Creating an Ambidextrous Organization

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    Last week I had the opportunity to hear Thomas Lockwood speak about design thinking at the ODN Conference in Baltimore. His ideas support those of others writing on this topic as well as Cairn Consulting’s Situational Thinking. To start let me reinforce his comment that design thinking is not the same as “design,” the former being a mindset the latter a work process. In Situational Thinking, design thinking links the linear and non-linear mindsets. I call it “Episodic Thinking” because it alternates between left and right brain cognition. Episodic Thinkers are contextually aware of their situation, which allows them to adapt their thinking style quickly and experiment by taking small actions. From Tom’s talk I distilled three additional key attributes of design thinking that highlight how they link together the two ends of the Situational Thinking Continuum:

    • Design thinking is strategic (covered this week)
    • Design thinking is collaborative (November 22nd)
    • Design thinking communicates (November 29th)

    Design Thinking is Strategic

    • Design Thinking identifies the right problems and asks the right questions about them. This mindset opens us to the entire conversation continuum (See Figure 1) – dialogue, dialectic, and discussion. Strategy begins by identifying the right challenges and questions, and understanding them through dialogue. After exploring the complexity of the situation (divergence), we can test our assumptions and options with dialectic conversations and move to action (convergence) knowing that our tactics have emerged from the breadth of our conversation and the depth of our understanding.

    • Design Thinking seeks unarticulated needs by seeing the whole system. The story Tom told was the design of Swifter®, a product that I have never liked. What is curious to me is that now that I understand the design thinking that drove its development, I will begin to use it! So, while the design mindset was instrumental in creating a product that saved time, reduced water consumption, and improved the cleanliness of the home, I am not sure that the promotion of the product contained the same mindset. This points out that design thinking must be used throughout the product development and commercialization process.

    Rule of Thumb: Design/Episodic Thinking should be employed anytime you are moving from linear to non-linear thinking (How do we innovate the process of washing the floor?) and from non-linear to linear thinking (How can we make homeowners aware of the design benefits of Swifter®?).

    • Design Thinking harnesses abductive logic in order to adapt to constantly changing market environments. Design Thinking encourages innovation by understanding the practical value of the product as well as its contextual and experiential value. This bundled value is achieved using abductive logic (Figure 2). I loved the way Tom explained abductive logic, placing it between the deductive logic of business tactics (100% Reliability) and the inductive logic of pure design (100% Validity). This provides a way for leaders to understand and use it.

    • Pure business logic, deductive in nature, seeks to be 100% reliable – measurable, repeatable in many different environments and situations, predictable, consistent, and having a low degree of variability. Importantly, reliability does not imply validity; you can reliably measure the wrong thing.
    • Pure design logic, inductive in nature, seeks validity – disambiguation, understanding the need beneath the need, the extent to which a product, service, or idea corresponds to a need or desire in the “real” world (i.e. that of the customer). Design requires experimentation, contextual research, prototyping, co-creation, and fast failure. It seeks to tailor product to customer need and is best for niche markets or personalized customers.
    • Abductive logic recognizes multiple causes or explanations for situations, challenges, and environments (lumped together we could call these “reality”). This expands use and benefit beyond niche or personalized needs. Using hypotheses generated through observation, abductive logic tests for validity and reliability using action research – small steps that encourage feedback from the “reality” being tested in order to integrate the responses into the next prototype. In this way we can orient ourselves within the current reality, picking the best option for moving forward and eliminating those that are less desirable.

    Design / Episodic Thinking uses inductive and deductive logic to gain validity for the widest range of target customer possible in order to increase reliability. The iterative process is abductive; it links successive approximations of “reality,” rapid prototyping your way forward. From physics we can borrow the idea of the wave-particle duality – our multiple and varied options exist as a wave of potential actions, which only collapses when we choose one to act on (particle). In a sense abductive logic only partially collapses the wave, keeping us connected to all the possibilities available to us while maintaining agility and resilience.

    Next week the second aspect of Design Thinking: Collaboration.

    Dr. Carol Mase is a consultant, coach, and small business manager. Contact her at 215.262.6666 and visit for more information.