Foreign Policy has lost its creativity. Design thinking is the answer.

Elizabeth Radziszewski at The Wilson Quaterly: “Although the landscape of threats has changed in recent years, U.S. strategies bear striking resemblance to the ways policymakers dealt with crises in the past. Whether it involves diplomatic overtures, sanctions, bombing campaigns, or the use of special ops and covert operations, the range of responses suffers from innovation deficit. Even the use of drones, while a new tool of warfare, is still part of the limited categories of responses that focus mainly on whether or not to kill, cooperate, or do nothing. To meet the evolving nature of threats posed by nonstate actors such as ISIS, the United States needs a strategy makeover — a creative lift, so to speak.

Sanctions, diplomacy, bombing campaigns, special ops, covert operations — the range of our foreign policy responses suffers from an innovation deficit.

Enter the business world. Today’s top companies face an increasingly competitive marketplace where innovative approaches to product and service development are a necessity. Just as the market has changed for companies since the forces of globalization and the digital economy took over, so has the security landscape evolved for the world’s leading hegemon. Yet the responses of top businesses to these changes stand in stark contrast to the United States’ stagnant approaches to current national security threats. Many of today’s thriving businesses have embraced design thinking (DT), an innovative process that identifies consumer needs through immersive ethnographic experiences that are melded with creative brainstorming and quick prototyping.

What would happen if U.S. policymakers took cues from the business world and applied DT in policy development? Could the United States prevent the threats from metastasizing with more proactive rather than reactive strategies — by discovering, for example, how ideas from biology, engineering, and other fields could help analysts inject fresh perspective into tired solutions? Put simply, if U.S. policymakers want to succeed in managing future threats, then they need to start thinking more like business innovators who integrate human needs with technology and economic feasibility.

In his 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial, Herbert Simon made the first connection between design and a way of thinking. But it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that Stanford scientists began to see the benefits of design practices used by industrial designers as a method for creative thinking. At the core of DT is the idea that solving a challenge requires a deeper understanding of the problem’s true nature and the processes and people involved. This approach contrasts greatly with more standard innovation styles, where a policy solution is developed and then resources are used to fit the solution to the problem. DT reverses the order.

DT encourages divergent thinking, the process of generating many ideas before converging to select the most feasible ones, including making connections between different-yet-related worlds. Finally, the top ideas are quickly prototyped and tested so that early solutions can be modified without investing many resources and risking the biggest obstacle to real innovation: the impulse to try fitting an idea, product, policy to the people, rather of the other way around…

If DT has reenergized the innovative process in the business and nonprofit sector, a systematic application of its methodology could just as well revitalize U.S. national security policies. Innovation in security and foreign policy is often framed around the idea of technological breakthroughs. Thanks toDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Defense has been credited with such groundbreaking inventions as GPS, the Internet, and stealth fighters — all of which have created rich opportunities to explore new military strategies. Reflecting this infatuation with technology, but with a new edge, is Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s unveiling of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, an initiative to scout for new technologies, improve outreach to startups, and form deeper relationships between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley. The new DIUE effort signals what businesses have already noticed: the need to be more flexible in establishing linkages with people outside of the government in search for new ideas.

Yet because the primary objective of DIUE remains technological prowess, the effort alone is unlikely to drastically improve the management of national security. Technology is not a substitute for an innovative process. When new invention is prized as the sole focus of innovation, it can, paradoxically, paralyze innovation. Once an invention is adopted, it is all too tempting to mold subsequent policy development around emergent technology, even if other solutions could be more appropriate….(More)”