In a great book on Design Thinking - The Design Thinking Playbook by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link and Larry Leifer - the authors talk about finding the Dark Horse. As a Design Thinker, I was especially struck by this phrase, where the purpose of Design Thinking is all about thinking the unthinkable, embracing radical ideas and borders being lifted.


This Playbook is a pragmatic guide to implementing Design Thinking, building on the work of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (, where Larry Leifer is Director. It starts out with a focus on the mindset of a Design Thinker - someone who is driven by curiosity, and who is focused on a people-cantered approach to digital innovation.


There is a constant theme throughout the Playbook to 'leave the comfort zone' and a need to 'change mindsets'. This is where the authors talk about the 'Groan Zone' - a place between a Divergent state, where many ideas are considered for a particular innovation (infinite), which then switches to a Convergent state, where the innovation process becomes more focused around individual needs or problems (finite).

The subtitle of the Playbook is Mindful Digital Transformation of Teams, Products, Services, Businesses and Ecosystems. Perhaps the key word here is 'mindful', where the authors talk about mindfulness being key to empathy - and, in turn, empathy being the foundation to enable a meaningful Design Thinking engagement with all stakeholders. As someone who originally trained as a design engineer before becoming a salesman, I was struck by the parallels here: the Design Thinker needing to hone their listening skills, being able to read the signals from verbal and non-verbal communications and to ask open questions. I think that this is no different to what makes a great sales person.


As I know from applying Design Thinking to challenging environments, such as trying to solve the problem of bed-blocking in hospitals, empathy and techniques related to 'Empathy Mapping' are particularly useful in getting stakeholders to open up about what is often, controversial or political in nature. This leads to what I think is the most difficult area in the Playbook: prepare the organisation for a new mindset.

The authors talk about the 'six WH questions': Who; Why; What; When; Where; and, How. In explaining the need for a new mindset, there is familiar talk here of organisations stuck in functional or departmental silos and a need for 'transversal collaboration' across and often beyond the boundaries of a single enterprise. I would like to see a follow-up Playbook here focus on the 'How', when it comes to enabling 'transversal Design Thinking' and managing challenges, such as the 'Groan Zone'.

In the Playbook, there is reference made to The Strategic Foresight Framework, created at Stanford University, and focused on turning blue-sky thinking into results. The authors talk about the familiar acronym of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) - but turn this into WYFIWYG - where 'See' becomes 'Foresee'.


From a cultural standpoint, the idea of left brain- and right brain-oriented people coming together, led the authors to talking about blending Design Thinking with other methods: e.g. Systems Thinking, where the latter may be described as simulations of complex processes. This suggests that Design Thinking may apply to earlier phases, Systems Thinking more to later phases.

The concept of left-right brain characteristics is broadened by the Whole Brain Model (HBDI) that breaks down our brain into four physiological structures: left and right mode but also cerebral and limbic modes. This leads to categories of 'analytical/systematic' versus 'intuitive/iterative' styles or preferences when describing the stakeholders who participate in Design Thinking workshops - e.g. Empathy Mapping sessions. Presumably, we need to create a balance here.

The authors also introduced Lean Thinking, including the use of a Lean Canvas to capture the findings from Design Thinking workshops. Later in the Playbook, the authors suggest that Design Thinking should become part of a 'hybrid process': adding Big Data and Analytics to the mix. This was argued as the counter to Design Thinking critics who say that this alone, relies too heavily on ethnographical and sociological methods (observations, surveys, etc.) and therefore, requires balancing out with insights from data (e.g. data mining and data modelling).

Personally, I would like to simplify and unify everything under one method: Design Thinking. But I recognise that Design Thinking must evolve and incorporate many ideas from System Thinking, Lean Thinking - and wider still - from the social and physical sciences too.


As part of the need to create an organisational structure without silos, the authors talk about building interdisciplinary teams (formed into 'Squads') and a willingness to learn from other industries. From a personal perspective, this reminded me of my work in trying to solve hospital bed-blocking through looking at NHS hospital trusts in England in terns of inflow, flow and outflow of patients - and comparing this to what works in automotive manufacturing and supply chains - e.g. the Toyota Production System (TPS). And in the jargon at Toyota, 'Jidoka' translates as 'automation with a human touch' - surely Design Thinking applied.


Of course, Design Thinking is an inherent part of digital transformation and what the authors call a 'Digital Business Model'. I like the progression, illustrated as a series of 'S-curves': Conserve; Connect; Integrate; then, Collaborate - as shown in the infographic above. Again, analogous to methods adopted by sales professionals, the authors talk about 'AREIN' as a way to qualify the right participants in Design Thinking engagements:

Authority: who has the power to initiate change?

Resources: who contributes specific necessary resources?

Expertise: who has experience and a very extensive range of knowledge?

Information: who provides us with information, including the informal kind?

Need: who knows the needs of our customers and users?

© Copyright 2018. Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, Larry Leifer. All rights reserved.

As the infographic above shows, the ultimate place to be is in a 'Black Ocean'. The authors advise applying a hybrid model of Design Thinking and Systems Thinking:

"Well-known models of business model design quickly reach their limits because they concentrate mostly on the primary business of a company and take only the direct customers and suppliers into consideration. The multidimensional view of the actors in the ecosystem with their value streams is often skipped. Thus thinking in business ecosystems in a business context becomes a factor of success."


In relation to what works with Design Thinking, the authors say:

"The human-centered approach helps to establish orientation toward the customer, which includes considering colleagues from other departments as customers as well. In our experience, effective Design Thinking can optimally unfold only in an integrated organization."

I said at the beginning of the review, the authors talk about finding the Dark Horse - thinking the unthinkable, embracing radical ideas and borders being lifted. Although strong leadership is required, this Playbook is a way for organisations to introduce Design Thinking in a meaningful way throughout the organisation - and pursue a new Dark Horse!


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