All entries for Friday 02 July 2010

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
Kimbell, L. Design-as-practice and designs-in-practice, online at
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.

Experiential learning and design thinking

From David Kolb's Experiential Learning:

"All the models above [Lewin, Dewey, Piaget, Freire etc] suggest the idea that learning is by its very nature a tension and conflict-filled process. New knowledge, skills, or attitudes are achieved through confrontation among four modes of experiential learning. Learners, if they are to be effective, need four different kinds of abilities - concrete experience abilities (CE), reflective observation abilities (RO), abstract conceptualization abilities (AC), and active experimentation (AE) abilities. That is, they must be able to involve themselves fully, openly, and without bias in new experiences (CE). They must be able to observe their experiences from many perspectives (RO). They must be able to create concepts that integrate their observations into logically sound theories (AC), and they must be able to use these theories to make decisions and solve problems (AE). Yet this ideal is difficult to achieve. How can one act and reflect at the same time? How can one be concrete and immediate and still be theoretical? Learning requires abilities that are polar opposites, and the learner, as a result, must continually choose which set of learning abilities he or she will bring to bear in any specific situation." (Kolb, 1984: 30)

Just as successful design requires the application of potentially conflicting attitudes. Tim Brown describes how they can be represented (metaphorically, and physically) as separate spaces, and how this makes it easier for the design team to move between the different attitudes as required.

Kolb, D Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Prentice Hall, 1984.