Thinkergy offering Design Thinking training courses? No, and here's why

These days, organizations look for training programs in Design Thinking. during the past 2-3 years, legions of novice innovation trainers (working as independents or for one of the established training companies) have appeared on the scene in Asia to meet this considerable demand.

Thinkergy has run innovation training workshops for almost a decade and a half. However, we’ve passed on the opportunity to make some quick, easy bucks by offering Design Thinking training courses. Here’s why.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking (“DT”) is an innovation method created in the late nineties and early noughties by the Silicon Valley-based innovation company IDEO. Innovation methods are structured thinking process flows that outline the steps and cognitive activities that one needs to follow while working on an innovation project or creatively solving a problem. For example, the original DT model discussed by IDEO’s Tim Brown in a 2008 HBR article proposes three process stages (Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation) as well as several subordinated work steps within each stage.

Following a donation of the German billionaire Hasso von Plattner (one of the co-founders of the German business software company SAP), IDEO set-up the D School at Stanford University in 2005 and used this new semi-academic platform to widely popularize the “IDEO method” under a new name: Design Thinking.

Why doesn’t Thinkergy offer training courses in Design Thinking?

Thanks to the D School, in recent years DT has become the most popular innovation method. Because DT featured prominently in magazines, articles, and books, many companies became aware of the method and were eager to get trained in it. 

Given the strong demand for DT training, why hasn’t the Thinkergy team endeavored to become certified DT trainers? Why haven’t we started to offer DT training courses?

We do appreciate certain aspects of DT. We agree on the importance of looking at the innovation challenge from empathetic viewpoints. We love to rapidly prototype a promising idea to quickly learn “what’s wrong with it.” However, we don’t fully believe in the efficacy of DT. Why not? 

At Thinkergy, we favor X-IDEA, our proprietary innovation method, and related toolbox. We believe that X-IDEA is superior to Design Thinking, and we passionately make a case for it. That’s why we decline to offer DT training.

Why do we believe in X-IDEA?

Firstly, and most importantly, X-IDEA is one of the few innovation methods that proposes to break up the creative phase into two distinct creative stages. In X-IDEA, we call these two stages Ideation and Development. 

The I- and D-Stage of X-IDEA distinctly differ from each other:

  • in their focus and objective (idea quantity vs. quality); 
  • in their cognitive activities and work steps (ideate-imagine-incubate vs. discover, design and develop);
  • in two of four underlying creative ground rules (“go for quantity” & “the wilder, the better” vs. “go for quality” & “the more meaningful, the better”);
  • and in their output focus (hundreds of raw ideas vs. several dozens of idea concepts), among others. 

Innovation teams tend to produce fewer extraordinary ideas if a method consists of only one creative stage (typically called idea generation). These teams end up with more conventional ideas because of the problems of inner judgment, external judgment, and evaluation apprehension. So, to move from ordinary to extraordinary ideas, we need a second creative stage (the Development-stage in X-IDEA). (I explain why an innovation method with two creative process stages leads to better ideas in a research paper, and also summed up the main arguments in an earlier blog article titled Why using one creative process stage leads to dull ideas.)

Secondly, I developed X-IDEA while living in Asia and working with Asian and multicultural audiences coming from more than 60 countries from all continents. Being based at the “periphery” rather than in an innovation hotspot like Silicon Valley may seem like a disadvantage. However, it has proved to be a blessing in disguise. Why? 

I noticed early on that those well-established innovation methods (and thinking tools) from the West often don’t work smoothly with Asian audiences due to differences in culture and educational upbringing. So, I experimented for many years to discover how to overcome these barriers. Over time, I found ways to cure identified bugs and blind spots of other popular innovation methods. In the process, I created the conceptual logic of a new method: X-IDEA, which we then evolved and fine-tuned over more than a decade.

What are some of these unique features of X-IDEA (apart from using two creative stages)?

