One of the premier opportunities for K-12 educators to learn about and practice the power of design thinking takes place this week in Atlanta, and I am honored to be invited to attend as a sort of “reporter/connector-at-large”. From now through June 26, my blog will be focused on #FUSE14; during the actual conference June 25-26, I will be Tweeting and posting in real time to try to provide an in depth window into the fast-paced and important knowledge base being generated by the attendees at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation (@MVIFI), just north of Atlanta.
I have argued that design thinking (DT) is neither a process nor a product, though both are critical to successful outcomes. In my view it is a mindset that allows the application of a targeted skill set that enhances the likelihood of successful, perhaps even elegant, solutions to complex problems.
I had not heard the term “design thinking” until about five years ago. When I did, and then dove into the rapidly increasing body of literature and work around DT, it resonated rapidly and deeply with me. 30 years I was preaching, often to deaf ears, that effective problem solving, particularly the solving of real-world problems that are messy, where grey areas and systematic complexity are more likely the norm than one clear-cut answer, is founded in the ability to question; to find the right problem to solve; to understand your own worldview and how it is similar to, and different from, that of others; to try, take risks, correct and try again. These are the same elements that have been clearly articulated in the skill set that we now call design thinking. In my first book, The Falconer, I tied these same skills to the timeless, sparse, clean language written by Sun Tzu in the Art of War a few thousand years ago.
So the ideas of design thinking are not new; they are not more relevant to the 21st century than they were in past centuries. But they have found new life in the clean articulation that sprung largely out of people like Tom and David Kelley, revolutionary ideas and products that sprung out of Silicon Valley, and the coalescing forces of the high church of DT, the Stanford d.school. This thinking is now accessible to wide audiences, young and old. It is thinking that prepares us for, that mimics the reality of, the real world, where elegant solutions are vastly easier to find if we deeply understand the right questions, and where complex systems can be understood as long as we recognize them for their complexity and not try to sweep complexity away.
Bottom line: design thinking, DT, is “great thinking”, “effective thinking”. It can and should be taught and learned, best through the experience of the process itself, which is what #FUSE14 is all about. Adult, and some student, educator-leaders will gather to learn and practice DT for two days; they will take their skills back to their respective schools and classrooms; and, if we are lucky, this brushfire of “great thinking” will spread quickly through our schools.
NEXT UP: Some of the questions I will be asking of both experts and novices at #FUSE14, and how you can share in the experience from home or office.