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To think like a designer first learn to think past other people's ideas

Think Like A Designer

March 5, 2018

To think like a designer first learn to think past other people's ideas

There is a lot of interest in design thinking at the moment. I wish it were an interest in thinking without the design part. The prerequisite for design thinking is to be able to think for yourself, so getting 'thinking' nailed is a good start but not as sexy as 'design thinking'.

In an excerpt from Solitude and Leadership, an essay by William Deresiewicz, the author acknowledges that his first ideas are rubbish:

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

William Deresiewicz's words resonate because all designers I have worked with produce rubbish at the start of their design thinking process. I do. Our first thought is never our best thought, it is always someone else's.

And that's the gap between those seduced by ideas and those who explore ideas – it is the difference between ideas and design thinking. Those self-proclaimed 'ideas people' are taken in by the first idea they have, on anything. They are always disappointed when those around them don't value their ideas as much as they do, often taking it as a personal rejection. And have you noticed that no-one ever refers to them as 'ideas people' without sneering or scoffing?

By recognising that your first idea will be something you have heard somewhere else, you can allow for time to clear the decks of that rubbish and move on to thinking a bit deeper. Pretty soon, you are less likely to tell anyone about your first idea. You will become smarter at keeping your mouth shut and insisting you have the time you need to 'think about it'.