All things considered for Innovation Thinking

Source: Rikke Dam and Teo Yin Siang

When we are designing innovation for the future, the search is even more centered around strategically connected value creation.

The task of searching to resolve more complex problems allows Design Thinking to step up and become a far more visible component on how we can go about this.

Design thinking needs to work in harmony with many other thinking skills to make its contribution. Here I outline some of my “must go to” frames or tools.

The need when you “cast out” and look into the future we need to make a lot of connections, these can be really different, seemingly disparate in ideas and approaches. The whole search for diversity can generate so much fresh thinking if we open our minds to the alternatives.

We need to draw on insights, creativity but most importantly have a growing sense of the context we are thinking through to search for new ideas, concepts, and eventual new innovating solutions.

We often get caught up in data far too early, looking for the real nugget that can transform our thinking. I would guard against this, we always need the “larger” context. Never allow the “narrow prism” to dominate until any concept is getting clearer in its final design.

Context is so important to understand in any problem solving or future thinking

The power of context shifts everything and then gives it ‘shape’. It provides the conditions and the circumstances of time and place and why we need to find and deliver something different. It provides the innovation marching orders.

If we place innovation in a certain set of contexts, then those setting about the task are more sensitive to the needs and understanding, they can relate or can reject this. It can allow them to work more clearly and effectively, not necessarily efficiently as innovation is inherently messy.

Context gives us certain guard rails or borders to help gain a more united focus. Where we go after that, by pushing those borders will depend on those involved by seeing a greater value in an evolving context of mutual understanding. The ‘setting it in context’ allows for dialogue, adding more value to the thinking.

Design Thinking is increasing its role in innovation thinking

Design thinking can play a richer role and be a more powerful contributor to bigger problems but it needs to evolve and be seen in a wider context and not seen as specialized, narrow and limited. It can connect to a wider universe of problems and complexity of design itself, over the centuries has broken out of past confines. Design thinking makes us all design-conscious if we allow it too. It is the human-centered design that can draw out the best of our thinking if we do allow it too.

DT encourages us to abandon the linear thinking and keeps us constantly undergoing that looping circularity as the accepted process and that needs resetting mindsets significantly.  DT to evolve in all our minds, away from those past experiments limited to narrow, linear paths of design thinking understanding is highly liberating, sometimes scary but deeply satisfying when you truly break through a complex problem.

We need to connect multiple thinking, diversity and different experiences that so often diverge initially to then collectively find the path to converge, in a common understanding, to translate the combined creative thinking into real action, achieving valuable outcomes.

Sharing my Four Friends that are good to bring to the party, to align with Design Thinking

I like to refer to four frames or tools that I think should always be available to simply map to when you are in any design thinking phase. These are not in any “magic” order here so assess the value of each and see where and how you would apply these within the thinking you are about to undertake.

I am a great enthusiast for working through the Three Horizon model.

There is a sequence shown here to help aid future thinking. We work through a series of steps discussing what is in the market today, what is changing and then what might take its place in the future. We are structuring discussions based on this visual

You can read about the three horizons by putting “three horizons” in this blog post search box. A useful one to take a quick look at is “The Three Horizons – Providing a Common Language in its Innovation Use” to open up your thinking to this framework and its companionship to design thinking.

 The second view we always need to consider is a “System thinking” one.

I really love this visual for system thinking that outlines the key insights and tools needed to develop and advance a systems mindset for dealing with complex problem solving and transitioning to the Circular Economy. Keep checking if you are connecting your thinking up. Does it go beyond the existing?

“Systems thinking is a context for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.” – Peter Senge

Our quest should be finding answers to why innovation is often failing to deliver on our expectations and needs. So, for me “System thinking for Innovation, as a whole” should be grabbing more of our attention.

Yet we seem not to get our heads around this “whole” part so we set about redesigning the parts. Nothing wrong with that, it has lots of moving, sometimes unique parts, improvements are certainly happening, replacing past approaches but they still remain discreet parts but overall innovation performance, does it improve?

System thinking looks at ALL the interacting parts, their interdependence and how one part fits and reacts with another. We get caught up in the linear progression of one part and not considering enough the reinforcing loops or balancing the loops to foster stability or understand the impact across the wider system.

If we don’t have a well-understood view of the whole system of the innovative design, it does not matter how many separate parts we design or apply, the end result is this either ends up the same (disappointing), poorer, as it replaces something we failed to improve what was existing from the end-users perspective, or managed some increased ‘spike’ that needs constantly improving upon to get finally right.

