Words Matter | Design Thinking

designgraphicssmallIf you could identify the single most important factor that is missing in schools, what would it be?

For me, it’s an easy call.


I think schools can be imaginative, and have that capacity in their DNA, but its buried and hidden under the things that schools have to deal with in their current educational climate.  Has your school lost its imagination?

For me, imagination gives rise to creativity, and creativity to innovation.

Does your school’s methodology for proposing and implementing solutions to the issues that it faces reflect that flow?  How does your organization visualize, dream and take steps forward to innovate, so that it can improve and create anew?

Design thinking can restore that imagination, elevate it, make it visible and contagious.

From an organizational standpoint, design thinking provides a systems-based approach to solution finding.  There is a process, sometimes loosely defined and adaptive in many ways, which permits the personalization of the process to the organization.  As a process, it is malleable.  I will admit that the process is sometimes made out to be more complex than necessary, so its important to focus on the core aspects of design thinking, along with actually using the process to develop actionable next steps in the form of a solution.  And I’m not bothered in the least that its a process – what isn’t?  A process doesn’t necessarily have to limit thinking; thinking is limited by closed minds.

To avoid that limitation, take a first step.  Start by creating a different language for your organization.  This language can be anchored by the simple but powerful generative language of “How Might We” and “What If?”  Using those phrases help frame ideation, and provide a simple structure for re-igniting thought.  But phrases aren’t enough, and organizations have to work hard at creating a climate where individuals feel comfortable with contributing.  Ideas can be fragile, and sometimes so are the individuals that bring them forth, so all must feel comfortable with the risk-taking associated with contributing an idea without the fear of being “Yeah butted” into submission.

And language is even more important when considering the distinction between designing and creating.

I think that when organizations try and develop solutions, they create rather than design.  I’ve wrestled with this idea for a long time and I do see a difference.  For example, if you needed a new library, you could ask any architect to create one for you, and you’d get a library.  You all know what that looks like; so does every single architect on Earth.  But what if your provocation was to design a space for the interaction of people, information and ideas?  What if you designed around that?  You might get a library but you most likely would get something different than your typical school library.  I think its important to put the design process in the lead – design first and then create what was designed.  Too many just recreate what has already been created.  Using a design provocation at the start of the process changes the nature of the conversation and ultimately the process of creation.  I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on that distinction.

As you might expect in the connectivity of our social media world, design thinking has become a major topic of conversation.  That’s certainly to be expected, and I would encourage you if interested to take a deep dive into the process to see if its something for you, your students, or your school.  If you want, take a look at the presentation resources assembled on my site, with the help of Christian Long.

Also expected are the inevitable challenges to anything that gets put under the social media microscope.  Is design thinking as a process perfect?  No.  Are there other processes?  Yes.  Can organizations find solutions to their issues through other means?  Certainly.  As a process, can it “box” you in?  I guess if you let it.  It’s not everything nor does it have to be.  It can simply be another tool at your disposal.

But what I’m excited about is a process that helps educators ask the right questions, understand the problem at a deep human level, get creative, and propose solutions that can be tested, evaluated and improved.  I’m guessing that’s better than most have.

And that’s enough for me right now.


  1. […] experience for educators as well as students? Edublogger David Jakes, in a recent post titled “Words Matter | Design Thinking,” encourages schools to “Start by creating a different language for your organization.  This […]

Speak Your Mind