Design Thinking in Singapore

Three weeks ago I had an informal meeting with Jaw Lim, Design Innovation Strategist at the DesignSingapore Council. Very informal, as I I only brought stuff to Singapore that would survive my holiday backpack. You get the image, but like always enthusiasm overcame the usual formalities. Singapore for me, had the image of a successful and strongly regulated country, and I was therefore really curious what made them decide to embrace Design Thinking, and not a regular waterfall model. It was one of the most inspiring days of my holiday.

“Invest in Design and enjoy 400% Tax deductions”

What is the first thing what you would say about “The Asian Professional”? Probably something like that they work hard, are very smart, and are highly focused on efficiency and results. And that you don’t want to compete with them in a Math contest…:) This realistic focus on efficiency and results makes it difficult to remain a front runner, explained Jaw Lim, as the environment is getting to complex for cause-effect thinking. The government therefore searched for more flexible and creative approach, and they found it with the help of IDEO in Design Thinking.

What I like about Singapore is that they dare to focus, and so “Invest in Design and enjoy 400% Tax deductions” helped 6000 professionals to take courses at the DesignSingapore institute with vital success stories as a result . “87% of business agree that design is a crucial factor to success, and 34% have invested more in design activities“(Design for Enterprises brochure). This first round gave the council the credits they needed to move to a large new building this fall, and to open up for a stunning number of 600.000  participants in the coming years. Yes, 600.000… You must be a believer to have goals like these.

Design Thinking as a Team sport

The question is nevertheless: is it possible to incorporate Design Thinking, if conducting art is not an important part of your society? Singapore has the most amazing buildings, but a world leading contemporary arts museum is missing. My friends in Singapore explained that their parents wouldn’t approve a study / career that’s not focussed on business. (You wouldn’t have money for the national hobby: Shopping.) Can you be creative if the national mindset is on efficiency and drawing between the lines?

Jaw Lim explains that they see Design Thinking more like a team sport and Innovation arises between the players. High ego is often one of the major pitfalls. An artist wants to bring his / her own ideas alive, and is less interested in the needs of the audience. How can you see what is needed (empathy) when your ego is in the way? So they really separate both concepts. I think that it would be a great subject for a conference: The tension between EGO and ECO in innovation. Teams have synergy, and at the same time you need people who dare to stand out with ideas that are not wanted at that moment.  The narcissistic visionair vs the brilliant team.

I’m personally convinced that a shared playing field (Design Thinking), shared mindset (Applied Improvisation) and shared goal (Star Trek – to go where no man has gone before) can hold the space for this crucial tension. According to Physics: there is no progress without resistance.

Design Thinking in Practice
De Baak has started a new open enrollment / Incompany program about Design Thinking, build on your own business challenge, called Daring Innovation. Please get in contact if you want to know more! 


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