The Ultimate Pretence

welcome to our distorted realityFrance feels cold. Or at least this is what we learn while turning on the radio. On the air, we hear nothing but freezing cold and lowering temperature. Think over, -5°C, this is a record since… 2012, a record-breaking that might make our Canadian friends laugh. All day long, media, both old and new, force us to face a reality they never stop forging.

The Revenge of the Message

In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan has explained how media shape our perception of reality. Here is the way he described what he himself summarized into “the medium is the message”:

“To behold, use, or perceive any extension of ourselves in technological form is necessarily to embrace it. To listen to radio or to read the printed page is to accept these extensions of ourselves into our own personal system and to undergo the “closure” or displacement that follows automatically.”

By making information ubiquitous and seizable in real time, internet and social networks have radically transformed this perception during the last decade. Even more, by putting into our own hands the responsibility of filtering and making sense from this information (as Clay Shirky states, “it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”), technology gives ultimate and universal reach to this other sentence from McLuhan:

“Our private and corporate lives have become information processes just because we have put our central nervous systems outside us in electric technology.”

But 1964 McLuhan’s vision, against which he incidentally warned us and in which we are now immersed, is incomplete. In our post-McLuhan society, the reshaping of our perception is strengthened by the nature of the message conveyed by media. This message depicts a normative and normalized world, from which any excess (of temperature, of controversy, of harmful to health substance – but more and more substances meet this criterion -, of behavior) must be condemned and banned. It doesn’t matter if, for example, as Jean-Claude Chesnais has demonstrated in The History of violence: homicide and suicide through the ages, violence rate is in constant diminution since Middle Ages, it has become less and less bearable as well as more and more mediatized.

By becoming “information processes”, to use the words of McLuhan, we are losing any distance from this perception, and dive through the distorting mirror that continual flows of information are putting in front of us. Similar to “The Truman Show” character, we henceforth live in a reality-show-like world, which presents us with a reassuring, or even moralizing, image of a more and more complex reality, Image to which we prefer to adhere, for our intellectual comfort. Under many aspects, this world, and ideologies that maintain it in action, are nothing but a huge pretence.

The echo chamber that grows in the midst of social networks, the cognitive isolation in which Facebook maintains us by showing us primarily what we are used to see, are some perfect examples of the mechanism through which medium and message mutually reinforce their effect to distort our perception of reality.

The Myth of the Providential Man

If one domain exists in which this phenomenon shows with most clarity, it is the one of political discourse and structure. 2017 is an electoral year, and we can see here and there, springing up from nowhere and shaped by media, providential men ousting traditional politicians. Donald Trump is the perfect example. He built up his image, not from his action, but from his media expression. He is the glittering owner of the Trump Tower (open to the public, further underlining his luxuriousness), and was the merciless businessman from The Apprentice reality show. US elections certainly were won more on the basis of gossip magazines than of the value of a program.

Most analyses, in the US as well as in France, focus on the will to change, on the will to restore a prosperous nation. But a quick look into this premise allows us to see what it covers: if the reasoning has changed, the core is still the same that prevailed at the dawn of the Glorious Thirty, and that underlaid the reconstruction after World War II’s trauma. Under many aspects, the change we are proffered is nothing but an ideological backward step of more than a half-century.

Work, Youth, Fatherland

Even if not really different from the “Work, Family, Fatherland” that was our national motto during the Vichy regime, “Work, Youth, Fatherland” summarizes quite well the content of the change proposed by politicians from every hue.

A premium is put on youth, in an era when complexity would request to be able to benefit from the whole diversity of knowledge and of experience available throughout the society. On the whole politicum spectrum, we can feel and see the rise of economic or identitarian closure, the will to redefine markets and alliances, to enforce borders in a security objective, although it appears clearily that the deepest challenges we are facing cannot be solved at the scale of a nation.

Work, an Inverted World-Consciousness

The topic of work is the most affected by distortion of reality. Every candidate to theFrench presidency, actual or potential, presents himself as the defender of work as a value. What could be natural, at a time where unemployment is historically high in our country? Except that…

The nature of work is radically evolving, under pressure from new technologies and artificial intelligence, already condemning numerous jobs. Whatever the conditions, still very badly known, of this evolution (disappearance of job categories, transition toward more creative forms of work), it clearly appears that the premise to restore full employment comes more from magical thinking that from any analysis, no matter how rudimentary it would be.

