Thoughts on Design Thinking by Alan Smith – Designer of 'Business Model Generation'

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by: Alexander Osterwalder

As many of you know, I am a big fan of design thinking applied to business. I believe there is a lot we can learn from designers and their tools to improve the way we innovate and manage in companies. Hence, it’s straightforward to have a guest post by a designer.

I invited Alan Smith from The Movement, designer of our upcoming "Business Model Generation" book, to write about his take on design thinking. I’ve learned enormously about design from Alan while working on the book – it reinforced my love story with design thinking… (more about this topic in "Business Model Generation" 😉 But now, Alan, the stage is yours:

No Parking Policy:

The best class I had in design school was a class called "Design Thinking" with a fabulous professor named Mary Ann Maruska. The best comment I ever got in that class was on a project redesigning a "tow-away zone" sign.

As soon as we got the brief – that instant -I had this bloody brilliant idea of bending the sign-pole at its base and putting a hook through the circle in the "no parking" sign literally towing the sign away.

Brilliant no? What you don’t get it? That’s ok, most people didn’t. I was in love with this idea though!!!! It was so sweet!!! I’ve done X Y and Z right from a theoretical perspective and damn that’s hot!!! I shared it with fellow students. 8/10 times: "ummm". I thought: "pfff. Another dimwit. I’m brilliant. That’s ok that they don’t get it. Everyone with a brain will."

The course required that you create 10 alternatives, so I half-heartedly went through the process. I made them because I had to. Teacher says so. Jokes on her though, these crap solutions would enforce my Eureka sign and everyone would get it then!

As a young foolish student, my post project-reflection read: "I think my first idea is generally the best for any project. "

Mary Ann’s Response : "Really? This must be your first idea on ideas." Went right over my head. But I think I get it now.

Creating alternatives is not just about verifying an idea you like, its about finding one that’s better, more appropriate, more interesting, or that leads to something better. Most of all, its about letting go.

This ability to let go dies hard, and with each new field / exercise you enter it comes back without you noticing.

Moving into business model design, I see myself making the same mistakes I made entering graphic design, and afterwards as a systems designer, furniture, motion graphics, web-architecture, management, entrepreneurship, etc…

Like a boxer, you can trust the process like you’d trust a coach. Run the drills knowing that they’ll give you value your weaknesses would not allow you to create. Better yet, you’ll also train those weaknesses out over time.

When you’re new to something, follow medium specific exercises and processes like you follow street-signs. You’ll end up arriving at incredible results you never could have found otherwise.

Or, you could just park one idea and hope it doesn’t get towed away by the first person who see’s through it.

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