  • X-IDEA Roles is a feature that allows us to alleviate intercultural barriers that are common in Asia and also some other cultures. Thereby, we invite would-be innovators to adopt a specific role that captures the essence of the work style of each stage of X-IDEA. For example, in the Ideation-stage, you can feel free to suggest wild ideas as you act in the role of a child. In the Evaluation-stage, you step into the role of a judge and give a verdict on each developed idea concept. 
  • X-IDEA Traps is a feature that helps innovation teams to circumvent common thinking traps and procedural missteps that await them at specific points of their innovation journey.  (I became aware of the relevance of cognitive biases in innovation projects thanks to teaching a course in Decision Skills at graduate level). For example, one of the main purposes of the initial Xploration-stage of X-IDEA is to counter the overconfidence bias. (This bias describes the tendency to believe one knows more about a topic than is the case). In the Xploration-stage, we also ensure that the teams don’t only look for information supporting their pre-existing beliefs about their innovation challenge (confirmation trap).
  • As a thinking process, every innovation method follows the general IPO logic (input-process-output) underlying every process. X-IDEA translated this insight into two interrelated features: X-IDEA Inputs specifies what inputs an innovation team needs to get started with their work. And X-IDEA Outputs outlines what output a team is expected to produce in what quantity. We do this on three levels (project, stage, and tool), and track these numbers with the help of what we call X-IDEA Stats. After more than 150 real-life innovation projects, we believe we have a good understanding of the underlying IPO-numbers that we can expect from a team while working on a project, in a stage, or on a tool for a certain amount of time.

Thirdly, X-IDEA won a major innovation award from the International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM) in 2014. The Global Head of Ideation and Innovation Management of Nokia picked X-IDEA as a standout method with high practical relevance for industry. Nokia’s Fabian Schlage is a person who intimately knows most innovation methods in the market. We feel honored that after reading a research paper explaining the design logic of X-IDEA, he understood the value potential of our method right away. (Of course, we are aware that IDEI and DT won many more accolades and prizes).

So why don’t we concede to the dominant paradigm?

All products go through a life cycle with the phases development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. Innovation methods are no different. At present, Design Thinking is the dominant innovation method that enjoys strong growth in Asia and is also still growing in Europe, although at a flatter rate. In the US, however, DT has matured or maybe has already started to decline. Some innovation professionals have already begun feeling disillusioned about the method and the results it generates.

For example, one of our certified X-IDEA trainers in the US, Jeffrey Brown, switched over from DT to X-IDEA. After his certification training, Jeff stated that “X-IDEA is Design Thinking on steroids”. He summed up his feelings about the two methods as an equation:

“X-IDEA equals Design Thinking plus extra features minus the headache.”

Being a long-term player in the innovation field who has worked for Steve Jobs in the early years of Apple,  we listen to Jeff’s judgment.

Conclusion: Design Thinking is great, but X-IDEA is the Know-how of Wow

Nowadays, although many companies want to book Design Thinking training, we don’t offer these courses at Thinkergy because we believe in the supremacy of X-IDEA. If someone knocks on our door and asks for being trained in DT, we introduce them to X-IDEA and try to convince them of its benefits. Sometimes, we succeed, and they agree to give one of our X-IDEA innovation training courses a shot. At other times, they insist on being trained in DT. Then, we stay true to our belief, respectfully pass on the opportunity, and recommend them to reach out to one of the certified DT trainers.

Given that we stubbornly refuse to bow to the dominance of and strong demand for DT, how can we stay in business? Well, it’s no walk in the park, that I can tell you. But fortunately, Thinkergy offers not only one innovation method, but four. Each of our proprietary innovation methods addresses a particular innovation challenge that companies need to master to become an innovation powerhouse. Apart from the creative process, that includes finding and empowering the creative people; building a creative culture; and developing creative leaders. 

So this year, we focus on promoting and delivering training and project workshops related to our other innovation methods, especially TIPS, Thinkergy’s innovator profiling system. And we remain optimistic that in a year or so, when the Design Thinking hype in Asia is no more, X-IDEA may well succeed it and become “the next big thing” in innovation methods. 

Have you become interested to learn more about X-IDEA? 

If you’ve become curious to try out one of our X-IDEA innovation training courses with your company, please contact us and tell us more about your precise training needs.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2019