Framework for developing companies beyond design thinking processes — Copyright Irina Damascan 2020

What’s beyond design thinking processes? — part 1

Since we know that design thinking was created for problem-solving and is meant to be a process preoccupied with narrowing concerns, we need to zoom out of this bubble and see what is beyond that. Before this, in the 1960s companies were not thinking of innovation the way we do. They were thinking of inventing things which is much bigger than innovating.

The startup bubble started in the 1957s in the US when employees of Shockley Semiconductor disputed their employer and some left to start what we now know as “Silicon startups” in Stanford Industrial Park. These entrepreneurs had knowledge of the semiconductor sector and began the expansion of the industry to what we now know as the 4th industrial revolution, from product hardware manufacturing to software and services.

When The Economist said in the 1980s that 75% of companies that are listed on the stock market ( IPO companies nowadays) are public companies because they have intellectual property over a certain problem and its specific solution for solving it, it became clear what the future of business looks like. Standford started documenting the growth path of the companies starting in the “Valley” and from here the history of design thinking as we know it was born. This new way of thinking helped these companies build fast. Having the foundation of protected knowledge, the new patents that detail to flow levels how a problem is solved would help companies differentiate how they choose to solve a problem. That’s what made competition fierce in the US.

Exploring what’s beyond design thinking goes into system design problems and that means being able to handle complexity.

For this reason, the aim of this article is to focus on 2 things that give humans the ability to go in a natural way beyond problem-solving and into the complexity of systems and their design structure :

  • craftmanship and its role in giving us purpose through its inherited complexity
  • newness and its role of giving us motivation and curiosity to continue discovering and filling in the gaps

How does craftmanship and newness for discovery connect to what’s needed to go beyond design thinking? That’s a straightforward answer in fact: it’s human nature! Our human nature rejects processes that are not aligned with our biology and for the past 50–60 years of technological development, we’ve seen how we laid the foundations of a robust 4th industrial revolution in the software applications which enable humans to be more productive, live more creatively and have more time to develop themselves. But while part of humanity is enjoying the benefits of the new technologies, the other becomes the modern slave of a way of working that is completely destroying our human bodies. Our bodies need to adapt to working styles that destroy our health and we comply with corporate entities that dictate our way of living our lives more than we even get to control our lives. As a result, there’s an urgent need to reconsider the role of designers and technology and recall them back to the drawing board and think beyond their function. We need to think of the ecosystems they are introduced as part of our daily life and as such to make them more human-friendly ( human-centric). That’s why what’s beyond problem-solving is about thinking of the system that created those problems without getting ourselves dragged down a rabbit hole of abstract corporate problems of governance. The nature of human beings is much more intrinsically connected to problems we can solve with empirical knowledge rather than robust and heavy entry barriers into a complex educational system that fulfills the need of educating us into problems so far from our embodied knowledge. Going back to our routes ( essence or intuitions) doesn’t have to be about exaggerated ways to dismiss the science we’ve built until now, as much as it has to be about going back to the philosophy of science and understanding why we needed it in the first place.

Embodied knowledge

The amazing thing about our brain is that it’s not a single process system. It’s a system of systems that run at the same time and of course influence each other through its intrinsic nature. The intimacy through which these systems are linked and work together is formed by our ability to recognize and prioritize which process fits best with our survival needs. As those needs are satisfied, more processes are enabled to allow us to capture a better and more intimate knowledge of our environment. The ability to develop that relationship with things outside our own body will gain us the embodied knowledge of those things and processes. That’s how we can achieve mastery in something. The more time we spend perfecting that embodied knowledge executed on external objects, the closer to being the experts.

When we think of becoming experts this way, it’s no longer about problem-solving anymore, is it?

The idea that an expert is a person who is an expert on solving only problems is a very new concept. That’s why my invitation is to see design as a process to create systems that have a self transformative ability embedded at their core or a transformational theology as Stacey Griffin and Patricia Shawn see it in the book about Complexity and management.

Design, as a natural bridge-builder between technology and humanity, is ideally positioned to contribute.- Kees Dorst

How do we become knowledge-driven organizations?

Organizations that are flexible and transformational and resilient in time come from a long history of embodied knowledge passed on just like craftmanship and traditions. It’s not knowledge you acquire cognitively!

This framework I developed is based on 2 famous organizations which I respect deeply, both having a long history of innovation and transformation:

  • Disney
  • Philips

Disney is a company that started with Walt’s drawing knowledge. From that, you can see the way their business expanded in the timeline below according to McKinsey research.

Source: McKinsey 1998

However, my own research and mapping of their evolution look like this:

Disney evolution framework according to the principle of systems design — Copyright Irina Damascan 2020

In the same way, Philips presents itself as a company with a transformative capacity in the following way:

Philips evolution framework according to the principle of systems design — Copyright Irina Damascan 2020

How would the model be applicable to your company? Here’s the cheat sheet to understanding how Philips and Disney did it:

Framework for scaling design systems in organizations from startup to corporate level — Irina Damascan 2020

As such, we can narrow down how we go about the 4 steps in the pillars of my framework like this:

1. Embodied knowledge — we take what we know through our DNA and at the core of our organization and make it a movement

2. Framework of usage- we take that knowledge and make it a process that is scalable and repeatable

3. Asset — we create a sales mechanism for our packed process in the form of an asset from a particular industry

4. Network — we create the bridges to reach the people that would buy, promote and develop our asset

In a nutshell, this is the first part article on what’s beyond design thinking as I thought this is a far too complex topic to only deal with in one piece. If you’re interested in how these 4 pillars are developed and what’s different about them than what we traditionally know about the design thinking way of scaling businesses, stay tuned for more content soon!


Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Further reading:

Experience and service designer passionate about psychology and behavioral change. Writing mostly on matters of the heart as a way to form user centric methods.

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