July 02, 2010

Kolb and Kimbell on the difference between creative/design thinking and decision thinking

Follow-up to Experiential learning and design thinking from Inspires Learning - Robert O'Toole

Kolb identifies a common distinction between creative practice and managerial (decision making) practice:

"...creativity research has tended to focus on divergent (concrete and reflective) factors in adaption such as tolerance for ambiguity, metaphorical thinking, and flexibility, whereas research on decision making has emphasized more convergent (abstract and active) adaptive factors such as rational evaluation of solution alternatives." (Kolb, 1984: 32)

In her excellent review of literature on design thinking, Lucy Kimbell finds the same distinction:

"Boland & Collopy (2004) draw on their experience of working with architect Frank Gehry during the design of a new building for their business school. Drawing on Simon (1969), they distinguish between what they call a “design attitude” and a “decision attitude”, finding the latter the basis of management practice and education in which the challenge facing managers is choosing between alternative options. They believe that “the design attitude toward problem solving, in contrast, assumes that it is difficult to design a good alternative, but once you have developed a truly great one, the decision about which alternative to select becomes trivial” (Boland and Collopy 2004: 4). For Boland and Collopy, the decision attitude and analytical techniques used by managers are useful for situations in which problems are stable, whereas a design attitude is necessary when feasible alternative necessary: managers are designers as well as decision-makers." (Kimbell, 2009: 5)

Again the notion of different attitudes appropriate at different times.

Collopy, F. Thinking about "design thinking", online at http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/fred-collopy/manage-designing/thinking-about-design-thinking
Kimbell, L. Design-as-practice and designs-in-practice, online at http://www.lucykimbell.com/LucyKimbell/Writing.html
Kolb, D. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Prentice Hall, 1984.
Simon, H. A. The sciences of the artificial (3rd ed.), MIT Press, 1996.

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