The Innovation Strategy Model: Is Everyone a Designer?

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown speak at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He got up in front of all the attendees, which included 500 healthcare professionals, and made the bold claim that “everyone here is a designer.” I remember feeling uncomfortable with such a statement.

Design thinking

Although many other topics were covered during the talk, that one declaration spoke the loudest to me. To be a designer, one must utilize design thinking, a method for exploring a multitude of possible options, in order to reduce risk and develop the best strategy for an optimal outcome. It’s a skill learned over the course of years, and only then through much trial and error.

It was the next morning that I hit upon the meaning behind Tim’s words, and that clarity came as I reflected on the creativity and innovation strategy model displayed by professionals in a variety of fields outside the traditional realm of design. At first, I had only heard his statement through my own personal filter.

Medical professionals must strategically combine time, skills, resources, and quantitative plus qualitative patient data to design the best possible outcome for a product that is also the user: the human body. Medical professionals are designers, without a doubt.

Teachers practice design thinking in their development of lessons plans and pushing the practice of education beyond what is conventionally available. They use their creative ability to personalize instruction and create learning experiences that meet the needs of each individual student. Teachers are indeed designers.

Manufacturing leaders might propose new financial structures in order to make room in a project’s budget. By identifying constraints like fixed resources, financial capital, time, and labor they must make calculated decisions to minimize risks, expand budgets, and increase yields. These innovations and strategy models make manufacturers designers as well.

What I learned

My takeaway is this: Design thinking is not measured by our ability to create wireframes and prototypes. Design thinking is showcased when we face obstacles and develop the insight and creativity needed to overcome them.