A New Way to Think Out of the Box

4 minute read

16 July 2018

By Insights Team

Innovation Reporter, Upstart

Mention the word "design" and most people will conjure up images of a visual aesthetic or finely crafted products. In reality, design practice is fundamental to strategic thinking and purposeful innovation. It's a discipline which thinking spans logic, creativity, intuition, and systemic reasoning. 

When applied correctly, it can enable businesses to to explore the possibilities of what could be.  


Design Thinking has crept into the business vocabulary almost unnoticed.  As with any new term, there are those who practice it, those who understand it and who will co-opt it to win this week’s game of business buzzword bingo.

Legacy industries - not least manufacturers - have an understandable cynicism about anything containing the word “design”. The UX brigade, swarming over business with their trainers and post-it notes, is this decade’s plague of locusts, a different version of the suited and booted management consulting clones in decades gone by.

Yet at its heart, design thinking isn’t about design. It’s about problem solving.  And strategy is nothing more than framing and solving problems with limited resources.

So What?

We created Upstart as a unit to solve problems, fast.  Disruption can’t wait, so neither should you. The business problems which it will cause don’t have cut and paste solutions, so you have to use your imagination.

That’s why the second of three of our time-bound sprints is titled “Think.” (see here for our earlier post on what’s in an Upstart project.  We’ve adapted the legendary Design Council Double Diamond approach for reframing a problem and imagining a solution.

It turns out you can use that for any kind of problem - product, market entry, customer or culture. And disruption calls for exactly the kind of reframing which design thinking can bring.

Thinking outside the square:

By the time you arrive at our “Think” sprint you’ll have already gone through our problem statement process. You’ll also have gone through “Understand” - where you get to grips with customers, tech and quite possibly your company’s current situation

We create space to focus (see last week’s post) and then we begin. With no constraints, you imagine a solution where you have unlimited resources - time, money, expertise, bandwidth and hold that as an ideal. Then you converge and apply it to the specific problem statement we’ve brought in to the process. This convergence part of the first diamond helps to apply the imagined solution to reality.

Next we diverge again. We develop and deepen the idea, imagining what can be possible with the new constraint. And then we narrow down again, and prepare for phase 3 - the final sprint - “Plan” where you decide and commit to a solution.

As an aside, there's a reason why we decided to locate in London's Shoreditch - the design and tech quarter of East London.  Here, art is on every street corner and drips out of every hipster cafe.  You just have to take a look at our Instagram feed to see we keep ourselves stimulated, something which wires our brains and prepares us for visual thinking. 

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So Now What?

In the industrial world, design was siloe-ed - often in a little box at the end of the product process which involved little more than prettification of a piece of tech. In today’s world, design thinking is part of business. Solving the challenges of tomorrow’s uncertain world will require mental agility, a high degree of comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity, and the ability to imagine a range of different scenarios.

Design thinking is not just a nice to have - it’s essential to the future of strategy.

Start Here:
Three things you can do to get started with design thinking.

-Know your stuff. Familiarise yourself with what design thinking is  - and what it isn’t. This Interaction Design Foundation article is a good grounding.

-Practice in private. Take half an hour over lunch on a problem - it can be nothing to do with business - and see if using the double-diamond approach can help you see a problem in a different way.

-Learn from others. Seek out those who are practicing it  - join Linkedin groups and work out how you can use it.

Interested in our way of thinking? Let’s talk at upstart@weareupstart.com or have a poke around our website to see how we use design thinking in our approach.

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