Design your way to success in 2020

In a small studio above Roxy’s Dress Shop in Palo Alto, California, Douglas Dayton and Jim Yurchenco and six other young men were puzzled by a problem they had been presented. A small start-up company had just created a state of the art computer. The company had presented them with a challenge, create a technology component that allowed the user to move the courser on the computer screen around easily, allowing them to point and even click on the image. After days of exploring options, they finally attached a roller ball from a tube of roll-on deodorant to a plastic butter dish, the rest as they say is history.

Employers today are looking for employees who can think outside the box. Last month’s article touched on the concept of elastic thinking, or considering many different ways of solving a problem while not being limited by self-inflicted constraints.  Design thinking is a process that accepts the fact that there are constraints, defining them using criteria of feasibility (what is functionally possible in the future), viability (is it sustainable), and desirability (will people benefit and value from it).

This method greatly expands the limits we place on possible solutions.

In Western culture the process of solving a problem involves collecting a series of inputs or observations, analyzing them, then converging on a single answer. When was the last time you had a group of five friends decide where to for dinner? I bet you decided on a single place to eat. Design thinking focuses on creating many choices or options, referred to as divergent thinking. Testing these many ideas against each other increases the likelihood you will discover a more compelling solution. Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel Prizes, states “To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas.”

In 1977, Citibank was trying to earn the label of being an innovative bank. It followed this design thinking process in exploring ways it could provide better customer service at more locations at a lower cost. At that time banking experts associated more human bank teller interactions with better service. Citibank changed that train of thought using technology, opening the first automated teller machines (ATM’s) in all its branches around New York. It earned the innovation title and changed the industry.

So how do we improve the student experience in schools that leads to the development of design thinking in each individual student? Our system has focused so much on analytical and convergent thinking that is has stifled creativity. Now many students believe creativity is possessed by the privileged few incredibly smart people, a fallacy.

Young children are taught to explore the world with their hands. They test out ideas buy building them or role playing. These elements need to exist throughout the whole K-12 system, not just elementary school.

So what did the gentlemen above Roxy’s Dress Shop create? The first computer mouse. And what of the company they created it for? You may have heard of them: Apple. 2020 will offer challenges for each of us and our communities. Each of us can develop the abilities to solve the problems we face in a creative and productive way. Enjoy solving your way through the New Year.


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