everything we need to develop great ideas except for one thing: a method to come up with the ideas. Behind all of the Design Thinking hype, there is a disappointing reality that Design Thinking’s ‘method’ for generating ideas is (not-so) good-old brainstorming.

The Weak Link in this Innovation Methodology


Of the five steps, the ideation phase is the only one where ideas are actually generated. The instructions are simple: Brainstorm. Try to think unconventionally. There is no bad idea.

But as is repeatedly established, brainstorming is not an effective way to generate ideas. Much is written about this topic by us and many others, so here we just mention three of the most common arguments:

  • Participants in BS sessions are encouraged to freely say what comes to mind, eliminating critical filters. As a result, sessions end with a large number of ideas. Of these ideas, very often, none turn out to have any practical value. In addition, those participants who could have raised objections in real time are (by definition) strongly encouraged not to do so.
  • Participants are instructed to associate freely. This means there is no mechanism to overcome functional fixedness, a natural bias of human thinking. This also happens to be the strongest barrier to creativity and innovation.
  • Group dynamics, such as groupthink and social insecurity, are well researched. They have consistently shown to inherently inhibit the creation of truly radical ideas in the absence of a structured mechanism.

With such a flawed core, DT cannot be an effective approach to innovation or innovation methodology. We, at SIT, are of course partial, since the very essence and entire trajectory of our past 22 years includes designing and refining a powerful alternative to brainstorming. And, indeed, we propose today a combination of the useful elements of Design Thinking paired with a powerful and effective method to generate ideas.

We promise to come back with more on this topic. Meanwhile, we invite you to share with us your experience using DT versus other innovation methodologies.


Why stop there? Continue reading and learn how to incentivize innovation in your company.

3 Innovation Specialists Busting the Myth About Brainstorming

Published on: December 25, 2017 в 12:44 pm


Categories: Brainstorming


When thinking about creativity in teams, we often imagine a bunch of people in front of a flip-chart scribbling down whatever comes to mind – Brainstorming.


But, what exactly is Brainstorming, and what is it actually useful for?

This is how a poet, creative coach, and the host of The 21st Century Creative Podcast, Mark McGuinness defines the term:

“‘Brainstorming’ is such a common word that it’s often used to describe any meeting or conversation designed to generate ideas. But what the critics are really complaining about are formal brainstorming sessions, governed by a set of rules that originated with advertising manager Alex Faickney Osborn, in his 1963 book Applied Imagination. The basic assumption is that by suspending judgement, people free themselves to come up with unusual and potentially useful ideas. The four most important rules are:

  • Generate as many ideas as possible – the more ideas you come up with, the better chance you have of coming up with good ones.
  • Don’t criticise – it will dampen peoples’ enthusiasm and kill their creativity.
  • Welcome unusual ideas – it’s important to break out of your usual mindset and consider wild and wacky ideas if you want to be really creative.
  • Combine and improve ideas – instead of criticising ideas, look for way to use them in combination and/or make them better.

A leader is appointed to facilitate the session, encouraging people and making sure they stick to the rules. The leader is also responsible for collecting the ideas, usually by writing them on a whiteboard, flipchart or post it notes. Once ideas have been generated, they are evaluated at a later stage, to see which are worth implementing.”

(Mark McGuinness)

Frustrations With Brainstorming

Even though brainstorming does have value, for the purpose of energizing, team building and alignment around a topic, there is one main drawback to the method: most results are of little practical value.

This is why: most ideas produced during brainstorming sessions don’t work in reality, because of a lack of essential filters. Again, McGuiness explains this very clearly:



“Brainstorming is said to work because critical thinking is banned, allowing for a freer flow of original ideas. But again, the research raises doubts about this. One study compared classic brainstorming sessions with sessions in which brainstormers were told what criteria would be used to evaluate their ideas and encouraged to use this information to guide their idea generation. The ‘criteria cued’ groups produce fewer ideas, but a larger number of high-quality ideas. The danger with brainstorming is that quantity does not equal quality.

A common source of frustration for professionals is having to sit through brainstorming sessions in which other people generate a stream of ideas that ‘simply won’t work’. Sometimes the subject experts have tried the ideas before, sometimes they just have technical knowledge that allows them to see why the ideas will never work. But because of the rules of brainstorming, they aren’t allowed to say so, as they will be labelled ‘idea killers’.”

