Unpacking Design Thinking

We, society, are rabid consumers of technology. We have been described as the post-boredom era generation. This is not unique to young people. Adults are just as keen on social media and streaming services as the youth. Every time there is a problem at work, we look for a digital solution. We might find ourselves in a position of being bored less often than any previous generation, but it is my observation that we have never been so wary of boredom and loneliness. You may have seen the following meme;

I saw a guy at a coffee shop today. No phone. No tablet. No laptop. He just sat there.

Drinking coffee. Like a psychopath.

Google appears to know all the answers at the tap of a key. But what happens when the digital generation faces a problem that google or technology can’t solve? This is where schools take centre stage.

At Grammar, we teach children to love solving problems. From the moment where they first say ‘I don’t know the answer!’ to savouring that moment of excitement when they say ‘what’s next?’ It’s remarkably simple; first, they define the problem, then they look for many and multiple creative solutions to solve the problem. The concept is so beautifully summed up in the quote below;

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

Creators of technologies are able to define complex problems, then look to find creative, empathetic solutions to the problem, then design and digitise a creative solution. Within the context of the future of technology and technological advancements, we know the importance of creating students who are creators and designers of technology, not just users.

Design Thinking

For decades, Stanford Professor Hayagreeva “Huggy” Rao has watched the principles of design thinking become mainstream. Corporations such as GE, Netflix, and Airbnb have embraced the concept. His courses on the subject at Stanford Graduate School of Business are quickly over-enrolled. Executives flock to the Customer-Focused Innovation program, which he co-founded with fellow professor of organisational behaviour Bob Sutton in 2006.

Professor Rao would have been attending lectures on the other side of his university to where I attended my lectures. He would have been located at the creative heart of his campus at Stanford, and I was in the Maths and Sciences Buildings at the University of Queensland. Following an uninterrupted study of Sciences throughout my career, in 2017, I took a sharp turn and began studying design thinking. My conclusion is that teaching design thinking alongside the scientific method imbues students with creative confidence. It helps them to develop empathy and encourages them to take more intellectual risks. Design thinking enables students to dovetail their purposeful scientific method with divergent and creative innovation. Rao’s research shows that students who study design thinking demonstrate greater levels of creativity and confidence and the ability to take on perspectives beyond their own.

Design thinking is ultimately a good way to get people to choose the more curious and generous version of themselves.

Hayagreeva Rao

An unintended benefit is wellness. Professor Rao has seen how design thinking helps students to reimagine and reframe whatever problem is at hand. When students who have been taught design thinking get “stuck”, they take a more curious and generous view.

We should not underestimate the importance of design thinking being embedded in schools. School-aged students are old enough to understand the principles of design thinking but are still mentally flexible and open to divergent thinking.

Finally, Rao describes the far-reaching social implications of taking design thinking seriously — not just for schools and companies, but for citizens and countries, giving people access to more ideas and greater confidence to pursue them. To me, that is the real promise. What we need in society is more curiosity — the foundation of creativity, searching and questioning — and we need more generosity, which is the essence of compassion. Schools contribute to the future by creating workforce-ready graduates with skill capabilities in the areas of information technology, engineering, the sciences, and mathematics (STEM). However, this should not be at expense of the humanities, social sciences, or the creative and performing arts. The thread running through all these disciplines is the ability to think and to create.

Principal, Mrs Anna Owen