Beyond the debate about the transformation of the nature of work, that might well by itself disqualify almost every political discourse, lies a more pernicious, but much more fundamental, question. Everyone talks about the “Uberization of the society”, but very few seem to realize what this REALLY means.

See for yourself:

Number of drivers working for the company more than 1 million
Number of employees 6 000
Estimated income for 2016 US$ 5.5 billion
Estimated loss for 2016 US$ 3 billion
Estimated valuation of the company US$ 69 billion

Two of Uber cofounders, Travis Kalanick and Garett Camp, have today an estimated fortune of more than US$ 6 billion each, while the average income of Uber drivers in France (according to a Boston Consulting Group study) is between 1,400 and 1,600 € for 52 hours of work per week. A recent report from the NGO Oxfam shows that half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population, while the real economy (the production of goods and services, thus what we commonly qualify as “work”) only accounts for less than 5% of the global economy. If Uber is a symbol, it is the one of the fundamental divide existing today between work and enrichment.

In such a context, the criticisms addressed to the more and more outrageous wages given to top CEOS becomes quite frivolous, as in fact they represent the dying fires of managerial capitalism, another revival from the economic model of the Glorious Thirty. The present model, instead, digs a deeper and deeper ditch between an elite whose wealth grows in exponential ways and the majority of the population whose income at best stagnates, ad Oxfam’s report shows. The real challenge is less the growth of inequalities in the distribution of wealth than our social infrastructure. Our society has been built and structured, since the fall of the Old Regime, around its economic dimension, dimension in which work-as-a-value, as heralded by our politicians, played a structural role as the driving force. Obviously, it doesn’t play this role anymore.

If, almost two centuries ago, in his Contribution To The Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy Of Right, Marx stated that “religion is the opium of the people”, it might be time to proclaim that work as become the opium of the people, as his arguments against religion, “an inverted world-consciousness” , fit so well work-as-a-value. In Mark words:

“The basis of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality.”

 An Artist’s Soul

Future stays, of course, entirely to be written, and no one would today pretend to know what it will be made of. Yet, if we want to introduce more equity and solidarity in our organizations, in our society, we will have beforehand to dismantle, stone after stone, the ultimate pretence in which we are struggling. McLuhan thought that art could bring us the elements of understanding required for a more lucid vision of the effects of technology and information on humanity, and immunize us against them. To get out from the lethal socio-economic determinism in which we are trapped, let us open our eyes, bite the bullet, and recover an artist’s soul. We desperately need it.

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In HR, The Deep Space Between Human and Resources

H-RCore HR processes such as competency models or compensation systems are slow to evolve, and the tidal wave of “collaborative everything” have left most of the HR vista bled dry on the performance shore. So, where to go from there to embrace and take an active part in the digital disruption that most organizations are facing today?

Answering this question is (or at least should be) on the agenda of every HR executive. For this reason, the HRTech World Congress is certainly one of the most interesting conferences to follow in order to understand how the world of work is evolving. From this point of view, the last edition that took place last October in Paris was both thrilling … and hopeless. That is at least how it appeared to me while assisting the conference with Frédéric Williquet, who shortly will complete these notes on his blog.

The Bad

If this edition would need to have a subtitle, this one would be “helping you to deal with complexity.” But if this promise was the common point between all vendors, they are pushing quite different answers. While the lure of big data, that seemed so appealing last year, had quite disappeared from most discourses and sessions, the number of vendors and startups proposing data-based solutions to streamline or automatize the recruitment process was overwhelming. In an era when diversity, critical thinking and unique competencies are so badly needed, this conveyed a despairing message…

On the pessimistic side, I would also place most of the efforts placed on “well-being” services and applications, which appear to me like putting some lipstick on pigs—to quote the title of Euan Semple’s session—and that I bet will disappear in the false-good-ideas limbo, similar to gamification a couple of years ago. But time will tell.

The Good

But I would be dishonest by saying that I was disappointed by the conference. Many things are saying that HR are moving from an industrial vision of enterprise to a much more flexible, human-centered and social approach. The days of the traditional LMS, for instance, are counted as learning environments are turning into hubs gathering and dispatching all kinds of knowledge and imagining individualized ways to share and enhance it.

Rather than trying to tackle complexity at organizational level, vendors now focus on teams, individuals and interactions. Continuous feedback is more and more replacing the conventional annual survey. More and more, they are taking into account, not only quantitative, but qualitative and subjective data into the way they allow evaluation.

