Emily Pilloton, founder of Project H Design,  is applying design thinking — the ability to exploit opposing ideas and opposing constraints to create new solutions — to advance the welfare of children in the poorest county in North Carolina. She is engaging students, teachers, administrators, parents and the community in a new way to solve social problems.

So often in the work of improving the human condition, we deal with opposing ideas and constraints that leave us feeling we have to choose either/or.

Take education, for example:

  • either we work on the entire school system or we focus on changing one school at a time;
  • either we focus on building the capacity of principals and teachers or on parents and kids;
  • either we fix the buildings and the grounds around a school or we improve the tools (books, computers, etc.)

The list goes on and on. Instead of leaving ourselves with a binary solution, design thinking moves individuals through the complexity to find new solutions in the AND.

Roger Martin from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto describes design thinking as “the intersection of analytical thinking (prove something through deduction and induction) and intuitive thinking (to know without reasoning).”

Too often in our rush to get to a solution, we miss the deeper opportunity that will be more enduring and effective. If you find yourself in a situation in which you are facing an either/or solution, more than likely you are missing a larger opportunity. Emily didn’t say, either I help the school improve or I help the community gain new life. Rather, she found the intersection of the two via a design process that delivers higher quality education that has economic benefit to the community.

How might we begin to solve our social problems in a different way? My view is that design thinking will play a major role in the years ahead. What do you think?

Other Blog Posts on Social Impact Design

Social Impact Design: A New Way
Design + Social Impact: Why Do They Belong Together?
Social Impact Design: Why Detroit?
Social Impact Design: Design Thinking
Job #1: Design For Joy
Now, Near and Far: Tri-Zone Leaders
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