Design or Analyze

The Western way of thinking is based on analysis and argument. In order to understand, we need to analyze. Through analysis, we breakdown complex problems into bite sized chunks that we can deal with and then we either find a solution or we take action. There is a myth that the more information and data we have, the better decisions we can make.


We teach analysis in school and college and we human brain is conditioned to be good at it. Case studies are just one of many ways that students are taught to analyze a problem. It's like Lego. You pull a complex thing you've built apart into its separate pieces. You then reassemble into anything you wish. However - and this is key - before assembling you need a design and design is not just simply putting the pieces together randomly. Before you can create something you need either a concept, a design or an idea. Unfortunately design, concepts and idea generation are not emphasized in traditional Western education. This is not to say that analysis is bad. It's just that it should come after design to support it.

I read an interesting story the other day about conflict resolution that exemplifies this. Generally, both parties start at extreme positions and attempt to meet in the middle or find a compromise solution. The idea here is to fight to get as much as you can. A great deal of energy, time and expense is involved. Consider an alternative approach where each party designsthe most reasonable outcome. A judge/third party arbiter is chosen to pick the one they find most reasonable. Both parties now aim to design the most reasonable outcome. All the effort now goes into design and not fighting. If both do a good job, it probably doesn't matter who wins because either solution is likely acceptable. The point is the effort is focused on design and not argument.

This leads nicely to the idea that for breakthrough thinking, you need design and you need concepts. Imagine developing a new car. You get the requirements then design the car to meet those requirements. The result will satisfy the requirements but quite possibly bland. The designer would use known concepts to satisfy the requirements.

Now take the idea of developing some create concepts and injecting some fresh new ideas. You then shape the concepts to meet the design requirements. We have now flipped this around: rather than using the known concepts to meet the requirements, we use the requirements to shape the new concepts. There's a greater risk in this approach, but also a greater likelihood of a breakthrough.

This all leads into the idea of design, concepts, ideas. How do we get them? We use several techniques including challenge, provocation, concept fans and the random approach. The approach applied depends on the situation and whether we are starting from something existing (challenge) or a blank sheet of paper (random). Teams with an open mind enjoy the workshop(s) as it gives them the opportunity to free themselves from traditional thinking. You'd be surprised at the results!