Nine Dots to Design Thinking

Sep 28, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on Nine Dots to Design Thinking

I attend a weekly class on mindfulness, a form of meditation that emphasizes awareness of the present moment and “being” rather than “doing”. A large component of the class consists of interactive games and exercises meant to illustrate concepts of the mindfulness methodology.

Last week the instructor, Cathy Reinstein, introduced us to a simple mind-game that involves nine dots arranged on a grid-like layout. The goal is to connect all nine dots using only four connected lines, and in the process to demonstrate how our habituation to prior ways of being too often obscures us from approaching problems with a fresh perspective.

Take 10 minutes to try solving it before reading the rest of this article.

Nine Dots game

It occurred to me that this game and its solution powerfully illustrate the concept of design thinking. How so?

Most people see nine dots and label it as a grid, which then informs the process in which they go about solving it. Some even try to “think outside the box” and get creative.

But it is just nine dots. The hackneyed notion of “thinking outside of the box” still implies that it *is* a box.

A more aware approach is to visualize the nine dots as a completely new experience, detached from the box analogy. The solution to the game then becomes much more obvious.

The point of being mindful is not to preconceive outcomes but rather to simply experience what is. Too often we are hyperfocused on “details” and “solutions” and neglect to take in “experience”. Consequently, we miss a large part of what is going on around us in our daily lives.

So how does mindfulness in meditation relate to design thinking in business?

In order to drive a brand, business or product forward, you must begin with an awareness of where you are and where you need to be, coupled with a commitment to jump into the unknown. You must be unafraid to fail or falter. In the process, you must design outstanding customer experiences, like those of Apple, Target or IKEA, that require your company to be open to new and uncharted ways of approaching obstacles.

In business, like in the nine dots game, our lack of awareness often keeps us mired in our problems rather than floating above the problems in a way that they can be solved. We need to be willing to expand beyond our habitual ways of being to create our worldview from scratch. We need to be design thinkers.

Look at your brand, business or product as an entirely new experience. Approach your obstacles with childlike wonder. Be with what *is*. Be mindful. Innovative ideas will flow from this space.

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