Design thinking to seize opportunities from problems in a VUCA world

The last two years have taught us that in a so-called VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, the ability to respond to problems with fast and efficient solutions may no longer be sufficient. The result actually results in an abundance of products and solutions that do not go into the very core of the problem.

Clearly identifying the innovation challenge that must be faced, formulating it and reformulating it (framing and reframing) in the right way implies the need to understand it in order to identify the mismatch between the current situation and future expectations. The reformulation of the problem therefore implies the need to use creativity to interpret it and redefine it, if necessary, to give it a new meaning.

Based on these considerations, Design Thinking for the Business Observatory continues to stimulate its community, consisting of managers, IT specialists and designers, by asking questions and provocations, as in the unique round table that aimed to find a balance between cognitive attitude and practicality. , between theoretical thinking and doing.

Reframing innovation challenges: the interplay between creative logics and design narratives

The observatory sent a questionnaire to its ecosystem to understand the creative logics that professionals face on various issues related to the innovation challenge. Three have been identified:

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  • that analogous thinking which, to reformulate the problem in a new way, looks for similarities in distant domains, but which form points of contact with the challenge being tackled;
  • that associative thinking working on the ability to recognize differences and the ability to find the solution at random in different contexts (serendipity);
  • that abductive reasoning which is dependent on unexpected facts and requires imagination and critical ability to question established approaches.

The answers were analyzed on the basis of the respondents’ three educational backgrounds (management, IT technology, design). There were no significant differences beyond a more positivist attitude, based on analogous thinking, to a particular reality as it already exists, among professionals with managerial and technological-IT education. The designers, on the other hand, showed a lesser tendency to look at what already exists and a greater orientation toward abductive thinking.

The takeover of the three creative logics was then mapped based on the degree of definition of the problems: poorly defined, relatively well defined, well defined. In this case, it turns out that the more clearly the innovative challenge is expressed, the more the different creative thinking techniques help to identify the solutions, while being less effective in cases of ambiguity.

To experiment with the use of the above logic, a laboratory was set up, which saw the presence of 92 participants, divided into 16 teams. The problem posed concerns how to meet the challenge of the Facebook downturn that took place in October 2021. The professionals faced a path with several steps: a first formulation of the problem, a first reframing, following a stimulus in individual logic, a second reframing at team level. The experiment ended with a phase of evaluation of the different pathways.

It turned out that the use of all the logics grows as the phases progress, that it takes time to improve the framing / reframing of the problem, that external stimuli are very useful. These are particularly crucial for analog thinking, while for abductive thinking they play opposite roles: they create confusion in the initial phase but are effective laterat the time of the reformulation of the innovative challenge.

A further experiment that we do not dwell on concerned the use of narrative design with the aim of formulating and solving innovation problems.

In the summary by Claudio Dell’Era, Research Direction, Design Thinking for Business Observatory, it appears that in the VUCA environment we live in, creative logics must above all be cultivated for their ability to improve the definition of the problem, but time must be left to professionals to absorb and implement them. As for the role that external stimuli play in better understanding the problem: “We can not remain closed in our bubble, but we must have contact with different stimuli of different nature and origin,” reads Dell’Era’s invitation.

The new design manifesto, against “userism”

An important contribution comes, as always, from Roberto Verganti, Professor of Leadership and Innovation at the Stockholm School of Economics, Harvard Business School and Politecnico di Milano, which we will try to summarize, albeit with difficulty, in a few lines. For the design of a design thinking course, within a dual master’s degree (in management and in design) at Harward University, several actors were involved in various fields, including the students themselves.

The basic questions were about the design of the future, about what needs to change, about the challenges that designers face, for those who design themselves. In particular, the last question has attracted interest to highlight how in recent years we are so focused on the user that we lose the sense of contextas well as represented the image in the figure of the well-known photographer Karl Taylor.The result does not seem to be a better world. In any case, the user-centered logic, even though it has worked in the past, no longer seems suitable for addressing the problems of the future that the same companies have no experience with. The new challenges require more interlocutors for dialogue, including electronic devices via IoT, and for addressing complex issues such as sustainability. We therefore need an innovation perspective guided by meaning and value. Making the user happy with good products and selling well is no longer enough.

The synthesis of the new design manifesto presented by Verganti is: “The world is flooded with userism; design has lost its north star and reinforced the view of the world as Pond by users; we have to design for the best for ourselves (for our better selves). ”Therefore, design for oneself as well as for others, assuming the idea of ​​design as a collective action.

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