Design Thinking Lessons from ‘The Godfather’

Until a few days ago, I had never seen this trilogy of the trials and triumphs of the Corleone family.  The mobster genre of film isn’t really my cup of tea, but after much prodding, I decided to bite the bullet (pun unintended!), and watch ‘The Godfather’ series.  I was intrigued by the first part, fascinated by the second part, befuddled by the third part, and while I wish I could have gotten my last three hours back, I realized there were a couple of interesting lessons hiding in the shadows of “The Godfather.” 

While I wouldn’t advocate the violent approach taken in the series, some elements are strangely applicable to Design Thinking.  Now before you smother me with Post-Its (which might be preferable to sleeping with the fishes!), I’m of the opinion that you can learn from pretty much any situation (including movie trilogies), so, have a chuckle with these tongue-in-cheek insights :)

Focus on the cannoli
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”  While that approach does work with idea generation, you can get bogged down with more information than you need, or have more ideas than are currently viable.  It’s essential to discern the really important insights, discard the nonessential pieces, and then charge ahead with what’s really critical to your project.

Be open to compromise
“I hoped we could come here and reason together.  And, as a reasonable man, I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.”
However much you try, it’s going to be very hard to make everyone happy, particularly in situations where multiple stakeholders are involved.  But if you go in with an open mind, and are amenable to different approaches and seeing things from other people’s perspectives, you might arrive at a solution that meets everyone’s requirements.

Be empathetic, but not too emotional
“Never hate your enemies – it affects your judgement.”
This could be a point of contention.  Empathy – the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and see things from their perspective – is one of the cornerstones of Design Thinking, and its user-centered approach to problem solving.  While you have to maintain a sense of empathy for your users, it’s important not to get too emotional, at the risk of drowning out reason.  Don’t abandon emotion and feeling, but ensure that your ideas and insights are based on rational judgement, particularly for those folks who may not be as passionate as you.

Be comfortable with chaos
“Papa’s all alone. I won’t panic.”
There’s a quote that always makes me chuckle in the midst of chaos, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  It’s important to plan and anticipate problems before they happen, but even the best laid plans can fall by the wayside.  You have to be comfortable with chaos, otherwise the smallest spanner in the works is going to send you off course.  Take a deep breath, have a chuckle, embrace the chaos, and you’ll be in a better frame of mind to get back on track.

Good enough can be perfect
“Put your hand in your pocket, like you have a gun. You’ll be alright.”
In an ideal world, everything would go according to plan, and you would have all the time you need.  However, things can quite often go off course, and it becomes necessary to adapt to sometimes manic circumstances.  And while it’s important to strive for perfection, be willing to make do with what’s available, to meet the need at hand.  It echoes one of the key elements of prototyping – it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be good enough to meet the need at hand, and help you move ahead.

When I sat down to watch ‘The Godfather’ series, I thought I would finally understand what all those iconic quotes meant – although I still think “Take the cannoli” is focused on the joys of dessert!  My mind just couldn’t help drawing parallels with Design Thinking – I guess you’re always looking for what you’re most passionate about :)