Learning to think, session II

I attended a free session on “how to think” given by Hideshi Hamaguchi (his twitter feed) last Friday night. Not only did I manage to turn what was essentially a design geek user group meeting into a “date night” with my husband, but I left the meeting with the delicious feeling you get when you’ve learned something really useful.

The session was focused on designers and design thinking. I found it applied even to my work – programming and database design, much of which I’ll claim is creative. I took many, many pages of notes – sketching out replicas of Hideshi’s carefully drawn diagrams. One lesson that stuck with me over the weekend is captured in the diagram that starts this blog post.

It’s a behavior-over-time graph, describing the transition from strategy to execution, with the line showing the growth in what you know about the problem you’re trying to solve. Briefly, strategy is defined as the combination of decisions that are needed to make a decision right now. Execution is what you do after you’ve made your decision. The vertical line shows the point at which you might decide to start thinking, or synthesizing information you’ve gathered. In the graph, that thinking line is pretty far along in the “what you know” curve. The length of time up until thinking begins is a missed opportunity — business-wise and creatively.

Consultants typically like to gather information – maybe asking lots of boiler-plate questions of the client before embarking on the “thinking” phase of consultation. Hideshi suggested that instead of allowing information gathering to delay thought, we should all just immediately start thinking.

He gave the example of FedEx, and what a person who was about to talk to FedEx would know without asking any questions of the company: guaranteed delivery times and hub-spoke architecture for their delivery system. Nothing is earth-shattering about those observations. They are simply things that you already know, and can use.

And here’s an observation I really thought about afterward: the length of time before you start to think is determined by your fears. The fear can be of the unknown, not having enough information, looking stupid or any number of other fears that we all have in a new situation. Taking a moment to reflect on what you already know might be the best strategy for eliminating that fear, and moving on to the useful, creative thought a client may be paying you for.

Much of the rest of the session was an exploration of a few ideas Hideshi had encountered in the last few weeks – creating a Museum of Design in Portland, and couple presentations he had made to help a famous blogger judge a Standford University “innovative ideas” competition. Both were fun thought exercises, with the added bonus of seeing Hideshi’s creative output.

I’m very much looking forward to the next session.