This is your electronic brain. This is your electronic brain with design thinking.

The designer of IBM's Watson computer says we're a long way off from computers being able to mimic human thought processes. But there are ways to extend workplace capabilities.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

"The human mind is a very low-power, small, portable computer attached to a stomach that can run on berries and nuts."  - Brad Becker

Programmer IBM and Paoli-Calmettes Institute-photo from IBM Media Relations
Photo: IBM Media Relations

However, the similarities between cognitive thinking and computer-driven processes tend to stop there, Brad Becker, chief design officer for IBM Watson, said in a recent interview at Knowledge@Wharton. There's still a lot of work to be done until we truly see "humane" computing, in which systems serve as natural extensions of human brains, versus separate systems that must be worked around.

This requires injecting greater "design thinking" into the technology and associated interfaces. Becker provide three pieces of advice to advance design thinking within an organization:

1) Take a step back. "Get out of the building and watch people use your product," Becker advises. "That will tell you what the problems are....  brainstorm, try out, fail fast, go in and focus and come up with what are the most important solutions for these problems. But it starts with understanding your users and, of course, understanding the capability of your technology."

2) Hire professionals or consultants with a design-thinking mindset. "I would hire people who have experience in this, that have a passion for it, and will know how to shepherd a culture that promotes it."

3) Encourage a design-thinking culture. Changing corporate culture is a non-trivial task, of course. But enlisting higher-level decision-makers to promote and evangelize design thinking may help get things started. "Ultimately, your culture has to promote it," says Becker. With Apple, for example, "it’s not that they necessarily have the most designers, but from Steve Jobs on down there was an appreciation of design and the importance that things work well for people and that you keep in mind why you’re doing it. That same culture has been growing at IBM. You have to inculcate a culture that says, 'At the end of the day, we’re trying to solve a problem for somebody or provide some sort of value for someone. We’d better understand and be able to articulate what that is.'”

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