Feb 152012

I added this to the introduction of the book, Right.

It was written in response to feedback from the manuscript, but it was also inspired by recent interviews where I’ve found myself apologizing for my lack of expertise in specific applications.  I try to explain that I use a little of a lot of creative applications, but do not rely on any one for all my creative expression.  It always sounds lame to me.  Here’s my response after some reflection:

Design thinking is a perspective, approach and process.

I thought I was presenting a unique argument for a new perspective until I looked out the window of the technology building towards the arts and humanities school and realized this debate has been happening for centuries:  The value of thinking as a discipline and why this equally or more important than obtaining technical skills.

In my case, I often find myself in between factions, groups and disciplines.  In the Arts and Technology program (ATEC) at the University of Texas at Dallas, I found myself balancing on the ampersand between the two schools of thought.  The Director of the program discouraged building the program around teaching specific applications and encouraged us to explore the process.  He talked about the tools continually changing as technology evolved, but the process of creation is a constant.  Yet, in the short time the program has been in existence, it has moved more to technical applications and further away from the art of thinking.  The move by the ATEC program follows the idea that people are guided by what they know and it’s a more difficult path to pursue abstractions that are not easily marketed or recognized.

In an effort to understand the value of the program, I posed the question:  What would make the school of engineering, medicine, computer sciences, and business say, “We’ve got to have an Arts and Technology student at the table when innovating.”?

I never found anyone within the ATEC program who could answer the question and more importantly, I never heard any of the other schools make the request for the ATEC perspective.  The answer I propose is design thinking and the debate continues whether this is an added value or marketable skill.  My belief is it’s not only marketable and valuable, but it’s unique and not widely possessed or commonly practiced.

As I engage different communication and technology departments at various universities, I find a similar bias towards technical curriculum.  Their question is what will the students gain by completing the program and my guess is they find it difficult to sell the idea that they will teach a new perspective on creativity and expression.  It is understandable; it’s a bold statement.  I have friends who are academics that believe it is not possible to teach creativity.  I describe throughout the book that convention is safe, proven and understandable while new, innovative and different are often discounted as esoteric.  Organizations see value in what they understand and hire who they know.

I use the example of the Texas A&M joke, which I assume is used by most business schools, what do you call a graduate from Texas A&M?  The answer is boss.  This is a brilliant way to brand and explain a leadership and management program where some concepts taught are abstract and not tangible skills.  Everyone knows what “boss” means and they don’t require an explanation of the nuances involved.  The ATEC program, and all schools who should teach design thinking, must find their “elevator speech” that demystifies creative thinking and promotes the value of a highly innovative, right-brain thinker over the understandable and easily tested, technically skilled individual.  They must quit looking for the instructor that can teach Adobe Photoshop and hire the design thinkers who teaches creative expression utilizing applications such as Photoshop and all the creative/communication tools available.

My hope is to enlighten the naturally left-brain people, who prefer literal over abstract, and conventional instead of innovative.  I am promoting the idea that a right-brain perspective is a valuable addition to the process.  Then my mission is to empower the predominately right-brain people, who see the world as a canvas of opportunities, uninhibited by convention to explain why they are a necessary addition to the innovation process.  I hope after reading this book, an extra chair is placed at the table, or a position created at the front of room for the creative perspective, the design thinker.