We have to be growth minded to be design thinkers

Ian Dyason. 4 April 2021

Last month, Singapore Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran shared that design thinking "can convert uncertainty into possibility."


READ: ST Article "Design thinking focused on needs of people can help Singapore."


There is no doubt that design thinking, as a customer-centric problem solving tool, can help individuals, organisations and the government uncover new ways of solving old problems. The process takes on the agile and lean methodologies to problem-solving and has been credited by companies big and small in delivering new value to customers. In this disruptive age of Covid-19, there has not been a better time to embrace this methodology.


What is design thinking?


Design thinking uses a set of tools to help problem solvers see the situation from different perspectives, especially in the eyes of their customers (and "customers" here are defined very loosely), and come up with greater value proposition. The solutions are novel and meet an unmet need by the customer, while leading to organisational or business goals being met (such as value creation or revenue generation).


There are no predetermined methodologies for design thinking but there are three dominant models that are used. There is the three-step IDEO process comprising Inspiration, Ideation, Implementation; the four-question-step Liedtka et al methodology of What Is?, What If? , What Wows? and What Works?; and the Six-Sigma-esque IDEO process with five spaces, viz. Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. All these methodologies work in the same way by starting out in understanding how customers feel as they interact with one's products, services, statues, laws, down to ways to improve that, finally leading to ideas that have to be tested in the market. Indeed, design thinking as a process does not deign to know the answer to a problem, but applies the process of uncovering what actually is the situation, and then uses perspective shifting methodologies to come up with new and novel ideas, all the while testing them with the market in ever-widening circles. Of course, at any time, the idea may have to be reworked, pivoted or ditched in favour of a better solution. All these are par for the course of design thinking.


The short answer is that we all need to be growth minded before we can be design thinkers.

Which brings us to the question, what are the pre-requisites for one to be a good design thinker? The short answer is that we all need to be growth minded before we can be design thinkers. Let's see why...



Design thinking requires you to learn what your customers feel about your product or service


One cannot sit back and presume that one knows what the customer wants

Design thinking is a process of discovering what is happening, what if we did something or other, what wows the customers and what will work in the market. It is therefore a process of learning and discovering. If you do not have a learning mindset, it will be very difficult for you to actively become a design thinker. One cannot sit back and presume that one knows what the customer wants; one needs to go out there and learn what has changed with our customers. A Learning mindset is a fundamental pre-requisite of a design thinker.


READ: The growth mindset is also the learning mindset



Design thinking requires one to try all ways to find the right solution


The key to being a great design thinker is not to succumb to failure, but to get up, dust ourselves off and start again

In uncovering what works, one needs to try all ways. Some of these ways will not work and make one a spectacular failure; others will start strong but falter along the way; yet others might not even start. But out there, there will be the few that will deliver the results one is looking for, some two-fold, some ten-fold, some a hundred-fold! But in order for us to identify those successes, we must come face to face with our fair share of "failures". The key to being a great design thinker is not to succumb to failure, but to get up, dust ourselves off and start again. This ability to Bounce Back is another crucial pre-requisite for becoming a great design thinker.


READ: Resilience builds the growth mindset


Design thinking requires one to risk being wrong before one can be right


If one was afraid of being called a failure, or to be seen as "stupid" or to be laughed at by compatriots, then one would never be able to get past the starting line.

I am sure you have been following Elon Musk's SpaceX trials as he tries to get his Starships to launch and then to land again. In fact, last month, they were able to get the rocket to land successfully on its own. However, Starship SN10 exploded after it successfully landed. Even though each test ended up in a fiery ball, they had gotten closer and closer to the end goal of launching and landing. And Musk is looking forward to SN11 making that stick. That has already been 10 failures in Musk's name. Yet to be a success, one has to risk one's success. If one was afraid of being called a failure, or to be seen as "stupid" or to be laughed at by compatriots, then one would never be able to get past the starting line. And design thinking requires that we risk being seen the fool by asking, "What about our product or service that did not work for you?" The ability for Risk Taking is yet another crucial pre-requisite for becoming a design thinker.


READ: You've got to risk to grow


Design thinking requires one to continuously move toward the goal


They take on several small experiments, the cost of which are cheap to the overall project such that failing these experiments will not kill the project, yet will allow it to learn so much

One way in which design thinkers mitigate risk is by failing fast and failing cheap. What this means is that they will take calculated steps in different directions to truly find out what is going on. They take on several small experiments, the cost of which are cheap to the overall project such that failing these experiments will not kill the project, yet will allow it to learn so much (we return to what Elon Musk is doing as SpaceX). What the design thinker does NOT do is conduct market research, run focus groups, or look for big data. Not that these are not important - they are! But in new and novel space, there is no prior data to be had! Hence, the design thinker will have to discover - as Musk is doing at SpaceX - what is working and what is not. In order for the design thinker to do that, one has to constantly move ahead in an exploratory approach, and not in a planned approach. Hence, the ability for Forward movement is another pre-requisite for becoming a design thinker.


READ: The growth mindset favours action


Design thinking requires one to uncover what is happening, and not prescribe it from one's own point of view


This is not to say that ALL past knowledge and experience is irrelevant; it is just that we don't know what is and what is not, and we will need to uncover what is relevant.

Finally, if Elon Musk were to pronounce how to go to space and land the craft through his past experience, SpaceX will be a great big disaster. One thing is clear; when the road ahead is new, we cannot use our past knowledge and experience to get there. This is not to say that ALL past knowledge and experience is irrelevant; it is just that we don't know what is and what is not, and we will need to uncover what is relevant. If we are proud of our past achievements and we stick to our past glories, constantly referring to what had always been done and preferring to stick to what had previously been successful, we will fail in design thinking. We must embrace the learning that new and novel situations put ourselves into, and uncover what works and what don't. Hence, the ability to bring down our Pride in the face of new knowledge is yet another pre-requisite for becoming a design thinker.


READ: Pride makes or breaks the growth mindset



The Design Thinking Mindset IS the Growth Mindset


even if you were growth minded in all the Dimensions, it might not make you a great design thinker because design thinking is a competence, not simply book knowledge.

As we have just showed you, the pre-requisites for becoming a good design thinker are the 5 Dimensions of the Growth Mindset (5DGM). Indeed, if you are fixed in your thinking in any of the Dimensions, you might not be able to pull off the work of the design thinker. Of course, the converse is not true; even if you were growth minded in all the Dimensions, it might not make you a great design thinker because design thinking is a competence, not simply book knowledge. You need to apply all the tools of design thinking in many different environments and scenarios before you can be good at it.


Hence, the growth mindset is a pre-requisite to becoming a great design thinker, but it is not enough.



The 5 Dimensions of the Growth Mindset


In this article, we have been referring to the 5 Dimensions of the Growth Mindset. If you don't know if you have growth or fixed tendencies in these Dimensions, you can take a FREE assessment on our website by clicking on this link.