12 design thinking rules from David Burney

One of my business partners at New Kind, David Burney, is an exceptional facilitator of design thinking sessions. David introduced me to design thinking and the work of IDEO (where many of the concepts behind design thinking were developed and applied to the business world). David taught me everything I know about facilitating projects and sessions using a design thinking approach.

At the beginning of any design thinking project, David shares a set of rules that help get every participant on the same page. The rules apply to everyone (including executives) and help create an optimal environment for creativity. If you are planning to run a project using a design thinking approach, you might want to consider sharing these rules with your group before you get started. I’ve used this list many times, and I promise, it really helps keep things on track.

1. Avoid the devil’s advocate: The devil’s advocate is someone who (purposely or accidentally) shoots down the ideas of others without taking any personal responsibility for his actions. The devil’s advocate often begins his objection with the phrase “Let me be the devil’s advocate for a second…”. The devil’s advocate often intends to be helpful by pointing out flaws in an idea, but ultimately this focuses people’s attention on what won’t work rather than exploring unexpected ways that it might work.

2. Make agendas transparent: Every participant should make their personal agendas as clear as possible.

3. Leave titles at the door: No one person’s ideas are worth more than anyone else’s.

4. Generate as many ideas as possible: During ideation, you are not trying to generate the best ideas; you are trying to generate the most ideas.

5. Build on the ideas of others rather than judging them: If someone else has an idea you like, build on it. If you don’t like an idea, share another one rather than critiquing.

6. Stay on time: Don’t let your ideation session spiral out of control. Each ideation session should be timed and should have a clear ending point.

7. State the obvious: Sometimes things that can seem obvious reveal great insight from their simplicity.

8. Don’t sell or debate ideas: Selling and debating ideas takes time away from generating new ideas.

9. Stupid and wild ideas are good: Sometimes the craziest ideas lead to the best ideas.

10. DTA stands for death to acronyms: Avoid acronyms—they are exclusionary because people who don’t know what they stand for will quickly be lost. If you must use an acronym, write what it stands for somewhere everyone can see it. Keep a running list of all acronyms used during the project or session.

11. Always understand in which stage of the process you are: When you are ideating, you are not critiquing ideas. But when ideation is over and you begin the process of selecting the best ideas, you’ll need to discuss the merits of each idea in a more traditional, analytical way.

12. Play is good, have fun: The more fun you are having as a group, the more creative ideas you’ll generate.

If you’d like to learn more about design thinking and how you can use it in your projects, I recommend any of the following books.

From the amazing team at IDEO:

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley
Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown

Other great books to consider:

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin
Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Thomas Lockwood

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