Innovation and Design Thinking

Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

I recently (about an hour ago), tweeted an article by McKinsey entitled “More than a feeling: Ten design practices to deliver business value“.  Within the article they ascribe these ten practices to three distinct groupings:

  • More than a department
  • More than a phase
  • More than a feeling

And while each one can be discussed at length, I wanted to concentrate on the first – more than a department – as I feel that it more closely encapsulates the problems with many governments and how they approach innovation.

There are three design practices embedded within “More than a department”:

  • From departmental silos to cross-functional teams.
  • From narrow experts to interdisciplinary designers.
  • From cubicles to garages.

So what do these mean and how do they apply to both design thinking and innovation?

Governments are very departmental in nature, that is their design, and within each department, there are additional silos.  And within those silos … You see where I’m going.  We put everyone and everything into a silo, we take the concept of “one role per person” and extrapolate it throughout the organization.  You have a person on the help desk that handles password resets, and only password resets.  You have someone whose only job is to process invoices from vendors.  Just invoices, nothing else.

The problem that this causes is that cross-pollination of ideas is vital for innovation.  You can’t just do one thing, all the time and then be asked to be innovative, to think out of the box, when you’ve been deliberately placed in that box with the lid closed.

With regard to writing, Stephen King said:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Expand your horizons, think beyond the boundaries, do things other than that same function day-after-day. This will help clear the cobwebs, unstick those neural networks and allow you to think. This allows you to go from being an expert in one, and only one thing, to more of a jack-of-all-trades individual. The job may shift, but you will shift with it.

Sometimes thinking out of the box isn’t so much thinking differently as an expert in a single field, but understanding that you can be good in multiple fields at the same time.  Don’t constrain yourself by who others perceive you to be or how you perceive yourself.

Understand that you are part of a team, just not the team that you thought.  Instead of the help desk team, you are part of a new design team, working on something different, something that will change how people interact with the organization.  The team shifts as the problem/solution being worked on changes.  While a cubicle may limit where you can sit, it shouldn’t limit who you interact with.

Think differently, expand beyond the boundaries that have defined your role in the past and work with people in a new team to define new products and services.  We’ve narrowed our organization so much, defined people’s roles in so limited a fashion, that the ability to think differently, think about the broader picture, think about a total solution, is gone.

We have organized ourselves in such a way that we stripped “design thinking” out of our organizations in an attempt to build something new.  But all we’ve done is limited our ability to change and innovate.

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