(Examples are current skills, mastering and investment)

Over the past century literacy in science, technology, engineering and math was a core focus for many. The LUMA[4] Institute is of the opinion “design is becoming the core literacy of the future” (“MAYA Design,” 2010). This opinion is supported by Richard Henderson[5] in an article published in the Design Management Review in 2006 where he calls for design and innovation to be recognised as the business currency of the future. Henderson notes that for businesses to expand in what he terms the ‘idea-driven economy’, design must be respected and included in their strategies. In Henderson’s experience the most successful companies “rate imagination as a key performance indicator” (Henderson, 2006, p. 77).

 On 6 December 2016, the New York chapter of AIGA[6] held an event titled ‘Citizen! Designer! Now!’ In capturing the essence of the event in Eye on Design (published as part of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest not-for-profit membership organization for design in the United States—with 71 chapters and more than 26,000 members), Georgia Campbell (2016) states; Design, like any tool, is only transformational if employed in the right way. It’s not a magic wand, but rather, a chisel used to steadily chip away stubborn problems. It’s a tool best used in tandem with others; alone, designers can only play a limited hand. ‘What designers can and should do is find organizations that are doing good work and put your tools at their disposal,’ said panellist Jake Barton, founder of the studio Local Projects.

In 2016 the World Economic Forum[7] (WEF) reported critical problem solving as being the leading skill that will be required by the year 2020. The report also indicated that within 5 years, over 35% of the skills deemed necessary today will have changed. The report covers what was termed the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution[8]’ and part of this change would be the need for the global workforce to align it skillset to keep pace. According to Gray (2016) the WEF highlights the ten key skills[9] required by 2020 as being complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.

In an interview with WIRED[10], Charlie Hill, Chief Technology Officer of International Business Machines Corporation Design (IBM[11]) confirmed that IBM is investing more than $100-million to become a design-centred corporation. IBM wants to shift the culture towards a focus on users’ outcomes. This approach hinges on the company-wide implementation of design thinking—a framework for conducting business that puts users’ (i.e. customers’) needs first (Stinson, 2016). IBM is committed to thinking that the systems of the world should work in service of people. At the heart of this human-centred mission is IBM Design Thinking: a framework to solve our users’ problems at the speed and scale of the modern digital enterprise (“IBM Design Thinking,” 2016). Infosys has design thinking at the centre of its organizational strategy and to date have trained 73,000 of its employees in the concept.

In contrast to this Chris Pacione, co-founder and CEO of the LUMA[12] Institute  says that clarification and consideration should be given to the intent for wanting to implement a design thinking program before investing. Pacione notes that if a company has no need to solve wicked[13] problems then they should not implement a design thinking program (Ketter, 2016, p. 23). At the inaugural Design Forward conference, Sam Yen, event speaker and chief design officer at SAP, commented that design thinking should not be treated as an academic exercise. Yen noted that companies implementing design thinking generally outperform the market (Graves, 2016, p. 43).

Tim Brown supports this and believes that design thinking should be an important part of the school curriculum. Plattner supports Brown in his thinking when stating “It has the potential to engage students in ways that are inclusive of their diversity, makes school learning relevant and real, pressing local and global issues which can enhance one’s motivation to learn” (L. Leifer et al., 2012b, p. 19). A 2015 report undertaken by the Hasso Plattner Institute on the current state of design thinking supports this thinking in so much as it found 42% of the respondents sought training at educational institutions and a further 20% taught themselves (Jan et al., 2016, p. 26). The Report points out lack of theoretical perspective and the subsequent need for retraining individuals in the workforce whose creativity has been ‘beat[en] out’ of them in the education system and daily operations” (Jan et al., 2016, p. 33). Opposed to this is Ogilvie & Liedtka[14] who question whether design thinking can, or in fact should, be taught to non-designers (Ogilvie & Liedtka, 2011, p. 5).  Further research could be undertaken on the effects of introducing design thinking to secondary level students, levels of creative output and cost to industry.



Figure 5. Professor Jeanne Liedtka


Jeanne M. Liedtka is a faculty member at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and former chief learning officer at United Technologies Corporation, where she was responsible for overseeing all activities associated with corporate learning and development for the Fortune 50 corporation, including executive education, career development processes, employer-sponsored education and learning portal and web-based activities.

At Darden, where she formerly served as associate dean of the MBA program and as executive director of the Batten Institute, Jeanne works with both MBAs and executives in the areas of design thinking, innovation and leading growth. Her passion is exploring how organizations can engage employees at every level in thinking creatively about the design of powerful futures.



Figure 6. Jeanne Liedtka Design Thinking Model


In confirming the need to master design thinking Ketter (2016, 23) states “design thinking is not the answer to everything, and it is certainly not something you come at lightly”. “True competitive advantage requires non-obvious solutions executed in elegant ways” (Brown, 2015, p. 3). Wolper (2016, 44) supports Brown in the need to master design thinking when stating that it takes discipline and training. The methodology of design thinking that allows viewing of a problem from a different perspective is an important tool or facilitator for society overall. In many cases a tool can be useful, but there are times when lack of training can result in the tool becoming a hindrance (Balaram, 2010, p. 10).

As important as it is to master design thinking, is it important to note that as with any management model or innovation “it can be misused, implemented poorly, or subverted by clever opportunists” (Wolper, 2016, p. 43). L. Leifer, Meinel & Plattner (2012b, p. 90) support the need to master design thinking by noting “at the same time, there is still little understanding of how Design Thinking works in action and how it is best managed”. For this reason, selection of, or association with a reputable and respected independent design thinking may be appropriate for many. The benefits of applying design thinking are real and have been extensively recorded. Design thinking is fundamental to the manner in which contemporary business is adapting and changing approach to their environment (Wolper, 2016, p. 44).  

According to Cross (2006, p. 7) design problems are in no way similar to what he terms the ‘puzzles’ that scientist or scholars set themselves. Problems faced by designers are ill-defined, ill structured, or ‘wicked’. Cross remarks that designers (design activity) are generally under pressure to find quick satisfactory solutions (strict timelines) and do have the opportunity for prolonged analysis or ability to use the phrase ‘further research is required’. Designers are solution-focused and not problem-focused, having to learn self-confidence to define and refine their thoughts (Cross, 2006, p. 7). Design thinking has been applauded as been in part revolutionary in allowing individuals and companies to solve or view global wicked problems from an alternate perspective. Designers do not focus on defining problems rather they are solution-focused and fluctuate their thinking between the two forming partial structuring i.e. problem framing (Akpinar, Mengyuan XU2, & Brooks, 2015, p. 154).

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