Then I find the Divergent / Convergent approach in thinking as highly valuable

You need both to explore and exploit the multiple possible solutions. Divergent thinking is the ability and opportunity to offer different, unique or variant ideas adherent to one theme, while convergent thinking is the (eventual) ability to find the ‘correct’ solution to the given problem. You encourage and ideate many solutions, both possible and impossible, and then use convergent thinking to move towards a realizable resolution or solution.

I use this ‘divergent and convergent’ structure for many of my workshops, it allows for broader engagement and involvement and that eventual drawing together from this process. Once or twice you have to be nimble on your feet to move from one to the other but the discipline comes from timing these as shared spaces but giving each a clear discipline of dedicated time as you do need a very different mindset to think openly then begin to narrow the options down.

Creativity makes use of divergent thinking, which is solving problems with many possible solutions, as opposed to convergent thinking, which is solving problems

The process of figuring out a concrete solution to any problem is called Convergent Thinking. Divergent thinking is the process of thinking that explores multiple possible solutions in order to generate creative ideas. It’s a straight forward process that focuses on figuring out the most effective answer to a problem.

Divergent thinking” is the process of coming up with new ideas and possibilities. We are more in a creative and intuitive mindset. We explore lots of possibilities and stay more at this point on the conceptual abstractions. We work this through then we go more into  “Convergent thinking”, this is associated with analysis, judgment, and decision-making. We become more analytical, rational, sequential and objective. We begin to explore constraint driven issues. It is the process of taking a lot of ideas and sorting them, evaluating them, analyzing the pros and cons, and making decisions, and exploring options that reveal, over time and discussion emerging value

My fourth frame is Cynefin, a sense-making device

When we are thinking through problems or looking into the future we do need to understand the challenges we are facing. The Cynefin sense-making framework allows you to relate to different domains. The domain where your current problem might lie and then gives you a number of triggers on how you can respond to arrive at a solution or a change.

The Cynefin framework provides a wonderful way to sort the range of issues faced by leaders and us all, into five contexts, defined by the nature of the relationships between cause and effect. Dave Snowden has been explaining these consistently for years. Four of these five are; obvious (formerly simple), complicated, complex and chaotic states and requires us to diagnose situations and then to act in contextually appropriate ways. The fifth one is a disorder, often overlooked or not fully appreciated. It is when something is unclear, it is in a disorderly, highly transitory state and needs to be rapidly stabilized into one of the other four to give it a more orderly state going forward.

David Snowden and

Exploring a process of emergent discovery for innovation with the Cynefin framework

The real challenges come from the really ‘new’ in innovation as it becomes greater in new designs, changing functionality, different technology or significant improvements on the existing that involved greater research and development the more you travel around the Cynefin framework.

You often diverge/converge constantly as you work through the potential answers. The mindset here is different and it is more one that is based on the detection. Innovation is far more demanding, pushing frontiers, exploring discoveries, dealing in a series of exchanges and recognizing emerging patterns to piece together as real ‘new to the world’ innovation activities.

We need to recognize different types of innovation need to be managed differently

You need to build flexible systems that adapt, are dynamic and responsive and need that bandwidth for innovation exploration. It is a series of challenges evolving to be exploited, not reduced or eliminated.

It is deciding what complexity your innovation might have within the innovative design and then set about building the right capabilities and framing these appropriately, where they matter.

Taking a Design thinking approach to innovation is great. What I am suggesting we do need to consider the System, we need to place any problems or challenges into the ‘greater’ context. To help we need to reflect upon the different horizons aspects (3H), and we also need to wrestle with what problems we are tackling through the Cynefin sensemaking framework and finally, allow ample time to Diverge and then Converge all the diversity of these multiple perspectives.

To have a good understanding of these different thinking-through frames allows you to explore and exploit far better. Design thinking is well suited to addressing problems, but it is the context and what you are setting out to address, that these other frameworks have great value to explore or understand, equally as well.

One thought on “All things considered for Innovation Thinking

  1. Hey Paul! Super detailed post- in terms of divergent thinking. Do you consider this to be part of people with completely unrelated backgrounds adding the concepts learned from a history in a different field to solve solutions in a new one?

    I’m working on an article that covers examples of these, but if you’ve got some- please point them out!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.