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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 November 2009
I recently read two books (this one written with Barry Katz and Roger Martin's The Design of Business) and am reading a third (Neil Sheehan's A Fiery Peace in a Cold War) in which major organizational transformations are accomplished by those who understand the power of design thinking, help their colleagues to do so, and then together, take an approach, Tim Brown suggests, "that is powerful, effective, and broadly accessible, that can be integrated into all aspects of business and society, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and that therefore have high impact. Design thinking, the subject of this book, offers just such an approach." He goes on to acknowledge, "I was trained as an industrial designer, but it took me a long time to realize the difference between [begin italics] being [end italics] and [begin italics] thinking like [end italics] a designer. That strikes me as a critically important distinction. Brown views the power of design "not as a link in a chain but as the hub of a wheel"...not as a stage in a process but as a center of gravity, as a gravitational/centrifugal force, with involvement at all levels and in all areas of operation. "Design is now too important to be left to designers."

Brown carefully organizes his material with two Parts. First, he introduces a set of principles for design thinking that be applied by almost anyone in any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. He involves his reader in a journey through the important stages of thinking. He provides a framework that he hopes will help the reader identify the principles and practices that make for great design thinking. He focuses on design thinking as applied to business and examines a number of the most innovative companies in the world, such as his own firm, IDEO, as well as Bank of America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Google, Intel, Kaiser Permanente, Mattel, Mayo Clinic, Pixar, Procter & Gamble, and Shimano. Each of these companies has established a culture within which there is a constant generation of ideas. After rigorous evaluation according to criteria that are most appropriate for the given context, and frame-of-reference, the focus of most promising ideas shifts from problem to project. This requires articulation of a clear goal at the outset. Design thinking "creates natural deadlines that impose discipline and [provide] an opportunity to review progress, make midcourse corrections, and redirect future activity. The clarity, direction, and limits of a well-defined project are vital to sustaining a high level of creative energy."

Where to begin a project? Brown recommends first formulating the brief that can allow for serendipity, unpredictability, and "the capricious whims of fate," then assembling the project team, selecting those who have multidisciplinary capabilities, are not risk averse, are what Roger Martin characterizes as "integrative thinkers," welcome collaboration, and thrive on challenges. The importance of design thinking to this process cannot be exaggerated. It starts with divergence, expanding the range of options rather than limit them; it balances the perspectives of users and is what I could call "beneficiary-centric"; helps to accelerate time to first prototype (a subject to which Brown devotes a great deal of attention, notably on Pages 87-108); "shares the inspiration" within internal knowledge networks; accommodates the reality that there are no silver bullets for innovation, only "silver buckshot"; allocate resources to accommodate fast-paced, unruly, and disruptive innovation initiatives; and enables creative innovators "to bridge the chasm between thinking and doing because they [are] passionately committed to the [common] goal of a better life and a better world around them."

Here in Dallas, we have a Farmer's Market near the downtown area at which several vendors offer slices of fresh fruit so that people can sample for taste. In that spirit, here are two brief excerpts from Brown's lively and eloquent narrative:

On an approach to innovation that consists of a "judicious blend" of bottom-up experimentation and guidance from above: "The rules for this approach are as simple to state as they are challenging to apply:

1. The best ideas emerge when the whole organizational ecosystem - not just its designers and engineers and certainly not just management has room to experiment.

[Note: In 1924, William L. McKnight, then CEO of 3M observed, "If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need." That is especially true of those who participate in brainstorming sessions. ]

2. Those most exposed to changing externalities (new technology, shifting customer base, strategic threats or opportunities) are the ones best placed to respond and most motivated to do so.

3. Ideas should not be favored based on who creates them. (Repeat aloud.)

4. Ideas that create a buzz should be favored. Indeed, ideas should gain a vocal following, however small, before being given organizational support.

5. The `gardening' skills of senior leadership should be used to tend, prune, and harvest ideas. MBAs call this `risk tolerance.' I call it the top-down bit.