 The Emergent

These two trends, the good and the bad, illustrate how much HR executives are today torn between two universes difficult to reconcile: the resources requisites and the human imperatives. But no matter how deep the space between the two terms of this equation might be, it is now filling up with more human-centered analytics and whole approaches.

Drawing courtesy Frederic Williquet

Capturing subjective data, such as peer recommendations on particular competencies, opens the field for a new kind of HR tools based on the social graph, showing relationships and accountability aside from hierarchy-based certifications. I may dream, but I guess it won’t be long before a manager is able to build teams not only according to objective competencies, but also to cultural fitness based upon network closeness and intimacy.

Another striking emergence is the recognition of design thinking as a structural method to drive innovation and to enable people inside organizations. The devil is in the details, of course, but this is the sign that organizational transformation is under way, and that HR executives now have their roadmap. Time is long overdue for them to take the seat.

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The New Middle Ages

the new serfThe firm is born from the principle of pooling means of production, of giving the possibility to give access to resources unavailable to single individuals.

According to Jeremy Rifkin, the reduction in production costs caused by the digital revolution is now paving the way for “makers” and renders obsolete the traditional enterprise, at least according to the definition given by the transaction cost theory. But does this make it a social progress?

The Irresistible Rise of Platforms

During the last decades, the concept of resource itself has dramatically evolved. As multiple means of production are now available to anyone at marginal cost, or even at zero cost, the main problem the company is facing has become the one of accessing the market. In a society tainted by individualism and competition, everybody is now fighting for finding new distribution channels for his own production. The development and flourishing of new giants, such as Uber of the Amazon Marketplace, was a natural consequence. The model they all adopted relies nearly exclusively on a digital platform providing anyone, again at a marginal cost, with powerful global logistics.

If these platforms provide individuals and very small entities with their own production means (it is no coincidence that Amazon lately cares very closely about arts and craft) with strong market exposure, they all share another characteristic: a really strong capital concentration. For example, Uber or AirBnB are private companies owned by a very limited number of shareholders, and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is, by far, the main shareholder, direct and absolute, of the company with more than 17% of equity held. In a world in which the share of the real economy is shrinking day after day, companies have swapped production power for pure financial power.

The Producer, This Middleman

But this model in full development, which combines capital concentration with outsourcing production, is actually far from representing a step forward. The preindustrial firm was built on the hierarchy of roles and the rationalization of tasks, binding the whole around a common “vision” that could be summarized as “give me part of tour production, and I will give you more means to work” with the aim of global efficiency. The industrial company has developed the same kind of structure while compromising the vision, stuck in a gradual financiarization, and became the sick structure we know today, torn between the quest for meaning and a more and more exclusive search for profit, mainly unable to reconcile both terms of the equation. The company-as-a-platform, on the other side, has definitely gotten rid of the ownership of means of production along with the internal vision, bringing it instead directly to the customer using its services.

The theoretical work by Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch on the service-dominant logic and the practical developments for the firm it gave rise to have demonstrated that an important potential for value creation lies in the interactions between a company and its customers. Undoubtedly, the company-as-a-platform has proved itself to be the most clever in the way it exploits this goldfield. By outsourcing their production, they also outsourced the major part of interaction with their customers. The recommendation and notation systems they have set up (and that was copied by many e-commerce websites, with much less benefit) have allowed them to keep control on the quality of this interaction. Actually, a few negative rankings are sufficient to strike someone off a platform.

The Deprived Human Being

In this context, by outsourcing production means while seizing the customer relationship and the value creation, the large platforms have deprived the individual, the actor-producer, from what was up to now the essence of work, namely participating to the production of a particular and differentiated answer to a precise need with specific competencies. The community of interests that gave meaning to the firm has vanished, replaced by an open market fueled with fierce competition. The human being has become at the same time a product and a tool, interchangeable and consumable according to the expectations of customers and to the needs of the company-as-a-platform. The search for efficiency that characterized the industrial firm, and that, from the set up of rigid hierarchies to the adoption of lean strategies, translated into the optimization of available resources, has been replaced by a search for effectiveness based on the quantity of actors available to the platform.

Where the preindustrial company and the industrial firm could boast about a symmetrical relationship between them and their employees (share of production outcome against means to produce in the former case, production against wages in the latter), relationship whose terms and mutual obligations were formalized in a contract, the company-as-a-platform doesn’t provide any reciprocal commitment, access to market having no guarantee value. This relationship, based upon divergent interests, is in fact quite close to the one that existed during the Middle Ages between feudal lords and serve, when the lord rented his land in return for a part of harvest, while the peasant had no guarantee if the land would give him at least the means to survive.

