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The Design Thinking Mindset


Once a week at Collabo, we hold our own in-house collaborative sessions called “Design Better Together (DBT) Thursdays.” You may have seen some pictures of past DBTs or maybe you’ve even joined us for a couple. Either way, in these weekly sessions we get together to focus in and sharpen our design thinking skills. Recently, we decided to use every other DBT Thursday to start the Collabo Reading Club. The first topic we covered was the Design Thinking Mindset. 

A mindset is a mental attitude that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations. In other words, these are mental frames we develop that shape our actions and behaviors. Being that these frames are essential to the way we operate, it seemed appropriate that our first blog post should discuss mindsets. We believe practicing Design Thinking every day starts with cultivating the right mindset… which is actually made up of four distinct mindsets: curiosity, growth, inclusive, and action.

Mindset 1: Curiosity

Creativity comes from curiosity. Just a few days ago, author of multiple New York Times bestselling books on leadership, Simon Sinek tweeted out, “the more curious you are about the world, them ore you experience and learn. the more you experience and learn, the more connections your brain is able to make. And with more connections, you can find new solutions to problems or see things no one else can see.” 

“The more curious you are about the world, the more you experience and learn. The more you experience and learn, the more connections your brain is able to make. And with more connections, you can find new solutions to problems or see things no one else can see.” — Simon Sinek

There’s plenty of research explaining how curiosity and humility are important qualities of leadership, and why being able to ask questions makes you a better leader. In his Forbes article, “Embrace Curiosity: 4 Ways Questioning Makes You A Better Leader,” Jeff Boss discusses just that, and affirms how curiosity fuels leadership. Boss explores the relationship between curiosity, competence, confidence, adaptability, and growth, finding that demonstrating curiosity shows a leader’s humility to understand where the gaps are in their knowledge and to seek out the answers required to be effective. Asking questions facilitates dialogue and enables leaders to seek out new opportunities, change perspectives and move beyond assumptions.

Mindset 2: Growth

Carol Dweck, Stanford University professor and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, found that mindset is the difference between high and low achievers. Folks with fixed mindsets believe “what will be, will be;” whereas folks with growth mindsets believe “what will be is up to me”. Curiosity provides the catalyst for growth; fixed mindset people give up when they don’t find the answer they’re looking for, whereas growth mindset folks keep searching until they find an answer.

James Clear, a renowned writer on habits and performance, builds on Dweck’s mindset research explaining it’s possible to have a growth mindset in some areas and a fixed mindset in others. In order to change your mindset, practice is paramount. By intentionally changing our habits, we practice the mindset we wish to cultivate, and results will follow. It is our actions that define who we are, not our mindsets (see our 4th mindset below). For example, let’s say you feel you’re lousy at math. You may not necessarily like math, but want to improve your skills.  To do this, you’ll need to develop a habit of practicing math, in some form, everyday.

Mindset 3: Inclusive

Empathy and inclusivity are key components in approaching design thinking from a people-centered perspective. It’s critical to include multiple stakeholders from different backgrounds, roles, and expertise throughout the process of creative problem solving. In “How to use Design Thinking for your Innovation Process,” Tyrone Pitsis discusses how it’s critical in the work environment to have people from all departments working together on solving a problem. Empathy and curiosity are required at all stages, creating opportunities for disruption and moving to action, our final mindset.

Mindset 4: Action

As mentioned earlier, our discussion topic was on the Design Thinking Mindset. Initially, this included the first three mindsets that we’ve looked at so far (curiosity, growth, and inclusive). After further investigation and thoughtful banter however, we found an underlying theme running throughout all three mindsets, which led us to determine the last mindset: action. 

Being able to operate from a different mindset requires shifting your values and perspective, as along with your actions—making both mental and physical shifts in your daily life in order to practice forming new habits. What we also found (pulling from research on applied improvisation) is that there are external and internal factors at play. For example, it is necessary to have positive reinforcement and support in being able to change our behaviors, both from our social environment, as well as our own internal forces. It can be easy to limit yourself, or to feel as though there are too many obstacles to overcome, especially in workplace culture. However, if you’re able to employ the drive and motivation to change your daily habits, you can overcome the social factors at bay.

These mindsets combined… 

These four mindsets—curiosity, growth, inclusive, and action—are inextricably linked and ultimately fuel your ability to hone the skills necessary to operate as design thinkers and innovative leaders. (psst…we’ll get into design thinking skills in a future post.) 

To further develop your design thinking mindset, start by shifting both your perspective and your actions. In the wise words of Mr. Clear, “it’s your daily actions that will change what you believe about yourself and the person you become.”

“It’s your daily actions that will change what you believe about yourself and the person you become.” — James Clear



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