Does Design Thinking Require Designers?

Good article by Jump Associates’ Dev Patnaik about what design thinking really means. I hate this term as it gets tossed around without any concrete definition (perhaps that’s why people like it so much - it sounds sexy, but they don’t have to understand it). Patnaik uses the example of Claudia Kotchka, VP of design strategy at Proctor & Gamble, as do many people who point to the success record of design thinking. But Patnaik is sanguine about calling her a design thinker:

[W]hat Claudia achieved at P&G is perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of design thinking’s relatively recent heritage. She took what she knew about design and applied it to a broad array of problems faced by one of the world’s largest corporations. On the face of it, Claudia’s tenure at P&G is a testament to the power of thinking like a designer.
Here’s the problem: Claudia Kotchka isn’t a designer. She’s an accountant by training. And she spent most of her career working in marketing. It would be hard to envision a business executive with a more traditional background. While Claudia’s success makes a great case study for the triumph of a designer finally being brought into the conversation, it’s just not true. And it calls into question whether design thinking is really the missing ingredient in innovation.

Patnaik advocates a more general approach of hybrid thinking rather than design thinking. I think that loses a bit of the humanist focus that is implied in design thinking, but still by neutralizing the phrase one acknowledges that plenty of people other than designers can, do, and have for many decades been doing integrated thinking across disciplines.

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