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Design Thinking vs Business Thinking

Alexander Osterwalder

I've been more deeply into the topic of design thinking for several months now. One thing I have always wanted to do was to compare more traditional "business thinking" with the "design thinking" trend that is currently captivating the business world.

Luckily, Luke Wroblewski has given this a try on his blogpost title "A Difference of Design".

I really like the table in which he opposes the "business approach" with the "design approach", though I don't think the world is as black and white, as Luke describes it.

I copied the table below (though the formatting didn't really want to follow my design wishes)

  Business Approach Design Approach
Problem Solving Approach


Definitive. Relies on equations for “proof”. Iterative. Relies on a “build to think”
process dependent on trial and error.
Validation through What customers say: often a combination of qualitative
(focus groups) and quantitative (surveys) research.
What customers do: often direct observation and
usability testing.
Informed by Market analysis and aggregate consumer behavior. Direct consumer observation and abductive reasoning
(“what might be”).
Completed Completion of strategy phase marks the start of
product development phase.
Never: continually evolving with customers.
Focused on An understanding of the results
of customer activities.
An understanding of customer activities.
Tools used to communicate strategic
Spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks. Prototypes, films, and scenarios.
Described through Words (often open to interpretation). Pictorial representations and direct experiences
with prototypes.
Team members Vertical expertise and individual responsibilities. “T-shaped” expertise: a principal vertical
skill and a horizontal set of secondary skills. Collaborative (team) responsibilities.
Work patterns Permanent jobs, on-going tasks, and fixed hours. temporary projects with associated tasks and flexible
Reward structure Corporate recognition based on the bottom line. Peer recognition based on the quality of solutions.

I think this reflection on the difference between business thinking and design thinking is a good start to understand how strategy, business, and management is shifting the information age (numbers, facts & info dominate) towards the conceptual age (relationships and understanding dominates).

I will come up with more in-depth reflection when I have the opportunity to dig even deeper into this topic.

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