Gregory Ronczewski is the Director of Product Design at TeamFit platform – view his profile on TeamFit
Top Image: The Collegium Maius, the oldest building in the Jagiellonian University (Kraków, Poland), dating back to 14th century. Photo credits: Gregory Ronczewski


When we talk about skills, Design Thinking comes back time and again. Steven Forth wrote several times on the subject sharing with readers of this blog his definition contrasted with what other people think about the elusive skill. Or, is it a skill at all? I am ready to weight in on the subject.

For me, Design Thinking is an approach or a process. It is not a single skill but a combination of approaches to problem-solving combined with a few techniques that, of course, require several skills. Above all, it is a state of mind, a way to see the world. It is what they taught us at art school before David Kelley (IDEO) made the idea famous. But I believe its life begins earlier, much earlier. Let’s start in the early sixth century BC.

I am finishing reading another book by Carlo Rovelli titled Anaximander. In the Introduction, the author explains that “the nature of scientific thinking”—in the context of ancient Greek philosophy and science—is the key subject of his book. In Rovelli’s words “… its strength lies not in the certainties it reaches but in the radical awareness of the vastness of our ignorance. This awareness allows us to keep questioning our knowledge, and, thus, to continue learning.” I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the questioning our knowledge and iterative process of the Design Thinking approach. The linking element, apart from the questioning, lies in connecting and not separating science from humanity.

“Richard Buchanan’s 1992 article “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” expressed a broader view of design thinking. The frame is addressing intractable human concerns through design.” If the rejection of certainty is one of the main ingredients of Scientific Thinking, I ask if the same could be said about Design Thinking? Or, any process for that matter. The success of Design Thinking lies not in the structured process (there are too many versions to follow anyway), but in adding the human factor to the equation. But really, shouldn’t we always add the human element, regardless of the nature of the process? I think, at the end of the day, no matter what the project, a human will participate in one way or another. The design community was probably the most visible to acknowledge this. The human factor is built into the design. Watch Dieter Rams10 principles of good design on Vimeo – it’s all about people. It is the open-mindedness, the desire to share and discuss opinions, that is behind good design practice. We leverage and build on existing concepts but are not afraid to leap forward into unknown.

Rovelli’s book takes us to ancient Miletus in 610 BC, the year Anaximander was born. This was the Golden Age of Greek civilization. Positioned at the crossroads between major cultural centres, it was a place where new ideas flourished. Did Anaximander and his colleagues use Design Thinking? Or Scientific Thinking for that matter? Or was it just thinking, thinking freed from restrictions, supported and surrounded by other thoughts. I believe, being immersed in the thinking process shared with others is one of the linking elements. Of course, throughout history, we have those incredible thinkers who leaped forward – Copernicus, Newton, Einstein. Some of them worked alone, but there is always a seed that inspired them. For Copernicus, was it one of his teachers? John of Głogów was dean of the department of arts at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. He is thought to have been one of the teachers of Nicolaus Copernicus, who enrolled at the University in 1491. His greatest passions were grammar, Aristotelian logic, physics, physiology, and astronomy. He is reputed to have been the first in Poland to note the discovery of America. Was it something in the atmosphere of the University of Kraków which set the tone to question the status quo and enter the unknown?

Today I read an article in the Financial Times The hidden benefits of hiring Jacks and Jills of all trades by Andrew Hill. The author discusses the differences between T-shape and M-shape talents in the context of HR departments. He argues that “The pressure to specialize usually drives people in the opposite direction: towards neglect of hobbies, withering of skills, stagnation of talent, and willful ignorance of wider opportunities.” Interestingly, most of the ancient philosophers were also mathematicians, astronomers, and creative writers. We could call them Polymaths.

Back to our times, the idea behind the iterative process delivered by a diverse team is based on the same principle. Some may call it Design Thinking, some Scientific Thinking, but for me, it is just plain thinking. A process in which anything is possible. Because of this multi-facet approach, many skills contribute to the success of whatever is being considered. TeamFit has an advantage in helping to foster the right set of skills, and we know very well the power of the right team. After all, that’s why we built it together. Did we use Design Thinking? Perhaps we did. For sure, many associated and complementary skills went into this project. Interested in the outcome, especially the Competency Model Editor? A demo is one click away.