Taking this risk of innovation through individual and above all collective activity, even if it means overhauling a historic business model, is a bit like the ambition of design thinking.

Design thinking is an approach to innovation based on co-creativity, which has become quite naturally essential in the development of the products and services of Web giants, which today leaves its mark on the global entrepreneurial ecosystem, whatever ‘in the sector. Its origins are multiple, but let’s say that it draws mainly from a theoretical corpus studied at Stanford University before it was simplified, enriched and widely transmitted to the entrepreneurial world by David Kelley and Tim Brown, co-founder and president of the company of design and consulting Ideo.

Three periods mark the development of this corpus.

The first, at the end of the 1950s, focused the reflection of its initiators on creativity and design; the second, with Bob McKim, evolves design thinking into “human centered design thinking”, that is to say, it places the response to a human problem at the heart of a creative and iterative process; the third phase, more recent, expands the corpus by confronting it with the reality of businesses and completes it with the fundamental contribution of multidisciplinary teams, exchanges and cooperation.

Much more than a method of innovation, design thinking is in reality a new way of perceiving human relationships in the professional context and of questioning our way of living, learning and working in the 21st century.

Concretely, an effective design thinking process, as proposed by Ideo, aims to discover the problem, sometimes unconscious, which is important to resolve and which is a source of opportunity. It takes place in several closely spaced stages, which punctuate the innovation process. There are generally five stages: empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping and testing.

Empathy is listening to the needs of others, monastic obedience. Design thinking obeys the consumer and their emotions; it is amoral, that is to say neutral. This is also its main bias, cause or symptom of the times we live in.
David Kelley, founder of the Stanford d.school and Ideo, expressed in an interview that he is not a “do gooder”:
I’m not interested in social good. I mean I’m interested in social good as a person, but not as an educator.

It’s his students who are asking him to work there! Times are changing… Obeying the consumer, paying attention to him, taking his opinion into consideration, understanding his needs, even discovering the need that he has not explained, does not mean listening to God. Saint Paul tells us:

Brothers, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovable, all that is honorable, all that there can be good in human virtue and praise, this is what should concern you. What you have learned, received, heard from me and observed in me, this is what you must practice?.

One of the main difficulties in applying social doctrine in our daily work lies in what seems like a contradiction between effective and profitable listening and listening to God. It is this duty of discernment to which she invites us. Let us have the audacity, at this moment, to slightly change the first step of the sincerely human approach of design thinking by moving from empathy to charity which is nourished by the truth.

Then comes the time to define the problem to which the team is called to provide a response. What I saw, heard, perceived, I will now define. This is the time to ask the right questions, to create models and to find languages that allow each member of the project team to give “their” point of view, to understand each other and to cooperate. Design thinking is teamwork, without real hierarchy, with multidisciplinary talents.

We can thus meet in a design team an expert in the problem to be solved and people with varied profiles: human resources, sales, user experience, ICT, product, marketing or finance. And all these little people must dare to propose extravagant ideas and collaborate with kindness. Drawing can be a simple language that everyone can use to express themselves, then modeling allows us to synthesize what springs from this creative effervescence. Design thinking is a path that guides people from Babel to Pentecost. Coming from diverse backgrounds, these speakers are excited, speak their own language and understand each other, until a common sense emerges.

The search for the root cause is a collective experience. We are witnessing, during this stage, a form of solidarity.

The Acts of the Apostles remind us how much we need each other, multidisciplinary talents, mutual understanding, to reveal to the world something wonderful that will meet the needs of all. The definition of need is the Upper Room phase, this moment when we have received a gift that we must discern before leaving to pass it on.

After these two moments of inspiration, the key moment of design thinking is the ultra-creative double phase of ideation and prototyping. Ideation constitutes an opening episode. Everyone is encouraged to be open to the craziest, most unusual, most astonishing ideas to solve the problem identified. “How could we…?” It is a fabulous stage of creative tingling which, little by little, through exchange, fraternal correction and a certain realism, will lead the group to model an innovative and coherent response. It will then be necessary to design a prototype, so that a representation of the product can be tested in near-real conditions.

