When It Comes to Design Thinking, Don’t Overthink It- Just Jump In

Whether you’re new to design thinking or have been practicing for years, you’ll inevitably encounter a project where you’re not sure how to start. Maybe the problem isn’t clearly defined (this is it 90% of the time), or you’re unfamiliar with the subject matter. Regardless of what it is, you may feel concerned that you’re not asking stakeholders the right questions as you begin fact-finding, or worse, not even be sure what questions TO ask. Here’s my unsolicited advice:

Just jump in.

One of my favorite books on effective group brainstorming, Cracking Complexity, uses the analogy of a swimming pool to depict problem solving. It doesn’t matter which side you jump in from, you’re still going to get wet. Similarly, whatever problem you’re trying to better understand is a jumble of causes and effects. At this point you can’t tell what is what, so you’ll need to pull loose threads and see where they take you.

And this is where the magic of empathy interviews comes in. As you collect data (interview project stakeholders), you’ll start to identify common themes and patterns across the interview set. Once you’re complete, you should notice the data starting to cluster itself into like groups, which you can then identify relationships between. Often, this data you’ve collected will take you down new paths that you wouldn’t have previously considered, or known to ask about.

Furthermore, by starting with no assumptions, talking to stakeholders about their challenges, and being willing to learn, we move from a disparate number of symptoms with no seeming connection, to developing hypotheses about the core issue(s) causing all the mayhem. Even then, we don’t take for granted that we know the right course of action, but rather develop solutions to test our theories, further reducing risk and increasing our likelihood of creating true impact.

It doesn’t matter where you start. Keep an open mind, don’t make assumptions, and the data will take you where you need to go.

Just jump in.

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