Want to Make Better Decisions? Know the Difference between Engineering and Design Thinking


There are lots of ways to think. And what you want is you want a toolkit of
ways to think and you want ways to think to be aligned with the problems you’re thinking
about. So we talk about sort of four examples of
ways of thinking. There’s engineering thinking, which is very
prevalent in modern society because we’re a technical society and engineers solve pain
problems to which there are clear repeatable solutions. Once I figure out how to build the Brooklyn
Bridge I can build it again and again; it will work every time. That’s a hard problem but it’s a tame problem. It’s well behaved. It will act tomorrow just like it acted today. Business problems you use optimization thinking. There’s no right answer to your branding,
no right answer to your market share, but you can optimize and that’s a different kind
of thinking. Researchers do analytic thinking. They thought with a premise. They think thin slice it down. They’ve got a questioning the process. Those are ways of thinking. What we call wicked problems, that’s a technical
term developed by some urban planners at Berkeley back in the ’70s, a wicked problem is one
where the criteria for success are unclear, constantly changing; you won’t know you got
the right answer until you find it; and once you found it you can’t reuse it again. You can’t rebuild New York City somewhere
else. You can’t be Dave Evans again. You can’t be somebody else again. So wicked problems are inherently human problems
and they’re messy problems and they’re trying to intersect a future that none of us knows
enough about. So how do you do that? You can’t analyze that. So you build your way for it. In design we build our way forward. And we build our way forward by sneaking up
on the future through this iteration of prototypes; get curious; ask a question; understand it;
try something; learn something; do it again, do it again until you get enough of an idea
that you can implement and actually solve the problem. We have two kinds of prototyping: engineering
prototypes and design prototypes. I should also clarify every time I say the
word design here I mean design as in designed thinking or technically human centered design. The design program at Stanford was formed
in the ’60s. It’s over 54 years old. It’s the eldest interdisciplinary program
at the university, the marriage of art, human factors and mechanical engineering. It’s actually located in the ME department
it’s where we technically work. And that design was conceived as an innovation
methodology, not as craft. Most designers in the world were trained in
the craft of design. Graphic designers can draw and lay things
out and industrial designers can shape things. Even ergonomic designers can shape things
in a particular kind of a way. Stanford designers do design thinking and
design thinking is a methodology, it’s not reliant upon craft and so it’s highly transferable. So when I talk about design prototype I mean
a design thinking prototype. Engineers prototype things to prove that that
tame solution to that team problem they figured out does in fact work correctly. I actually have a masters in thermal sciences. I haven’t used it much but there you go. I used to know how to calculate flame speed
and design a turbine engine. So if I’m going to design a turbine engine,
I’m General Electric, I’m going to run prototypes in a big soundproof cinder block box so when
it blows up people don’t get hurt and prototype one and prototype two and prototype three
are different variations on the turbine blades, on this big fan that spends 100,000 RPM and
we’re going to make sure that it works under stress conditions and if it breaks we’re going
to make a modification. We’re going to get that engineering done right. That’s engineering prototyping to prove that
the idea I had works correctly. Because I already think I know what the answer
is. A design prototype is not to prove my end
solution right, it’s to find out what I want to do in the first place. So an engineering prototype starts with a
conclusion, a design prototype starts with a curiosity. So when we do prototyping in design like what
do I want to know more about? I can either think about that or I can try
it. So this is the empirical embodied experience
of going out and trying things. So, for instance, when I was the first mouse
product manager at Apple many, many years ago we prototyped the mouse. Now the mouse was, of course, an electro mechanical
device. It had this little ball and it had Schmidt
trigger LED detectors in it that were brand-new technology and those things could be engineering
prototyped. But whether or not you like the way it felt
in your hand or rolling this thing around on the desk and then looking at the screen
over there made sense to you, we had no idea how that was going to go. We had hundreds of prototypes. One button or two? I had long and religiously ideologically animated
conversations with Larry Sessler and Steve Jobs about one button or two and modelessness
and double clicking. There’s no answer to those questions, you
have to try them. So we did lots and lots of prototypes of process
or experience and lots of prototypes of shape and we ended up with the mouse and the many
mice we have today. Couldn’t have engineered that, we had to design
that. Example of a life prototype. So there’s a woman we know, actually an example
who didn’t do much prototyping. We’ll call her Ellen. And she was an HR executive but loved Italian
food and had always dreamed of having an Italian deli. And she decided to go for it. So she went for it. So she saw this old deli that was for sale. She bought it. She quit her job. She refurbished the whole thing. She redesigned it. She laid it out. She put in a little café because she wanted
to replicate this experience she had living in Tuscany briefly. And then opened to great fanfare and was wonderfully
successful. Nobody’s successful the first time in a restaurant. It never happens, except she hated it. She loved the idea of it. She loved developing it but not running a
retail establishment. I have to hire people all the time. Most of my employees are high school kids
and they quit on you regular. I have managing inventory lists. None of the reality of running an Italian
deli and café was really delightful to her. Now the prototypes that she could have iterated,
she could have started with visiting a lot of different Italian cafés and talking to
the owner. She could have gotten a job as a bus girl
actually waiting on tables, enough to be a waiter because they sort of have to be trained,
but I can clear the tables and overhear the conversations and see if people are having
as good as time as they think they will in my place. I can try catering on a weekend. I could cater my friend’s daughter’s wedding,
that’s not a very big commitment. No capital is outlaid. Do I really want to cook that much? Lots of ways to try, try, try, try, try before
you jump off the cliff or buy the farm and that will give you feedback about what the
reality really is. What prototypes and design do are they allow
you to ask interesting questions, learn things, expose your assumptions and let you sneak
up on the future. So prototyping is a great way to go through
your life because nobody knows the answer.

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