In a recent blog entry on graduate business schools, I mentioned “design thinking,” a term that may be unfamiliar to many readers. In a fascinating January 20 interview with Public School Insights, a blog of the Learning First Alliance, professor and business innovator David Kelley provides satisfying answers to anyone in the dark about what exactly “design thinking” is. In addition to founding the world-class design company IDEO, Kelley has been a professor at Stanford’s unique Institute of Design (nicknamed “d.school”) for over 30 years. Like LCI’s Imagination Conversations initiative, much of Kelley’s current work is dedicated to reshaping American public education—but how does he want to change it, and why?
Design thinking, Kelley explains, may be thought of as a counterpoint to analytical thinking, the kind usually taught in K-12 classrooms. It’s “more experimental … less step-by-step…. fuzzier…. intuitive…. empathic…. it’s integrative thinking … synthesis.” In other words, design thinking prepares people to think imaginatively and act creatively—and to exercise these capacities routinely. Combined with basic skills—in the domains of math and science, for example—it enables students to come up with bold, surprising ideas that the skills alone cannot produce; and for students who have trouble mastering the basics in the first place, design thinking offers projects and hands-on experiences that excite them and motivate them to learn.
Despite his energy and optimism, Kelley is realistic about the challenges facing him and other proponents of 21st-century skills. Test-oriented school curricula—where emphasized to an overwhelming degree—may leave little room for design thinking, and persuading people of its worth is extremely difficult. “My opinion is that we have to get analytical about measuring the power of design thinking,” says Kelley, “so that we can convince the people who are running the world that it has value.” We at Lincoln Center Institute agree emphatically. And we look forward to hearing about the d.school’s progress in this regard!
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