The company-as-a-platform might without doubt represent the ultimate step for a capitalistic economy and a consumption society. On the other hand, for organizational or human realization matter, it doesn’t deliver any of the promises of a true economy of networks. The infinite amount of knowledge and connections that technology today brings to our disposal should allow us to set up a basis for an enlightened Renaissance, and instead we are diving deep into the darkest aspects of a new Middle Ages, in which data holds more value than work. We are living a really sad world…

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The Age of Ideology

The Age of IdeologyWe are living in a sad world. An hyperlinked world. A networked world. In theory, this should mean unlimited, universal and unrestricted access to information. In our societies, this should mean the rise of enlightened democracies, powered by collective intelligence, geared toward people’s well-being and education. In our businesses, this should mean the birth of learning organizations, as described by Peter Senge in his seminal The Fifth Discipline. Alas, the world we are living in seems to have been overwhelmed by the one of the nastiest characteristics of networks: speed.

To cope with the ever-growing speed at which information is shared and consumed, we tend to oversimplify our messages, reducing most forms of communication to buzzing catchwords. As a result, bits of information collide with each other. By narrating the world in 140 characters sentences, we substitute the violence of images for the subtlety of words, ready-to-think asserting for in-depth questioning. When power or influence is at stake, in order to stand out and get heard in the echo chamber that our environment has morphed into, information, or what’s left of it, leaves place to mere communication, and even worse, to ideology.

Political Ideology

We are now basking all day long in ideology. Politicians and media have mastered the dubious skill of replacing objective information with twisted doctrines. Consider the Brexit, triggered by a referendum for which many arguments were knowledgeably—and recognized as such by its partisans afterwards—false. The ideological, and biased, nature of these arguments was so blatant, and the inability to confront them with the reality so large than the victors flew away from the scene once the result known. Fear of immigration, and negation of the effects induced by a distressed economy were strong enough to drive the vote, but too dangerous to underlie even the most demagogic realpolitik.

Consider also the recent horror of Nice slaughter. Long before Daesh claimed the attack, politicians from all side were heralding its terrorist nature, at a time when no evidence could support their assertion. Apart from Daesh’s claim, there is still today little if not none evidence for what has objectively been the mad act of an alcoholic, violent, and mentally deranged individual. Information? No, ideology. It is far easier to namean external enemy than to deal with diffuse internal problems. It is more comfortable to let people believe that the “nation” is a safe harbor where nothing bad should happen, while we are waging war abroad, in places that, sheltered behind our screens, we can keep thinking of them as abstract.

Corporate Ideology

The corporate world is also saturated with ideology. Growth, efficiency and performance are the master words of our modern economic machines. Growth? We live in the richest societies of the whole humankind history, as Angus Maddisson has shown.

 

Evolution of global GDP through ages

Evolution of global GDP through ages

Subjecting corporate development and flourishing to growth is a dead end, comparable to believing that trees grow up to the sky, unless we look at development along a financial only angle, zeroing out all considerations to people and to the economy of products and services. As Edgar Morin recently reminded us (article in French):

“Profitalibility of businesses is more linked to the quality of immaterials (cooperation, showing initiatives, sense of responsibility, creativity, services and skills hybridization, integration, management, etc.) than to the quantity of materials (financial ratios, equity, stock prices, etc.)”

Efficiency and performance are linked to a “more and more” mindset, to a vision of the world dominated by data and metrics. The “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” business myth — incorrectly attributed to Edward Deming— has been transformed into an even more lethal believing: if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. For the sake of a new god named Big Data, companies are ideologically heading toward a brave new world.

The power of collaborative practices and structures, able to unleash creativity and shared responsibility throughout organizations, is itself paid lip service by many executives who only see in corporate evolution a means to improve the status quo, instead of to trigger a real transformation. As a CEO told me a few months ago: “this is good for boosting my employees’ morrale, but, between you and me, this is mainly communication.”

There is no escape

Ideologies are about dominance, in a subtler way than hierarchies are. Under the pressure of speed induced by networks, they no more bother narrating a conception of the world but present us with an oversimplification of the reality which they force us to believe, eroding any resort to critical thinking. But this kind of mechanism simply doesn’t fit the logic of a world as complex as ours, resulting in tensions and frustration.

