Design Thinking: A strategy for innovation

February 9, 2016

Have you ever watched Family Feud? Do you find yourself in front of the TV yelling your answer at Grant Denyer? 

Perhaps, like myself, you’ve found yourself shocked when the ‘obvious’ answer in your head proved to be a little more ‘left of field’ than you actually thought. 

Or maybe you’ve felt the opposite, satisfied that you’ve picked the “right answer”, just like the majority of the show’s surveyed public. 

Idea generation exploration is a big part of our role here at The Lab, and we’re always looking at new ways to expand our thinking and creativity.

Image via LinkedIn - Daniel Stillman

Recently, the Labsters had the opportunity to revel in the world of idea generation and thinking in a fun workshop, run by experienced design facilitator, Daniel Stillman.

Daniel’s impressive résumé includes a diverse experience from studying physics at the City University of New York and industrial design at Pratt Institute, to co-founding both The Design Gym and GothamSmith, AND currently teaching a monthly User Experience course at General Assembly

The main idea of the workshop was to open our eyes to the collective thought process of ‘default thinking’ – and actively shift our thought processes away from it into another kind of thinking.

Design thinking.

So, what is Design Thinking? 

Design Thinking is the exploration and creation of outcomes using elements of logic, imagination, intuition and reasoning. It is solution-focused and action oriented, and uses both analysis and imagination.

In Design Thinking, three phases of creative conversations allow for the development of creative ideas: 

The open phase, commonly known as divergent thinking, is about getting started and pushing boundaries, getting all the ideas out on the table and letting them sit, rather than deeming them good ideas or bad ideas. 

The explore phase, or emergent thinking, involves making connections and building on what you’ve opened with. 

The close phase, or the convergent thinking phase, involves organising your ideas and concepts to choose the best to move forward. 

Rules of open, explore, and close can be applied to the creative conversation at all levels, whether it be within teams, communities, dialogue, and even ourselves. 

So, what did we get up to?

Daniel demonstrated these basics of design thinking in a number of exercises with us. One particularly eye-opening task revolved around a seemingly basic exercise.

It involved us participating in a simple free association exercise, where we wrote down the first thing that came to mind on a post it note. 

We were then asked to categorise these ideas in teams and display these categories on the wall. 

Image via Flickr courtesy of Benjamin Watson at

It was at this point of the task where Daniel pointed out that we had lapsed into a rather expected result – default thinking. 

Without realising, we had reverted back to basics. In both teams, we found that we grouped “like with like”, and had put everything else that didn’t quite fit to the side.

Interestingly, we had ostracised the most abstract associations and placed them further away from other categories, perhaps signifying a presumption that these associations were less important. 

We had even situated the most logical to least logical associations from left to right, relative to Western reading culture. 

Default thinking to a T. 

So, where to from here?

The session with Daniel certainly sparked discussion and debate amongst us Labsters, about the way that we operate as individuals, and as an organisation. 

As a collective, we’re always on the lookout for ways to challenge conventional ways of thinking. 

This workshop by Daniel highlighted humans' default thinking, and was a great opportunity to refine our processes to create even more value for those we work with.


Reynaldo is one of our bright young sparks currently doing an internship at The Lab.