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Design Thinking, popularized by IDEO and the Stanford University d.School, is an incredibly valuable methodology for achieving unprecedented results in product development, project management, business leadership, and beyond. While it’s natural to assume that design thinking would mean “thinking about design” - and that does describe some of what goes on in this process - that’s somewhat misleading. A “leap year” isn’t a whole year of leaping, and design thinking is more than design. It is an approach that goes beyond problem-solving to “thinking from the future” in order to invent solutions that would be difficult to discover by problem-centric approaches.

Rather than using the classic design thinking model of Empathize – Define – Ideate – Prototype – Test, let’s use a cycle that’s a bit easier to remember: BIG Why? – BIG Who? – BIG What? – BIG How?

·       Rather than instinctively jumping to HOW to solve a “problem”, start with WHY - Why is this project important? Dig deeply to find an inspiring purpose beyond profit.

·       Next explore WHO – who cares, who’s impacted, who’s involved, and who’s judging the success of your project? The empathy map & personna are powerful tools to bring stakeholders to life.

·       Then move on to WHAT – what outcomes would go beyond “solving a problem” to surprise and delight your stakeholders? Use lateral thinking to imagine the future, and then create it.

·       Use the power of cross-polination to explore and expand possibilities beyond the obvious solutions to the truly remarkable.

·       Design and rapidly prototype HOW to achieve the desired outcomes and delight your stakeholders. Get feedback early and often from a wide variety of people, then iterate.

Using the WHY – WHO – WHAT – HOW cycle as a guide makes this powerful approach easy to remember and accessible to all project teams, even if you are not expert in design thinking.

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