Disrupt Life With A Little Black Dress


In eight minutes you’ll experience the hottest little black dress of business. It’s transforming my life and can do the same for you, even if you’re a bloke.

This little black dress is so hot right now because it’s on the uptake by smart organisations everywhere, keen to transform and bring market disruption, just as Coco Chanel’s original LBD forever changed the way western women dress.

Check out the image (left) which features a reinvention of the original 1926 LBD and was popularised in Hollywood blockbuster Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Wicked problems

The hottest LBD of business is Design Thinking, inspired and created by designers hence its name. It’s actually a mindset – supported by a methodology – for finding and solving wicked problems, based on empathy.

A wicked problem, in Design Thinking-speak, is one that typically resists defining and/or involves ambiguity, many stakeholders, and the desire to change behaviours or beliefs. Only two weeks earlier an insurance brief crossing my desk ticked all those boxes.


Curious to find out what the hottest LBD of business could do for me, I signed up for a three-day course at Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

I was given a memorable experience, from the time I called for more information to the course unfolding and ending last week. I even made a bunch of new friends.

Problem finding in a live brief

A highlight was working in a team to apply Design Thinking to address a live brief: to build a creative space for an MGSM room.

It was the horriblest of rooms begging for a zhoosh. Picture a brick room with no natural light and minimal colour, apart from a dull blue-black carpet. No wonder it remained unused.

I wanted to drop the sun and wind from Hawaii into the gloomy room

I wanted to drop the sun and breeze from Hawaii into the gloomy room

Standing in the gloomy room, my team – like the other two – solved the problem in a nanosecond. Add sunlight, colour and bean bags stat! This brief was a no-brainer, for sure.

Bring in the new

In an instant we 10 course participants fell into the traditional way of solving problems.

We hadn’t yet realised that our brief was full of wickedness. A new layer of wickedness was revealed the deeper we pursued and played with our new mindset.

It was sort of like the dating and mating experience of a cousin who now steers clear of women in fancy bars wearing micro-LBDs. He says the experience of women he used to target, underneath their layers of material, makeup and hair, has been confusing and, at times, mind-boggling.

I had a similar reaction as we peeled back layers of the brief through applying Design Thinking methodology, its tools and techniques.

New style of creative thinking

whiteboard wicked assumptions

To address the brief, all three teams applied empathy, defined the problem through finding more problems, devised clever questions to ask MGSM, ideated, generated insights, and built and tested our prototype. It was a new style of focused creative thinking that set me free.

The best part of the experience was that we didn’t need to be right and more on that later. Instead, we worked towards creating a useful and better outcome, which is at the heart of Design Thinking.

Along the way, my team burned through 84 Post-It notes, six sheets of butcher’s paper, tubs of Play Doh, Lego, doodles, drawings, maps and lots of lollies.

postit notes

The journey also included a steady stream of verbal tweets thrown out by rad facilitator Mo Fox: “Always ask, to what purpose?”; “what if?”; “find out what juices you”; “use your curiosity”; “go from suck to not suck”; “no PowerPoint or chevrons”; “failure is elegant”; and “you’ll get a Jenny Craig moment this week!”

Building a prototype

After around 18 hours each team produced a cost effective prototype to best capture their response to the brief. Soon, it was time to test our prototypes with the client, a Big Cheese from MGSM.

My team’s response to the brief was to create a 3D sensory learning experience for all users of the room. Notice how we pimped out the original brief? Key elements included getting community support, driven by social media, to zhoosh the space; projecting captivating images on a wall; and adding a skylight. You already guessed there was a limited budget.

lego with soldier

Our final prototype used a combo of Lego and a storyboard featuring our journey as a tweet-size fairytale to bring to life our response to the brief. It was so cool we wanted to lick it. You know how much I love licking ideas.

The Big Cheese liked the sensory stuff and gave us positive feedback with a few areas to work on; he approached the other teams in a similar way. Yes, in Design Thinking-world there’s a better way to give feedback.

Aussie companies adopt Design Thinking

Somewhere during the course, I also heard a cluster of business and personal success stories of using Design Thinking. What a bummer I can’t share any case studies as Chatham House Rule was in place.

I can tell you, though, that many Aussie operations including CBA, IAG, Deloitte and SAP successfully use Design Thinking.

My Jenny Craig moment

Our fairytale ended with the room users loving 'my MGSM' and living happily ever after

Our tweet-size fairytale ended with room users loving ‘my MGSM’ and living happily ever after

By the way, I really did have a Jenny Craig moment. Design Thinking is about creating stuff that’s useful; it’s not about finding the ‘right’ answer or solution. What’s more, failure is encouraged.

After three days, I emerged lighter and brighter; my mind had lost several kilos. It’s so freeing to not have to strive to be right and, instead, create with a focus on making things better.

Right now I’m applying Design Thinking to the wickedest of problems: how to solve a mystery plaguing our building; who exactly is the noisy neighbour and how to end the noise-fest?

Be sure to follow the next post which features an experiment with Design Thinking. 

  • What wicked problems in the world do you most want to solve using Design Thinking?

One comment

  1. […] experience of the hottest little black dress of business was technicolour, while the online course introduction is a little beige. Sorry, MGSM. I promise […]

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