Innovators Start Your Engines



(Or, Design Thinking’s Fatal Flaw)


If I asked you to choose between two machines that could determine how your organization might compete, create value, grow market share, increase revenues, and deliver impact in the future how would you know which one to pick?

Chief Innovation Officers have been kicking the tires on design thinking’s engine for more than a few years now. But Think Wrong is not just this year’s model.

What’s the difference?

Design thinking and thinking wrong are both problem solving systems. Like a machine, each requires certain inputs, performs specific functions, and generates outputs that produce value.

Design thinking is defined by IDEO (the driving force behind popularizing design thinking) as: “A human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

At Future, we define thinking wrong as: “The ability to conquer biology and culture to change things from how they are to how they might be.”

Picture design thinking as a machine that puts the the person for whom you are solving at its center.

Picture thinking wrong as a machine that puts the impact your organization wants to have and the people to whom that impact matters at its center.

Design thinking produces simpler, more intuitive solutions than what existed before—solutions that reflect the users’ environments, ways of operating, and their cultures.

Thinking wrong produces unexpected, disruptive solutions that break the biases, orthodoxies, and assumptions that form that status quo and have the ability to drive the positive change their champions aspire to create in the world.

IDEO and design thinking found their way into the popular vernacular in 1999, when ABC’s Nightline ran a story on them. That segment included IDEO’s redesign of the shopping cart. It featured their user-centered observations in supermarkets and what they revealed about shoppers’ behaviors. It showcased IDEO’s futuristic cart with a detachable basket—IDEO had noted that shoppers repeatedly parked their carts and walked down aisles for specific items. They designed a cart that had the potential to improve things for shoppers. Disappointingly, 17 years later, shopping carts remain largely unchanged and unimproved.

Think Wrong problem solving machine would not have started with observations of shoppers. Instead, it would begin by exploring what the client (grocers in this case) most aspired to accomplish. Thinking wrong would challenge the grocers to be bold and to imagine the greatest impact they might have. It would ask: “What value are they seeking to produce for the communities they serve, their stakeholders, society at large, the environment, and future generations?” It would invite shoppers into the process, to ensure their wants, needs, and ideas were central solutions that might create that positive change. It would enable grocer and shopper to imagine, prototype, and implement new ways of shopping that might lead to that impact together.

Like design thinking clients, think wrong clients need help putting their customers, beneficiaries, constituents, members, partners, and people at the center of their design efforts. But they also want to have impact that is not just marginally better than others. They want to change the game. They want what John and I have for years had called “Big D” design. Not the decorative stuff that gets applied after the strategic thinking has been done, but the kind that has the power to change the course of markets, nations, society, and future generations.

So, choose design thinking when you want to make a significant improvement to the way things are. But if you’re aim is to change the way things are to how you think they should be, choose thinking wrong.


“REBBL has $1 billion opportunity ahead of it. That’s quite a market for a company that currently has annual sales of less than $10 million, and just six employees.” Mark Rampolla, co-founder of PowerPlant Ventures, in a recent Fortune Magazine article.

REBBL is a wonderful example of what the Think Wrong engine can produce. It was born at Not For Sale’s Montara Circle, where Future helped more than 50 leaders from across the private and public sectors take on the challenge of ending the exploitation of villagers and their environment in the Peruvian Amazon. The result, a refreshing tonic made, in part, from ingredients purchased from those villagers, economically inoculating them from exploitation. “We love launching products that have the power to change culture, start conversations, and challenge the status quo” says Palo Hawken, co-founder of REBBL in this recent BEVNET release.


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