The architectural planning for Ground Zero in New York serves as a good example of where design thinking could have helped. Paul Goldberger’s recent New Yorker article, “A New Beginning: Should Ground Zero be Used for Housing?” (unfortunately not online) describes the emotional situation four years ago when it failed to occur to anyone that the new World Trade Center plan should focus on housing, not office space. In retrospect, it seems obvious. Manhattan needs more residential space, has an office surplus, and the trend in lower Manhattan is toward residential offerings.
An approach that explicitly goes looking for more and different options might have uncovered the obvious sooner. But it requires diligence to honestly question the available options in the midst of emotional rhetoric. Design thinking is, as the name implies, a particular way of thinking, and so not easy to invoke against the tide of conventional judgment thinking. I think some of the advantages we attribute to design thinking will actually come from the courage and cleverness to evoke design thinking at all.