Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need weird shoes or a black turtleneck to be a de- sign thinker. Nor are design thinkers neces- sarily created only by design schools, even though most professionals have had some kind of design training. My experience is that many people outside professional design have a natural aptitude for design thinking, which the right development and experi- ences can unlock. Here, as a starting point, are some of the characteristics to look for in design thinkers:
Empathy. They can imagine the world from multiple perspectives—those of col- leagues, clients, end users, and customers (current and prospective). By taking a “peo- ple first” approach, design thinkers can imag-
ine solutions that are inherently desirable and meet explicit or latent needs. Great de- sign thinkers observe the world in minute de- tail. They notice things that others do not and use their insights to inspire innovation.
Integrative thinking. They not only rely on analytical processes (those that produce either/ or choices) but also exhibit the ability to see all of the salient—and sometimes contradictory— aspects of a confounding problem and create novel solutions that go beyond and dramatically improve on existing alternatives. (See Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking.)
Optimism. They assume that no matter how challenging the constraints of a given problem, at least one potential solution is better than the existing alternatives. Experimentalism. Significant innovations don’t come from incremental tweaks. Design
thinkers pose questions and explore con- straints in creative ways that proceed in en- tirely new directions.
Collaboration. The increasing complexity of products, services, and experiences has re- placed the myth of the lone creative genius with the reality of the enthusiastic interdisci- plinary collaborator. The best design thinkers don’t simply work alongside other disciplines; many of them have significant experience in more than one. At IDEO we employ people who are engineers and marketers, anthropolo- gists and industrial designers, architects and psychologists.
-Tim Brown (CEO IDEO)