Design Thinking vs. Hybrid Thinking – Do They Differ?

In the last post I wrote about the relationship between UX and CX. Next up, what’s the relationship between design thinking and hybrid thinking? Are they one and the same? Is it just a matter of phrasing, semantics or preferences? In a post I wrote a few weeks back I mentioned an article about the Arum Engineering firm, and in that article a member of the firm makes a very clear distinction about hybrid thinking as a better way of describing Arum’s innovation process. Beyond a hint of what hybrid thinking is, and that it’s not the same as design thinking, the article says little about the difference between the two.

Then I came across an article about hybrid thinking in which the IT consulting firm, Gartner, discussed why they believe hybrid thinking will be of value in enterprise architecture. This one provides a fuller description of hybrid thinking:

Nicholas Gall, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner said, hybrid thinking is the concept of melding design, IT and business thinking to produce strategic changes. “We are seeing several leading companies combining design and other thinking methods, including more traditional approaches, to drive transformative, innovative and strategic change…By integrating design thinking, which is already very popular in business circles but is virtually unknown in IT circles, enterprise architects can focus on the right tempo of operations, enabling them to centre their outcomes on influencing people, rather than systems.”

Based on this quote, hybrid thinking is something broader than design thinking – and it has a specific, intended outcome – strategic change. I would say that design thinking could result in strategic change, but that it more broadly provides a process for approaching problems and creating thoughtful solutions, strategic or otherwise. Also, hybrid thinking appears to have more of an IT component, although it’s not exactly clear how essential that is to a hybrid thinker.

Then I came across this Fast Company design blog post on hybrid thinking as the logical progression to the “next new thing”. In his essay “Beyond Design Thinking” Gadi Amit’s discusses why design thinking may not be enough, and how hybrid thinking improves upon it by doing more than just providing a process for idea generation and innovation. According to Amit, “Having a great idea is a nice first step; making the idea a reality is better and ultimately, making an idea successful in the marketplace is the pinnacle achievement of any designer.” He goes on to say that “hybrid design” is to design what “design thinking” was to “innovation.” While I can’t say Amit provides the accepted definition and perspective on hybrid thinking, it certainly adds to the conversation.

One thing that these articles appear to want to suggest is that design thinking is nice, but that there’s more to design than just the thinking and that hybrid thinking focuses on actually creating something. That leads me to question if those talking about hybrid thinking are missing something about design thinking. Based on my reading about it (starting with Tom Kelley’s seminal book on design thinking, “The Art of Innovation”) the “thinking” in design thinking is but one stage of what I might refer to as the IDEO approach to design thinking. It really encompasses five stages: understand the user, identify the problem, deep dive, prototype, implement. I think it would be difficult to make a case that design thinking doesn’t lead to actual products, when IDEO and other design firms are contributing to the product development process as an essential part of their business. That’s what the implement stage is all about. Hybrid thinking calls to mind the Roger Martin school of thought on design thinking, and his integrative thinking model. Hybrid means combining different people, different ideas, different talents – and merging them to produce something that’s better than the any of the components.

What’s next? How about design thinking and future thinking. That, I think, will need to be a topic for a future column.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

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