Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Book Review

Title: Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works
Authors: Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, Kevin Bennett

Publisher: Columbia University Press ( September 3, 2013)

Pages: 232 Pages

ISBN-10: 0231163568

Price: $21.64, Hardcover; $35.96, Paperback; $15.94, Kindle

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Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works provides enough proof that taking a design based approach to problems can lead to winning solutions in all areas. Everything that businesses do from the point of conceptualizing a product or service to fulfilling customer requests involves problem solving. This book proposes a new approach to solve problems by involving members from both business and design departments to come up with innovative solutions.

The author, Dr. Jeanne Leidtka is a professor of Business Administration at the Darden School of Business. Her co-author, Andrew King is a research associate at Darden School of Business and has previously worked as a Senior Accountant at Ernst & Young. The third author of the book, Kevin Bennett is Marketing and Partnership Development manager at Personal, a technology start-up in WashingtonD.C.

The focus of the book is to convince managers and designers that collaboration between these two diverse groups of people can give great results. The authors use a story like format to present real-life applications of design thinking at different leading organizations in different business areas.

The writing style is easy and conversational, and discussions between real people on real problems and situations make the stories an interesting read. However, the book refers to many religious and Americanisms through out the book that some international readers may find difficult to understand. For example, when the authors say “you don’t have to buy the whole enchilada” or “for Jim, this was a Home Run”. Although the reader might understand what the authors mean to say, they may miss that the authors are referring to the entire spread of services or that Jim is referring to maximum result.

Each chapter or story is organized in a process oriented manner. A chapter first defines the problem and establishes the context for the reader. Then the authors equate each step in the process to the four question framework and walk you through to the solution and then discuss the results.

Before starting the book, as a reader, I expected to know everything about design thinking and how I will be able to use it in my work to solve problems across different areas. The first chapter, Dispelling the Moses Myth, does just that. The authors introduce the concept of design thinking and define what they mean by design thinking. The discussion on theory of design thinking is brief here and refers to Jeanne’s earlier works on design thinking. The authors propose a four question framework based on the design thinking approach and discuss the questions managers should ask, in some detail. They also discuss different tools managers can use in each of the four phases to take the discussion forward and come up with alternatives. The authors also urge the different stakeholders to rise above office politics and work together.

The IBM and 3M story shows the success of using the design thinking approach in sales. The IBM story shows how discussions between designers and sales managers, who adopted the four question framework, helped them create engaging booths at trade shows and made them a star booth at trade shows. The 3M story highlights the benefits of including members from the design team that helped them create engaging content to show to their prospective customers. The chapter walks you through the discussions the 3M team went through while reinventing their sales process, and engage their customers.

However, Sales is not the only area where the design thinking approach can be implemented. The Toyota story discusses Toyota’s quest to improve their customers’ experience when they called the support center. Design thinking in this example emphasized collaboration and participation of people from different work functions. The central theme is collaboration and co-creation.

The authors’ main intention with this book is to convince the readers that design thinking can help them solve their problems and the solutions would also be beneficial to their customers. The authors achieve this well with ten interesting case studies from different organizations operating in different domains.

Summing up, I would say that this book is a good addition to a manager’s bookshelf. The book is a light, easy read with insights from leading organizations. Readers not only get a new perspective at solving problems, but also get and inside view at what different organizations are doing to find solutions to their problems.

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