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June 15, 2016

There is a hot new trend going viral on the Internet for the business and technology consulting world these days that is being applied to a wide variety of problems seeking solutions.  This trend is called, Design Thinking.

Counter to the Internet’s hot trend listings, Design Thinking is not exactly a new idea or strategic approach, it is simply reaching its critical point of mass adoption, so it is rapidly propagating throughout the world of consultants and is being applied to a vast assortment of problems as a crisp new way to solve problems.  Its roots can be traced back to the 1940s as it evolved from the needs to solve complex problems stemming from WWII.  Today, we use it to create new products, develop strategies for  business, and to innovate new approaches and ideas for next generation products.

Jobs Quote

Historically, consultants used the Analytical Scientific Method to solve problems.  This traditional approach focused on the problem itself and dissected it to a highly granular level.  Once the problem was clearly understood, then a suitable solution to the problem could be devised.  It considered the resources and constraints on hand and best leveraged these limitations to uncover a solution.  While it worked well to solve specific problems, innovation was limited.  It is all about small incremental improvements without any dramatic changes or innovation.

With Design Thinking, we consider the outcomes as our primary objective instead of the problem.  No, we do not ignore the problems, but we do not invest as much effort to break them down as we do in the Analytical Scientific Method.  In Design Thinking, we consider or recognize the issues of the present, but we place our greatest efforts to focus on the future.  We identify and investigate the present issues with an emphasis on the known, but ambiguous aspects.  We seek to reveal the unknown parameters and explore the alternative pathways to the desired goal.  The desired goal is where we place our efforts and work towards a solution.  The process with Design Thinking is always iterative, so we strive to learn and then refine the solution.  Continuous improvement and optimization of the solution is a critical aspect for the success of Design Thinking.

Iterative Model

If the Analytical Scientific Method is problem-centric, then the Design Thinking method is said to be solution-centric.

For example, the Japanese bicycle components manufacturer Shimano, worked with IDEO to learn why 90% of American adults don’t ride bikes. The interdisciplinary project team discovered that intimidating retail experiences, the complexity and cost of sophisticated bikes, and the danger of cycling on heavily trafficked roads had overshadowed people’s happy memories of childhood biking. So the team created a brand concept – “Coasting” – to describe a whole new category of biking and developed new in-store retailing strategies, a public relations campaign to identify safe places to cycle, and a reference design to inspire designers at the companies that went on to manufacture Coasting bikes.


By using the Design Thinking method, they focused on the results and outcomes and not the specific details of the products.  They helped their customers to visualize the desired outcomes.  Many concepts used when selling solutions are abstract and ambiguous to our customers.  So, we use analogies to help tell stories and paint pictures of the proposed future state.  We use road-maps to guide customers towards the future state from the current state.  These road-maps and analogies are aids for navigation to the end goal.  Most people can draw parallels from analogous learning techniques.  A lot of innovation has its roots in analogous learning.

Here is a link to a previous LinkedIn Pulse article about Hollywood beauty and famed actress, Hedy Lamarr that describes her journey to invent and patent spread spectrum communications, which is the fundamental foundation of cellular telephones and Wi-Fi that we all use today.  You will never guess which technology she used as a model to create her solution.  Lamarr was a successful inventor who leverage Design Thinking in its earliest form.

Hedy Lamarr


In Design Thinking we use symbols, signs, and metaphors through the medium of sketching, diagrams, and technical drawings to translate abstract requirements into concrete objects. The way designers communicate, then, is through understanding this way of coding design requirements in order to produce solutions.

In the Analytical Scientific method, we apply a divergent approach to breakdown and pull apart the problem.  In Design Thinking method, we take an opposite approach in so much as we converge on a problem and funnel various abstract ideas towards a cohesive convergent solution.  It is not a black and white division in our approach; normally we apply both divergent and convergent methods to both means to problem-solving.  It is simply where we place the emphasis.


While we have seen several worthy variations on the theme, one version of the Design Thinking process has seven stages: define, research, think, prototype, choose, implement, and learn.  Personally, this seven stage approach has always resonated well with me, but there are other frameworks aimed at this process for you to consider too.  The graphic at the head of this article is a different form of the Design Thinking framework and it uses four stages.  The Design at Work graphic above in the body text uses 8 discrete stages.  All frameworks are valid, you just need to find one that fits you best.

Explore the strategic dimensions of design thinking and learn practical tools and techniques that integrate right-brain imagination, artistry and intuition with left-brain logic, analysis, and planning. Methods for thinking like a designer include observing, interviewing, creating personas, empathy mapping, storyboards, associational thinking, creating low-tech prototypes, and decision-making analysis. In other words, design is a whole-brain creative thinking process.

  • Develop the mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets of designers, artists, and innovators
  • How to connect more deeply with customers to discover opportunities for innovation
  • Break through barriers that have kept you stuck
  • Experiment with idea generation, critical thinking, aesthetic ways of knowing, problem-solving and rapid-prototyping
  • Foster a culture that enhances creativity and innovation
  • Generate ideas to seed your innovation ecosystem

Design Thinking is fun.  It is creative.  It can provide answers to complex and confounding problems.  Most of all, it is innovative as it permits disruption and the exploration of new approaches and ideas.  You should give it a try to create a cleaver solution to your next challenge.

IBM, and this author, make use of Design Thinking to problem solve for our clients.  You should consider this problem-solving strategy for your next big innovation too.


You will find many articles posted on my LinkedIn Pulse page, so click on the link below to view and read my articles.  Thanks for taking the time to read this post – comments, shares, and likes are always welcome and I will respond to questions pertaining to this article.  LinkedIN


About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive, Internet of Things Lead with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V).  He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.



Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review. Harvard Publishing. Retrieved on June 15, 2016 from,

Naiman, L. (2016). Design thinking as a strategy for innovation. Creativity at Work. Retrieved on June 15, 2016 from,

Wikipedia. (2016). Design Thinking. Retrieved on June 15, 2016 from,