In today’s globalized world, leaders in every sector of society struggle to keep up with the rate of change all around them. How do you plan for the future when the present is changing so rapidly? How do you develop breakthrough innovations that will be game changing for your industry or ministry?

Design thinking is a way of approaching problem solving that has grown in popularity over the past few decades. 60 Minutes recently did a feature on David Kelley, the director of IDEO, a leading design firm in Silicon Valley: “How to Design Breakthrough Innovations”.

The philosophy of Design Thinking has a variety of components, but none is more important than that of empathy. As shared on the IDEO company blog, “Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.” Empathy is the core of human-centered design: being able to step into the shoes of others and experience the world from their point of view. Only after seeing what doesn’t work for the person can you begin to explore solutions to the problem.

While Design Thinking is a relatively new paradigm, roots of the effectiveness of the philosophy go back almost 3,000 years. The Hebrew Prophets were a group of misfits, outcasts from society who were constantly calling attention to the broken places in society. Many were famous for their concern for the poor and their message of reconciliation of all of society.

When reading their writings from millennia ago, principles from Design Thinking immediately stick out. Look at this passage from the prophet Isaiah:

“What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families…”

“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Isaiah 58:7, 9-12

Design Thinking almost jumps off the page from this ancient prophet! In this section, Isaiah is calling the Hebrews to empathize with the marginalized of their society. They were to intimately connect with the hungry, homeless poor, shivering ill-clad, hungry, and the down-and-out. After empathizing with these people they’d begin to see the “unfair practices” they needed to get rid of. They’d no longer be able to blame the victims or gossip about others. Empathy would break down the walls.

Having empathized with the marginalized, the Hebrews would be able to “restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.” What design firm on earth wouldn’t want to be known as “those who can fix anything“!

What about you and your ministry? Do the people you are supposed to be serving say that you can really empathize with them? (You might be surprised at the answer). How can following the advice of Isaiah or Design Thinking help you become the type of leader who has “a full life in the emptiest of places”?

*For more resources on Design Thinking, I recommend the 90 minute virtual crash course. To learn more about the Hebrew Prophets, consider The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggeman or The Prophets by Abraham Heschel.

photo courtesy: KOREphotos