Herb Simon changed my life. I never met him, though his name and words loom large in my own work. Simon, a polymath and Nobel laureate, taught economics, cognitive psychology and computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. The term ‘design thinking’ can be traced all the way back to his 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial. In it, Simon expressed a definition for design that could change your life too. He said, “everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
So if you are engaged, with any aspect of your life, in changing an existing situation into a preferred one — you are a designer. Quite literally everyone, by this definition, is a designer. That’s the real power of design thinking, and it has forever changed the way I work with other people. It’s about enabling more people to approach problems the way a trained designer might. It’s about giving more people the tools to solve problems in a human-centered way. The company I work for, MAYA Design, incubated and launched an entire company, LUMA Institute, dedicated to equipping people to accelerate innovation. To observe the human experience. To analyze challenges and opportunities. To envision a possible future.
But when I think of the theme for the upcoming xCHANGE, “maximizing the yield of design thinking,” I want to go beyond the simple methods used to practice design thinking. I want to talk about how we scale design thinking to encompass everything we make and do. The scale of “everything” will most definitely increase the complexity we face in terms of difficulty and understanding possible outcomes. There will be implications not just on what we do, but how we do it — the processes, organizational structures and policies — and even our reason for doing it. We’ll need to be increasingly disciplined and honest about finding the friction between possible solutions and people.
I’m reminded of a commercial for the Marines. It opens on quick cuts of a chaotic battle scene, Marines are shown running toward a heavy cloud of dust. In a deep tone a voice says, “There are a few who move toward the sounds of chaos.” The commercial ends with the familiar “The few, the proud, the Marines” tagline. For us, rather than chaos, its complexity. Only a few will run toward it, and when they do, even fewer are equipped to tame it. I’d like to offer a few simple rules to guide us. Show up on October 15 to discuss them with me.