In L’éloge de la fuite (that, sadly, isn’t available in English), the French neurophysician Henri Laborit has categorized and described the different behaviors available to human beings when confronted to dominance. The first one occurs when positive outcomes are made possible, and focuses on enhancing these outcomes, mainly in maneuvering to improve our position by playing the dominance game for one’s sole benefit. Growing inequalities, concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a shrinking number of individuals, strengthening of the weight of hierarchies in organizations, are direct consequences of such hedonistic and individualistic behaviors.

When individual gratification becomes impossible, as Laborit stated:

“When confronted with adversity, humans only have three choices: fighting, doing nothing, or fleeing”

But there is no way to run away, as ideologies have for most parts replaced the information flows that nurture our networks, and lean on our emotions to ensure our allegiance. The only responses we are left with are submission (doing nothing), or rebellion. Anguish or anger, so are the choices available to us when trying to resist rampant ideologies, anguish and anger sustained and amplified every day by the nature of the ideologies that surround us and by the message they convey.

Living between anguish and anger cannot be sustainable, even more when one is opposed to the other. Letting these tensions increase will almost mechanically lead us in a world of rising distrust, hate and despair. Is that the world we want to live in?

Faster Is Slower

In The Fifth Discipline that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Senge described what he called the Laws of The Fifth Discipline, an ensemble of fundamental statements that should guide our judgment and actions when applying system thinking. Most of them, such as “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” are familiar to anyone practicing design thinking or involved in trying to solve societal problems.

But, in a time when we favor answers over questions, efficiency over precision, another rule we should consider very carefully is the sixth one: “faster is slower”. Our obsession with speed has made us welcoming ideology as a low-cost fast-effect proxy for information. The dictatorship of speed is, beyond terrorism, quest for wealth and power, demagogy, or self-indulgence, what will most surely drive us into chaos.

As long as we deal with technology, reaching the Singularity might be considered as an ideal in some intellectual circles. But when it comes to human, slowing down is no more an option. To stop making the world a worse place, it has become mandatory. It is time we give up racing for influence to begin solving real-world deep problems together, instead of concealing them behind stinking ideologies.

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Design Thinking, or Design Faking?

Design thinking is all over the place. Every large organization claims to use it in a way or another to spur innovation, and every place dedicated to hold seminars comes fully loaded with white boards and sticky notes. A quick glance at Google Trends shows how much searches for design thinking consulting help gain in popularity over time, while the whole “consulting” category is more and more losing its appeal to executives. Yet, despite a sustained keen interest, in most cases, design thinking fails to deliver up to its promise. But are we really focusing on the right approach?

design thinking google trends 2005 2016

Evolution of searches for “design thinking consulting” vs “consulting”

Of Principles and Methods

The core ambition of design thinking was to formalize the process of design, in order to give the capability to apply this principle to all kinds of problems, from product innovation to wicked societal problems. Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management, and Tim Brown, CEO of the design company IDEO, have largely contributed to this formalization and helped in popularizing the approach. But this came at a major cost.

For business decision makers, typically non-designers, principles must translate into methodologies to become actionable. Thus, the design thinking principle, defined as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success” by Tim Brown, had been repackaged into the now famous “empathize-define-ideate-prototype-test-and-iterate” mantra to get past the corporate doors.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully nailed it: “If you learn only methods, you’ll be tied to your methods, but if you learn principles you can devise your own methods..” Grabbing the essence of a principle, experimenting in order to understand its implications, and putting it in practice can prove itself to be a difficult task, especially in the case of an emergent principle such as design thinking. This will quickly challenge many of your assumptions about how work gets done and of your mental models. On the other side, sliding from principles to methods will only get you as far as you already know you can go. In many cases, methods act as a prescription, as a how-to approach that will lead you to tweak the context and prune particularities to fit ready-made models.

By restricting design thinking to a method, however brilliant, conceived as a tool for non-designers, its evangelists have seeded the conditions for failure, as the Stanford d.school itself recognized.

An Approach Under Influence

No matter how useful the “empathize-define-ideate-prototype-test-and-iterate” methodology can be in encouraging and training individuals—who tend to act linearly—to think collaboratively and “out of the box,” this methodology oversimplifies the design process. As every experienced designer knows, this process is messy, made of numerous loops and back-and-forth reasoning. While leaving design to designers in pure proselyte mode may have severe drawbacks, such as what I have called the “guru designer” problem,  summarizing it into a methodology to bring it within everyone’s reach in a corporate environment exposes it to many biases.

