Design thinking

Design thinking and Madonna

This past weekend I was stuck in a backseat for a long road trip. The journey did include some beautiful scenery, but to pass the time, we weary wanderers decided to use Spotify for a music game. Starting with a song, any random song, you then select one of the artists that come up as part of that artist’s playlist. Like true software engineering nerds, we set a goal. “Get to Madonna” first mistake, we didn’t do our research to see if you could even get to her on Spotify (we did later, but I will get to that). So off we sprang from 70s rock and Marshall Tucker to Foghat to a small dip 80s hair bands trekking our way through their favs and selecting an artist to see where it took us next. We waded through a few classic 80s rock bands almost in a loop already, until suddenly there was a hint of a different genre when a new wave band appeared, The Cars. So, happily down the new path we went, enjoying the many songs from new wave and punk, going deeper into sub genres until we realized we were seeing a pattern of artists appear, all in this classic, and awesome I might add, music.

But we were getting farther from our goal. How would we reach Madonna? Until, boom Cyndi Lauper appeared.

That’s a no-brainer right? But then, Culture Club appeared and we couldn’t resist the temptation to listen to that wonderful tune so loved by many…and away we went. surely, Karma-chameleon would arrive at some options that would work.. From there we dipped back slightly into punk, but somehow found a way to Jackson 5.

Why not 5?

I will stop here and say, we had paused for a quick discussion on more strategic thinking. Okay what we actually did was ask, ‘who gets us to Madonna?’ So, it was strategy in that we asked a question that could require some research. But strong opinions prevailed and we agreed that Michael Jackson absolutely must get us to Lady M. So, when we hit George Michael…yes! Gold! Then from there, Prince and got the Jackson 5, we selected them, right? Of course not. Strategy was out the window and fun opinion took control again and off we went from Prince to Terrance Trent D’Arby. I mean who could resist that one-hit wonder?

After the euphoria dissipated, we realized we had found our way into late 80s, early 90s R&B. We wandered through New Edition, BBB, Bobby Brown, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Tina Marie, and a myriad of other names that dropped us in this loop. Once Jermaine Jackson appeared and we debated if this could possibly get us to our Madonna goal. No, how could it if Prince didn’t. But wait? Wasn’t it MJ who we believed would get us there? Hold on guys we need a new plan; we are stuck.


We paused and the ‘Spotify controller’ (an unofficial toad trip title) did a quick search to see if you could even find Madonna on Spotify. Yes, confirmed. But who has Madonna in their playlist? Wasn’t she ruling the world as she so confidently told Dick Clark in the early 80s on American Bandstand? Shouldn’t she be in everyone’s playlist from the 80s and 90s? Apparently not.

Then we asked another question. Is the history created by our selections causing certain artists to appear and not necessarily brining up the most popular to that artist. We didn’t know, so we tried for another half hour going deeper into R&B.

Throwing in the proverbial towel

“uncle!” I exclaimed. It’s time for Rick Astly. So we entered a new band, and with a couple selections, including Taylor Dane, and yes Lisa Lisa again, we were back with some of the R&B selections. Somehow, it had to be miraculously, we made our way back to Lauper, whom I posited very early should have gotten us there. But, no Madonna! How could it be? All bets were off at this point and it was time to reverse engineer. Who is on Madonna’s list?

What we learned is although Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and a few other artists (Lisa Lisa…I know, right?) were on Madonna’s list, they did not have her on their lists. What did we learn? Well, primarily we learned we knew nothing of the algorithm logic for Spotify. But we enjoyed the trip down song memory lane, we were reminded that sometimes emotion rules over logic especially in group decision making, and we learned that we needed to stop and research, stop and begin again, and sometimes you just have to say Uncle!

Why it matters

It’s easy to get caught as a marketer in doing before learning. But it just as important to avoid the analysis paralysis of planning. Finding the right balance of the two ends of the spectrum is important. And depending on the team, the topic and the tendencies of the audience there is a delicate balance of how much one plans before getting down to tactics. In twenty years I still find myself stuck in the loops. But Design Thinking is all about creating methodologies to move quickly from plan to implementation and into testing and improving. That’s what this blog will be about. Let’s try this together.

Just purchased the audio book and the accompanying workbook, pictured here. Devouring it, so expect some examples and anecdotes soon.