(Mark McGuinness)

Tips For Brainstorming: AVOID BUZZWORDS

Ideas in brainstorming sessions tend to be vague and abstract. Nick Fransen is quite pointed in his description of the common dynamics. He also translates his critique into a series of useful tips:

“Far too often (…) teams get stuck in the abstract world of fluff: Buzzword bingo! This is detrimental to innovation. It can destroy an idea’s chances of becoming a reality. Let me help you in your next endeavor.

Here are 8 words that should raise the hairs on the back of your neck: tread carefully!

  • Platform: Yup, That’s right. I wanted to get this one out of the way first. And here’s why: 90% of the time, it’s just a cover up for an idea that you didn’t really think through. Is it a matchmaking marketplace with a supply and demand side? Is it a DIY website builder? Is it … ? Seriously.
  • Fix: Try and explain your idea without using this word and find out how quickly you realise it’s an empty box
  • One Stop Shop: So you want to fix all the existing needs and problems in one go? Maybe that’s a bit much to take onto your plate as a 5-person team…
  • Instead, try and list all separate features you would need. How about actually nailing one thing at a time?
  • Disruptive: Actually, the main pain of this word is that it’s not used for what it really means . Unless you’re offering a service that was previously inaccessible to a certain customer group at a severely lowered price with a drastically improved UX, Don’t call it disruptive.
  • Community: How many people do you need before you’re community would be a success? Maybe try convincing 3 users first?
  • Quality Label: “Oh a community is indeed a lot of work. Let’s go for a quality label.” First off: how many of these labels actually exist already? Do you pay attention to any of them? Nope. Neither does anybody else. Next to that. How many partners would you need to convince to make it credible?
  • Omnichannel: Are you living in 2005? In all seriousness: focus! Find your early adopters and validate their preferred channel.
  • App: Really, you want to make an app for that? If you said ChatBot, I might’ve been excited. But app?
  • Big Data: Oh god.

(Nick Fransen, Board of Innovation)

Get the “Elephant” out of the room

So not only are time and energy wasted on less-than-productive discussions, but the process also inherently inhibits the creation of truly very radical ideas, as described by Paul Sloane:

“Unfortunately for managers, your presence in the room can inhibit people. With you there, it is very hard for your team to switch from normal meeting mode to creative brainstorm mode. You want them to confront the current conventions and generate unorthodox ideas. But some of these hidden factors might be at play:

  • Too much deference and respect for authority (you!)
  • Fear of looking silly
  • Fear of rejection
  • Not wanting to look disloyal or insolent
  • Dislike of conflict or argument

Get the “Elephant” out of the room

So, not only are time and energy wasted on less-than-productive discussions, the process also inherently inhibits the creation of truly very radical ideas, as described by Paul Sloane:

“Unfortunately for managers, your presence in the room can inhibit people. With you there, it is very hard for your team to switch from normal meeting mode to creative brainstorm mode. You want them to confront the current conventions and generate unorthodox ideas. But some of these hidden factors might be at play:

  • Too much deference and respect for authority (you!)
  • Fear of looking silly
  • Fear of rejection
  • Not wanting to look disloyal or insolent
  • Dislike of conflict or argument

You tell them that anyone can challenge anything and make any suggestion. They nod in agreement but they are waiting to see what happens. Someone suggests something strange and you immediately point out why that might not work. People read the signals and you are straight back into a conventional meeting with little chance of the wealth of radical ideas you were hoping for.”

(Paul Sloane)

To Summarize…

Brainstorming can indeed be useful:

  • For a quick download of existing ideas.
  • To improve existing ideas.
  • For teambuilding.
  • To energize the team (at least until disappointment from results sets in).
  • To break hierarchical boundaries.

It is, therefore, important to consider what brainstorming can and cannot deliver:

If you are looking for any of the effects listed above, you might very well be needing brainstorming. If you are looking for innovation or actual idea generation, beware of its limitations.

And a last point to consider: if you are using an innovation methodology of any kind, ask yourself whether it is actually a new packaged version of (good) old Brainstorming.

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