The human mind is such that we tend to step back into our comfort zone whenever possible, even (maybe even more) when we are exhorted to do the contrary. In most organizational contexts, this means putting a heavy focus on linearization, simplification, and rationalization, affecting all activities and tasks. Let us consider how this influences every phase of design thinking as a methodology:

Empathize

In our more and more data-driven business world, it is easy to forget that figures don’t tell THE truth. They just tell A truth, the one you want them to tell. Empathy doesn’t grow from data, it comes from the story that lies behind. Building a story from the data you collect from your customers and users is like presenting a mirror to yourself.

To understand the context in which your customers lie, you must walk in their shoes, and fully grasp the job they are trying to get done. You must also be aware that their context is not yours; failing to keep this in mind will make you miss the broader dimensions of the problem you are trying to solve.

Define

Designers do not tackle new problems with a blank mind, they bring to the table their experience, their own beliefs and history of failures and successes. A great designer looks at the real world and makes connections others don’t see, often allowing him to shape an embryonic solution to trigger further inquiry even before the problem has been properly framed, what Bryan Lawson has described as “the primary generator” in his classical How Designers Think – The Design Process Demystified.

More than often, defining the problem is in fact a matter of abductive reasoning, a back-and-forth navigation between the definition of the problem and the set of conditions put up by the context, much more than a statement like “how could we make our product|service|organization more desirable|useful?”.

Ideate

Common beliefs would want ideation to be the easiest part in design. Recall some background (typically the problem to be solved), distribute some pens and sticky notes, and here you go. The problem is that, unless deliberately set up, this approach doesn’t bring you what you expect. Garbage in, garbage out. Ideas are your most valuable assets, and must be handled as so. They must be confronted with your definition of the problem, they have to be part of the solution, to clarify or to extend some aspect of the problem. Even more, the problem has to be challenged by what comes up during your ideation phase, refined by evidence or even totally rethought. In fact, empathizing, defining and ideating cannot be dissociated as you will need to push all these steps further together until you are able to draft a solution. In the design process, the solution is indissiocable from the problem.

Prototype

Where ideation is falsely considered as easy, building prototypes is often viewed as the most difficult phase by organizations, as soon as it doesn’t concern product innovation. The idea of prototyping a service, and even more a system (such as a team structure), beyond drawing a chart on a piece of paper is a daunting task for people who consider play or corporal expression incompatible with corporate etiquette. It doesn’t look serious enough for them.

Yet, embodying interactions through role playing, or feeling physical space with actual size mockups is the best way to learn about what “the real thing” could be and to avoid many mistakes. Being serious about what you are trying to create doesn’t imply being boring or blankly conventional during the process. After all, following a creative process implies … being creative.

 Test and Iterate

In organizational context, almost everything is considered as a project. As a consequence, even in the most agile environment, testing and iterating often translates into “let us build a v0, then we will move to v1, and prepare for v2.” When designing for services or for systems, this approach usually leads to selecting the most important features to build a Minimum Viable Product, then planning for further implementation in subsequent iterations.

Wait… Are you sure that your careful selected features are the ones your customers really care about? While designing, test and iterations mean loading your first version with as many of the features retained during the prototyping phase as you can, in order to learn as much as possible from the real thing. By limiting your initial value proposition, you may ruin all your efforts to understand what your customers and users really need and to provide an adequate answer.

Taking the Daring Path

As a methodology, design thinking isn’t, by far, a panacea to help organizations to transform themselves. Neither is the so-called digital transformation that we keep hearing about day after day. In fact, no methodology will ever be, as they have little more to offer than what organizations are already able to do. Adapting to the uncertain, volatile and complex world in which we now live, requires taking more daring roads, and to relinquish control to be able to experiment with new, maybe disturbing but rewarding, principles without faking.

05/20 update
Design involves bringing into play a complex process. As so, it implies doubt, faith, trial and error, and continuously challenging the assumptions you are building, at macro as well as at micro level. Unfortunately, this leaves very little place for certainties or for “absolute” solutions. By essence, complexity is fractal. More than a methodology, and to be of real help, the “empathize-define-ideate-prototype-test-and-iterate” design thinking metaphor must be understood and used as a kind of “meta-methodology”, as… nothing more than a prototype, requiring to be tested, tweaked or even completely re-invented according to the specific context that is yours.

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