Design thinking and innovation
I began to develop an interest in the field of design during my late teen years. At that time, the word “design” was not widely used. My interest in the design process was initially sparked during my visits to the Junkanoo shacks of my neighborhood group, the Valley Boys. In these shacks, I would meet visual artists, costume designers, engineers and architects. All of these persons would be working together, toward the completion of costumes for both the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades. Among these highly skilled persons, I would also meet several unskilled, young persons who lived in the community where a shack was located. They had become interested in the costume design work and wanted to learn the process from the experienced designers. Some of these young persons were told by one or more of their teachers, or a parent, that they were dumb or a ‘slow learner’.
Many of these young persons quickly found that they were very good with their hands. Their love and talent for sketching the designs for their groups’ costumes and building costumes, was evidence of this. Over a period of time, some of these boys became very good at creating these designs. At some point, many of them would be complimented by a more experienced designer, who would ask them if they ever thought of studying engineering or architecture. Some of the boys would go on to study in one of these areas. On the completion of their studies, most of them would choose to become positively engaged in their profession. As a result of this, they would also choose to offer high-quality work while enjoying their careers. They would also continue their design work in the shack.
Tim Brown, in his book “Change by Design”, says: “Design thinking begins with skills designers have learned over many decades in their quest to match human needs with available technical resources within the practical constraints of business.”
Brown continues: “By integrating what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable, designers have been able to create the products we enjoy today.”
He adds: “Design thinking takes the next step, which is to put these tools into the hands of people who may have never thought of themselves as designers and apply them to a vastly greater range of problems.”
I became interested in innovation during the late 1980s, as it became a topical subject. In 2007, when I read “Innovation Nation”, by John Kao, I became excited over the idea of The Bahamas becoming an innovation nation. However, at that time it was difficult to generate the level of support which would have been necessary to achieve this.
We are now in very different times. We have been, for several years, in a period of increasing global competitiveness. Innovation should therefore be a key strategic priority for our country. A small but increasing number of persons are thinking and talking more about innovation.
Years later, I began to learn about design thinking, and I quickly saw the relevance of this process to my work. In this column, I have therefore chosen to focus on innovation and design thinking. These two processes have the potential to significantly improve the performance of our leaders, staff and organizations, in both the public and private sectors.
It is important that persons in key decision-making positions be open-minded and embrace new ways of thinking.
My series of articles are intended to:
- Stimulate and challenge leaders and their employees to embrace new thinking and continuously aim for increasingly higher standards of performance.
- Serve as a catalyst to stimulate new thinking about how we should engage in our organizations, with each other and our customers. This shift in thinking could contribute to significant improvements in service delivery, productivity and competitiveness in our private businesses and public sector organizations.
Innovation in schools
Our schools can also benefit from this shift in thinking. In order to achieve this goal, we need to intentionally increase the emphasis placed on innovation and design thinking in our schools. We also need to focus more attention on the work of our Junkanoo designers, visual artists, architects and engineers.
There is a slow increase in the focus on innovation in some of our schools. This increase can be attributed to several initiatives, including the annual LEGO tournament that has been organized over the past six years by Laurena Finlayson, my daughter. In this tournament, teams of students research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc., and are challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build and program a robot using Lego Mindstorms technology. Along their discovery journey, they develop critical thinking and team-building skills as well as basic science technology, engineering and math (STEM) applications. Students also develop their presentation skills and self-confidence, as they must present their solutions to a panel of judges.
- Roosevelt Finlayson is a designer of innovative processes, which facilitate individual and organizational transformation. He is the developer of the Festival in the Workplace process.