Everyone is a Designer

Did you know that every time you put together a press release, or make a decision about your department’s policies, or choose to post something to this blog, you are designing?  Herb Simon wrote in his book The Sciences of the Artificial that

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artefacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state. [1]

So we’re all designers by this definition. But why does this matter? Because thinking about ourselves and our situations this way can help us to solve problems differently. It is relatively easy to devise a course of action when we have enough information: like, for instance, when a client or colleague says “Could you write me a press release that says x and y” or when they say “Here are the mockups for the site i’d like for you to build,” or when we are writing a simple email to a co-worker.  In these situations, our skills and training can guide us through the process, and we can be reasonably sure of a predictable outcome.

But when situations become less certain, requiring decisive action in the absence of complete information, a set of practices and habits of mind sometimes called design thinking can help. Many people have used the term in an organizational context, including Roger Martin, Tim Brown and many others, and it is almost identical to the innovation fluency that we help to encourage in our clients. It has to do with a person’s ability to create things or to make decisions when there just isn’t as much information as we’d like. So when a crisis hits, or when we have to create a new iPad app that no one has created before, or when we want to write a really innovative piece of prose, or when our organization asks for us to share our half-formed ideas on a company-wide social network, we are either already using design thinking, or we might want to develop it.

I’ve written here about the fact that even the US Army is making design an explicit part of their operational doctrine, for some of the following reasons:

..growing uncertainty, rapid change, increased competitiveness, and greater decentralization. Given these trends, our leaders must expect and be prepared to confront a variety of complex problems, most of which will include myriad interdependent variables and all of which will include a human dimension. [2]

If you are interested in learning more about the characteristics of design thinking, and some tips on how people develop it, please note this in the comments below.

[1] Simon, Herbert A. The Sciences of the Artificial – 3rd Edition. The MIT Press, 1996. http://www.amazon.com/Sciences-Artificial-Herbert-Simon/dp/0262691914.

[2] US Army FM 5-0 Field Operations Manual, 2010 (http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm5-0.pdf)

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