The Real Benefit of Design Thinking

Many days I catch myself uttering “thank you” to the universe, which the mystic Meister Eckhart claims is a prayer sufficient enough to carry an individual through an entire life.

Unlike a policeman or a bartender, I have the radical blessing to work in-depth with people doing inspiring exercises, which bring out the best side of their humanity. Being human is an incredible birthright. Our senses, instincts, and capacity for wonder can evoke awe upon contemplation.

Helping organizations create empathy with the people for whom they design solutions means being totally present with the widest cross-section of humanity imaginable. Given the variety of clients, we have the privilege to meet a lot of people—from soldiers to housewives, chemists to poets, wealthy to subsistence-level poor, athletes, butchers, warehouse workers, doctors, CEOs, you name it.

Typically, the more you constructively engage people with creative endeavors, in an air of respect, they open up. The trade term is Empathy; however, Empathy is such a clinical-sounding phrase. How about Humanizing instead of Empathy?

Then, there is co-creation, where we bring in groups of people to help us refine prototypes. Typically, there are three-to-six sessions with groups of six-to-ten people a piece per project.

Here is what we have learned. If you sincerely ask someone for feedback and to help you make something better, they give it their best 99% of the time. One such humanizing moment is when one participant voices a problem or condition and the others focus intently on creating something for their new friend. People, when brought into community, genuinely want to help others.

The concepts get humanized. The people are respected for who and what they are, and are not mere two-dimensional marketing targets, and therefore are humanized. The brand or company for whom we are working becomes more in touch with the real people for whom they are designing solutions, organizational humanization. The whole process is humanizing.

The real benefit—the gift—of doing design thinking for a living is that the navigator of the project gets an immersive humanizing experience every day—and gets to make a living helping people discover their drives, passions, dislikes, and helping people articulate these esoteric responses to real things such as products, services, and experiences, and learn deeply from them.

As well, if you do this work day-to-day you know beyond the shadow of a shadow of a doubt the essential oneness of people.

Despite the colors and flavors of culture, race, and ethnicity, people are people. I hold a long-standing conviction that many people harbor latent prejudices. Most tend to go through life with a filter of “us” and “our way” and “other.”

Doing design thinking is a cure for such small mindedness—and is the real, lasting benefit of this humanizing work.

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Michael Graber is the cofounder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis.

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Michael Graber




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