6. An overarching purpose should be articulated so that the organization has a sense of direction and innovators don't feel the need for constant supervision."

On brainstorming: "Brainstorming, ironically, is a structured way of breaking out of structure. It takes practice...[All organizations have their own rules] that lay out the playing field within which a team of players can perform at high levels...At IDEO we have dedicated rooms for our brainstorming sessions and the rules are literally written on the walls: Defer judgment. Encourage wild ideas. Stay focused on the topic. The most important of them, I would argue, is `Build on the ideas of others.' It's right up there with `Thou shalt not kill' and `Honor thy father and thy mother,' as it ensures that every participant is invested in the last idea put forward and has the chance to move it along."

Recall a previous reference to the "journey" on which Brown invites his reader to embark. "There are useful starting points and helpful landmarks along the way, but the continuum of innovation is best thought of as a system, of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps." As Brown makes crystal clear, the reason for the iterative, non-linear nature of the journey "is not that design thinkers are disorganized or undisciplined but that design thinking is fundamentally an exploratory process; it will invariably make unexpected discoveries along the way, and it would be foolish not to find out where they lead."

Bon voyage!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 30 August 2010
Tim Brown had an interesting article in HBR (Harvard Business Review), June 2008 p. 84, entitled 'Design Thinking'. This gives a fine description of the way IDEO designs tangible products. The book in case written by Tim Brown "with" Barry Katz (the latter not mentioned on the book cover) is an expansion of this article and adds not much extra except for an endless list of tiny examples of IDEO's work. Buying the book I expected tools, diagrams, and techniques described but got absolutely nothing of the kind. Especially the complete lack of drawings and diagrams surprised me, because IDEO usually displays itself as a visual, tangible company. The "with" associated with Mr. Katz' name makes me imagine that Mr. Brown designed the structure of the book, and Mr. Katz wrote the content based on stories from and conversations with Mr. Brown. Having read - to some extent browsed - the book I felt I had an empty book in my hand.
A recent HBR article (Sept. 2008 p. 92) written by a HBR editor: "Kaiser Permanente's Innovation on the Front Lines" elaborates on the Kaiser examples already given in both the 2008 article and here. If you have access to the two HBR articles you are much better off. If not acquiring the book offers some insight in IDEO's way of doing product and process development.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2010
As Tim Brown recognises in this book, design thinking is not new. But he has done all of us a great service by coining (with his IDEO colleagues) the term "design thinking" and setting out very clearly in this book what it means. He points out that almost any problem can benefit from design thinking, which essentially involves (1) taking a flexible approach to problem solving, (2) combining convergent and divergent thinking and (3) prototyping solutions.

My only slight criticism of this book is that he covers the essentials of design thinking in about half of it. The rest involves examples that are interesting (and an excellent advertisement for the skills of IDEO) but carry much less insight. But it is not clear to me what could have been done to improve on this -- perhaps a little design thinking would provide the answer!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 November 2011
I did enjoy this book and some of the cases in it, but I have to agree with some of the other reviews that it is a bit high-level, both in terms of the techniques of design thinking and the cases. It would have been great to show some actual examples of brainstorm sessions, sketches of ideas, lessons learned etc to bring the material to life. A good book, but I was expecting even more from one of the world leaders in design thinking.
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Written with a true passion that is evident on every page, in ever sentence, I found myself totally engaged by this text and a little envious of a life lived in this world of this particular design thinker!
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on 2 March 2013
Nicely written book, which includes descriptive case studies detailing what methods were used, and the consequences of using them. Definitely worth a read for anyone involved in new projects.
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on 24 September 2013
When we were required to get this book by our college, i wasn't too happy and was dreading to read it. But it is great, even though it doesn't include any pictures.
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on 13 October 2012
Great book. Describes the design and innovation process. Some examples more could be nice. Else it was great, a good book to have on the shelf
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on 21 August 2015
I enjoyed this book but it felt like everything could have been said in a much simpler and with clearer direction for designers.
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Superb book about approaching better delivery through a design perspective.
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