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DNA and Design-Thinking

In the world of technology, buzzwords come and go at a ridiculous speed. Some of them are good, others just a fad. “Design thinking” is amongst the new hot trends, sitting just beside “critical thinking” and “empathy”.

Although design-thinking has been around for as long as we existed, somehow the technology industry seems to have recently rediscovered the term, giving birth to numerous articles and Ted Talks, including this one.

In work, our team is working through “Designing your life”, a book about using design thinking to achieve personal and professional goals. In the new Product Management course I am joining this fall, Design-Thinking is a module in the curriculum. And even my father told me the other day that I should use a design-thinking framework when thinking about starting my own business.

It is not by chance that while reading “The Gene” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, a very special lightbulb went off in my head.

It is in this Venn-diagram world of science and technology trends that I realized that many thousands of years ago, our bodies have perfected the best way to solve problems in the agilest way.

The survival of any species depends on its ability to reproduce. It would be inconceivable to create a fully formed multi-cell organism to start with. Therefore, evolution created a mechanism for reproduction that collapsed an organism into a single cell that carries information to build every other cell in the human body (DNA).

The DNA is a collection of genes that enabled a single cell to become a fully formed organism.

The evolutionary design-thinking mechanism diluted a problem to its most basic statement in order to create a solution that would generate a minimum viable product able to improve itself throughout its lifecycle via hundreds of iterations.

The DNA is such a clever evolutionary solution because it enables one single cell, to decode the message that a collection of genes carry into RNA. Once transformed into RNA, it can produce a protein that enables the cell to function in a determined way.

So, I decided to mirror evolution’s successful approach to design thinking with my team, and here is the framework I designed for us to use when solving problems:

Define the Problem Statement – This should be no more than one paragraph, as any unnecessary detail will cloud the solution-seeking mindset you need in order to think outside the box. Evolution had one word: Survival.

Brainstorm Solutions – Find out what is the quickest, most cost efficient and highest quality solution your team can bring to the table to develop the minimum viable product necessary to solve this problem. Reproduction was the best solution found by evolution in order to survive.

Roadmap to Minimum Viable Product – Once the team has agreed on the solution, design the roadmap on how you will get from where you are right now, to where you need to be. The “DNA to RNA to Protein to Function” cycle, was the evolutionary roadmap to reproduction and ultimately survival.

Grind – Just like evolution depends on solid months of work in order to produce a baby, creating the MVP of your solution will depend on the work of the team involved in the project. And the team’s ability to deliver is closely tied to understanding the core message of its tasks.

Effective Feedback Mechanisms – The possibility for delays, roadblocks, and red flags in your project are high, and just like proteins also have the ability to regulate genes in order to evolve in all sorts of external conditions, it is important that your team feedbacks on projects often, in order to correct, adapt and keep moving towards the initial goal.

You will likely see a lot of these steps in your own thinking process, but putting a framework around it allows you to centralize, measure progress and communicate better to your stakeholders.

We ran our first project using this framework and seeing the results build up quickly, just like a growing organism was quite a step in our own organizational evolution.

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1 Comment

  • Matt Sheppard May 22, 2017

    Very thought provoking. Nice job, Daphne.

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