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Design thinking: Creativity, innovation and empathy in the 21st century

Design thinking: Creativity, innovation and empathy in the 21st century

Take a look inside revolutionary companies like Apple and Google and you’ll see more than bright minds creating innovative products and tools that change our lives. If you were to step inside a meeting area at the headquarters of these companies, you would see how these ground-breaking ideas are born. That process has a name: design thinking, a creative problem-solving technique that is centered on thinking like the user and collaborating with others to come up with solutions that fit the desires, needs, wants or issues facing a customer or group of individuals.

At the Global Student Leaders Summit organized by EF Education First, high school students from around the world come together for two days to learn about global challenges such as human rights issues and the future of clean energy. During the conference, these young change-makers attend workshops where they are taught the components of the design thinking methodology and they work together with their peers to come up with innovative solutions to current issues using the interactive strategy.

Savinay Chandrasekhar, the Executive Director of Minds Matter of Denver, uses design thinking in his day-to-day life and has been teaching design thinking to students and adults for several years. Most recently, he was at The Hague for a human rights-focused session of the Global Student Leaders Summit in June where he helped students engage in the methodology.

Two elements of the problem-solving technique that can be particularly challenging are the notions that there is no right answer and that failure is acceptable.

“Until students recognize that there is no right answer, it can be frustrating,” Savinay says. “But when they do come to that realization, they find it is more engaging and leads to creative and innovative solutions. I’ve noticed the same thing with adults.”

When it comes to failure, Savinay says he encourages students to see that it is an opportunity for success – something that goes against how some education systems define failure: an obstacle on the road to success.

When working with students who struggle with “failing,” Savinay says he tells them that while some ideas work, some do not and those are the ones that they earn from along the way. This, he says, builds resilience, which is a fundamental skill in the working world.

Design thinking is best used in situations that do not have a clear answer. It is not ideal for questions like, “What will I have for lunch today?” But it is perfect for questions about human rights or, for example, when brainstorming how to get more students to recycle or compost on campus.

Savinay says that what is key is the mindset, not necessarily using the whole methodology.

“Using parts of the mindset are more valuable in my day-to-day experience and I use them all the time,” he says.

Knowing about design thinking and how to harness the power of empathy, integrative thinking, experimentalism and collaboration are valuable tools that the leaders of tomorrow – the young minds of today – need to be familiar with. Though it will not fix every problem, it is a strong and effective tool in some situations and in the worlds of tech space, economic development, social entrepreneurship and human rights, it is a skill that can even be listed on a resume or CV and mentioned during a job interview.

Overall, Savinay sees three ultimate benefits of the design thinking methodology, “developing the capacity to empathize without judgement, developing the ability to improve creativity by separating the generation and evolution of ideas, and accepting that failure is the most effective way to learn.”

How do you use design thinking at work or in your everyday life?



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