The dipsuchos CIO – design or systems thinking?

The dipsuchos CIO – design or systems thinking?

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Living in a hybrid world, powered by the internet across all geographical boundaries right through to the very edge of human innovation requires continuous design and vision. Consequently, the CIO and technology is at the centre driving and enabling effective services.

The CIO is principally the Chief Service Officer – providing needed services to the organisation it tends in order to help the organisation serve its customers/citizens.

The IT operating structure is designed within service principles in its infrastructure, development, design, testing, and operations – they exists to provide service to each other, and by extension to the organisation’s customers.  The objective of the CIO hence is to serve and provide something to the benefit of others.

In order to deliver an effective service, IT since its beginning in the 1930s has produced systems structures across all levels of technology and its management leading to “systems thinking” as the ultimate approach to analysing structures.  Systems thinking brakes things down into their component parts in order to understand them – essential in software design, building and strategy.  However, this is now NOT ENOUGH to service the changing hybrid world of demanding consumers and disruptive technologies.

CIOs must become design thinkers through the use of synthesis to create value and solve problems.

Naturally when we think of design and ultimately prototyping we think of physical objects – like the prototype fighter plane that is flown by maverick test pilots.  However, design is no longer just for physical objects – it can be applied to abstract entities such as IT, devising strategies, managing change and solving complex problems

Design thinking promotes the idea of visual thinking that forms practical and creative solution-focused thinking. Instead of defining all the parameters of a problem, it starts with a better future in mind not with a specific problem to solve.

The hybrid world with digital disruption at its core is undergoing a cataclysmic seismic shift towards faster co-created services and products that shift the way we view our world. This business environment is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA[1] ) with more and more organisations linking passion with the analytical, society with technology and business with social purpose as they seek to reinvent themselves.


I believe that CIO’s must build design thinking principles into their DNA to instil a passion for their users and ultimately their customer’s. The following four points highlight the journey for a CIO in Design Thinking:

  1. Integrating design thinking into the IT strategy towards a future IT target operating model that is focused on holistic and strategic business initiatives. IT people begin to understand the design process within the business, IT designers begin to understand that they must design with ALL business realities in mind, not only those that affect the aesthetics of the end product. Co-producing instead of silo production.
  2. Design thinking instead of just problem solving, this provides a counterpoint to the analytical, best-practice methodologies that have been around for over 100 years.
  3. Design thinking is not a process but a collection of tools and methods. It is an evolution, that does not just focus on one method. Focusing on constantly building a collaborative capability across a range of disciplines that can think critically, solving problems creatively, seeing things systematically and engaging in co-creation using a strategic mindset.
  4. Design thinking becomes a discipline with cultural, personal and strategic implications. This will fundamentally change the IT operating model and ultimately the organisation by demonstrating wins on simple products and services.

Ultimately as a competence, it is essential that Design Thinking be a fundamental capability/skill for the whole of the organisation but in particular IT.  It will be IT’s opportunity to shine in a disruptive world by innovating through creativity and execution.

[1] The US military’s term for [this] kind of environment is VUCA—“Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous.” The acronym came out of the US Army War College in the late nineties to describe the new operating conditions that world military leaders had to face—the rise of terrorism, global political instability, and asymmetrical warfare. 

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