This prototype can take many forms, such as a simple wall of Post-it notes, a model, a web page listing the main characteristics envisaged or a usage scenario. Prototyping is learning simplicity; it pushes us to eliminate what is useless in a product to experience the essential. This vision of the superfluous does not leave us indifferent if we are concerned about the “culture of waste” mentioned by Pope Francis. Prototyping is a generous time, which allows us to collectively deepen the original listening and improve the response provided.

This double phase of ideation and prototyping can often lead the team to realize that they were unknowingly working on something significantly more important for the target people than what had been identified at the start of the process. It’s time for companionship.

Finally comes the confrontation phase with a few users. Testing, in an iterative approach, allows the product, service or process to be further modified until the problem is truly resolved. It is a time of humility. The Rule of Saint Benedict places humility at the heart of the monk’s spiritual journey:

Going down and going up, that’s for sure, here’s what it means: when you make yourself big, you go down; when you get small, you move up.
When you test a job that made an entire team sweat, with great joy, it takes a lot of humility to face failure. Design thinking is also the exercise of the virtue of courage; the courage to brave danger and accept the challenge; the courage to embrace failure and get back to work. And courage truly comes from love.

Design thinking is therefore a human-centered method, likely to result in the creation of innovations that will be good or bad, good or evil, to use the words of the Google manifesto, whether we are listening deep human need or in an elementary and effective business school approach. From a social doctrine perspective, design thinking encourages audacity: we have a vocation as children of God, a goal to achieve, but we must dare collectively, not be satisfied with a simplistic observation, make choices, prototype, test, start again. It teaches us that approach and methods, although necessary to obtain results, are not sufficient.

The construction of the City of God depends mainly on our personal conversion, our openness to the Holy Spirit, our discernment. At the same time, the history of the Church shows us, like Silicon Valley today, that the transformation of men and the world is nevertheless achieved through thoughtful approaches, methods and structures. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, the household of the Emmanuel Community which is based on listening rather than debate, certain elements of the rule of Saint Benedict, the duty of sitting of the Notre-Dame Teams, medieval companionship, are approaches that their users have applied and still apply to the letter. This makes it possible to reproduce on a large scale an intuition realized on a smaller scale.

Thus, we find in the rule of Saint Benedict the principle of “decania”:

If the community is numerous, we will choose some of the brothers who are of good reputation and holy life, and we will establish them as deans. They will watch over their decanaries in everything, in accordance with the commandments of God and the orders of their abbot.

When companies in the digital age, Amazon in particular, talk about teams of “two pizzas” (there are approximately four people per pizza in the United States, which amounts to eight people here) to effectively implement a design process thinking, they are becoming monastic without knowing it.

This rule, which orders people to govern by groups of ten monks, effectively establishes the principle of subsidiarity, which is sometimes so difficult to understand and apply in a larger environment, with its own constraints. A vast organization, through this principle, can thus very concretely become an “interlocking of communities” of different levels, leaving everyone the opportunity to participate, make their voice heard and assume their responsibilities. Two pizzas and a decanie explain the principle of subsidiarity better than the chapter this book devoted to it!

Let’s stop for a moment and take stock to try again to respond to the initial provocation: why, in a short time, have technological groups radically transformed (in their own way) a world that we, Christians, want to transform ( differently) for much longer?

  • They created an open ecosystem.
  • They affirmed and ambitiously deployed a culture.
  • They took the risk of developing models that did not exist.
  • They implemented iterative methods.

Until then, the history of the Church and the missionary impulse of social doctrine do not give us any contraindication…

This text is an extract from the book “GOD, THE COMPANY, GOOGLE AND ME” written by Thomas JAUFFRET.

We invite you to read the following article “The question is more important than the answer.

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