“Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking”

November 14, 2009

Dev Patnaik’s article, “Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking,” was a refreshing take on thinking in the worlds of business and design, misleading thought the title may be.  At first glance one may think the article criticizes design thinking, but quite the opposite is true.  The crux of his argument is that contrast produces wonderful results – having someone experienced in the design field wouldn’t necessarily be more advantageous for innovation than someone with a business background.  Of course, this depends on the individual and the flexibility of their thinking, but, with some design thinking added into the mix, even accountants can be creative designers.

The main example Dev gives of this “hybridity” is with Claudia Kotchka, who was hired on in 2000 at Proctor and Gamble as VP for design strategy and innovation.  The company was struggling with the digital and media transition taking place, so they needed someone to turn things around for them, and that is exactly what Claudia did.  Thought she had an accounting background, with the right design thinking she doubled the company’s revenue over the course of the next eight years.  She did this by placing designers in the company’s business units, educating businesspeople about design’s strategic impact, and forming a board of external design experts.

All this goes to prove Dev’s main point about hybrid thinking.  Had Proctor and Gamble continued down their tried-and-true product design process, with the same business practices, they would have found themselves in dire straights instead of in a successful, innovative position.  Claudia’s thinking like a designer saved them, but that in and of itself wasn’t enough – it was that combined with her seemingly incongruous background which proved beneficial.

Like Dev, I also believe that hybrid thinking is quite a potent tool for innovation.  It is precisely this confluence of various disciplines that creates new things.  When a businessperson is given the task of design innovation, they must change themselves and immerse themselves in the new school of thought.  Otherwise, stagnation results.  Once they understand this new discipline and begin to apply both types of thought to the problem, creativity abounds.  They are free to attack the problem from multiple angles.

So, while design thinking is ultimately the key for success in the future of business and corporate America, it alone will not change things.  People like Claudia, who are inexperienced designers but flexible thinkers, are just as valuable as experienced designers, with whom they can interact and formulate new ideas.  Hopefully, enough businesses will realize this and help steer things in fresh directions.


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