Design thinking in Dubai

November 15, 2008

Reflecting on my recent attendance at the WEF Global Agenda Council summit in Dubai, it is clear that the depth of the current crisis is unprecedented and that doing 'more of the same' will not be enough. The overall theme from the final plenary session was "Re-boot". A call to re-visit and reinvent many of our current systems and approaches.

The term "sustainable and restorative" innovation emerged. I don't know what this means but it sounds interesting to explore. What would restorative innovation be?

A few other ideas emerged that seemed to resonate with design thinking:

The need for the re-design of regulation. The current regulatory environment has not served us well but it is not clear that simply more regulation would help. Much of the discussion in the design council (see Bruce Nussbaum's blog for more info on this) was about achieving transparency of information. Maybe this is a better form of regulation.

Exploring safe futures. Peter Schwartz, who invented scenario planning, criticized business and government for failing to explore potential futures in a safe way. He suggested that visualizing scenarios of potential futures would help us explore implications in a more productive way. There is an obvious role for designers here.

Tapping into the talent of all our people. The concensus was that the current problems, and more importantly achieving a sustainable future, cannot be solved without accessing the talent of all society. My view is that to do this we need new skills and the ability to be generative via design thinking is one of them.

Sector interdisciplinary collaboration. Bruce Nussbaum does a nice job of describing a frustrating session that he and I spent with the climate change council where it was clear that there are great risks associated with tackling these problems in silos. Design thinking forces interdisciplinarity.

Silver buckshot. While the metaphor is a little unfortunate, the idea was proposed that we need silver buckshot not silver bullets. This strikes me as a call for divergence as an alternative to convergent thinking.

While I can be legitimately criticized for seeing every conversation as an opportunity for design thinking, I came away from Dubai with a strong feeling that design can make a contribution to improving the way we tackle the deep systemic issues the world now faces. The other good news was that designers were invited to the table to participate in the discussion. Not something that would have happened in the past.