Embrace Hybrid Thinking

Hybrid Thinking is the ability to integrate different ways of thinking and jump between. It’s social impact be immensely disruptive.

Sascha Bardua
6 min readMar 5, 2018


Have you ever heard of the Reggio Emilia approach? This school of thought is founded in the believe that children have infinite ways to express, explore, and connect their thoughts, feelings and imaginings. Children always seem to find a common language when they interact with each other or communicate with adults. I experienced this when I was playing with the 5-year old child of the hostel owner where I stayed at in Thailand. Even though, we didn’t speak the same language, we communicated in a playful way, building paper boats, running around and laughing.

Interacting with kids can be a truthfully enriching experience. Music, dance, drama, drawings, symbols, wood, clay, body language, play, silence, noise, presence, absence, words, writing — they are all means of communication and each require a different way of thinking.

When we get older, we seem to limit our repertoir of communication, as we use standardized ways of thinking and self-expression. Out-of-the-box thinking becomes the dreadful jargon of organizations and leaders who try to be creative and different.

I believe, we need to regain the ability to think hybrid.

We need to embrace flexibility and agility to use the most efficient and natural way of thinking depending on the current situation and its challenges. Before getting more into what Hybrid Thinking means, let’s look at some useful terms and their various definitions.

What thinking outside of the box can look like.

Glossary and Definitions

  • Hybrid: something heterogeneous in origin or composition; combining different people, different ideas, different talents — and merging them to produce something that’s better than any of the components by itself. (Source)
  • Thinking: the process of considering or reasoning about something; a person’s ideas or opinions (Source)
  • Systems: a collection of elements connected together to form a purposive whole with properties that differ from those of its component parts. (Source)
  • Design: design as a form (shape, object), a creative activity (verb, process) or making sense of things; the knowledge focused on creating new conditions, different patterns of thinking and acting; a general understanding of the conditions for creative and innovative work. (Source)

Hybrid Thinking

As various as Hybrid Thinking is, the various are its definitions:

(1) Conscious blending of different fields of thought to discover and develop
opportunities that were previously unseen by the status quo. (Forbes, 2009)

(2) An emerging discipline that integrates design thinking with other ways of thinking to produce successful outcomes to wicked problems, by co-creating more meaningful, human-centered experiences. (Gartner, 2010)

Another perspective on Hybrid Thinking was created by Ray Kurzweil in his TED talk “Get ready for hybrid thinking” (video below) and his book How to Create a Mind”. He links the human intelligence to artificial intelligence and assumes that the medium is not important when it comes to thinking: biological brain cells are equivalent to digital brain cells or brain cells made of water pipes, as long as the function is the same. (Source) He imagines a future where the lines between human intelligence and artificial intelligence cease to have meaning, enabling scenarios where digital cells are integrated into the human body, letting you access the power of the cloud to enhance your brain power (it’s like virtualization of your brain).

Milan (2012), Intersection, Hybrid Thinking

In his book Intersection, Milan Guenther uses the term Hybrid Thinking to refer to the ability to integrate different ways of thinking, jump between them, and align them to work towards a universal goal. Hybrid Thinking expands on the ideas Systems Thinking and Design Thinking, combining elements of both.

Furthermore Hybrid Thinking requires attributes like resilience (since wicked problems cannot be “solved”), curiosity and the ability to co-create value and meaning by all the players in the ecosystem.

According to Gartner, the degree of Hybrid Thinking that is needed for a specific challenge is directly proportional to:

  1. The magnitude of the wicked problem being addressed
  2. The scope of the transformation, innovation and strategy being pursued
  3. How early the organization is in the process of tackling the wicked problem

In the course of this article, I will refer to Hybrid Thinking as the ability to integrate different ways of thinking, as suggested by Milan.

Challenges for Hybrid Thinking

Currently, Hybrid Thinking faces multiple challenges from a theoretical perspective (How do we understand HT?) and a practical perspective (How do we apply HT and what impact does it create?).

  • Weak acceptance and sometimes competitive behaviours between Systems Thinkers and Design Thinkers
  • Intangible nature of Hybrid Thinking as a state of mind, making it difficult to grasp, develop and apply
  • Missing critical analysis of Systems Thinking and Design Thinking resulting in a weak understanding of their relationships, similarities and differences to merge into Hybrid Thinking
  • Unclear potential of the role of hybrid thinking in the evolution of artificial intelligence and its social impact
  • Low variety of frameworks and tools to adapt and apply a Hybrid Thinking mindset and learn related skillsets
  • Lack of forward-thinking strategies empowered by Hybrid Thinking to transform organizations and educational institutions

Opportunities for Hybrid Thinking

Every challenge provides new opportunities. And in the case of Hybrid Thinking its impact can be quite disrupting.

  • Improved ability to take on wicked problems (e.g. the emergence of exponential society and technologies) to contribute to an improved situation. Hybrid Thinking provides various tools such as sprints, agile/ iterative development, rich pictures and prototyping.
  • Better understanding of a hyperconnected society (social networks, cloud computing, real-time interaction) and how to navigate it. Hybrid Thinking makes us learn the fundamentals of the most important disciplines to understand how things work and relate; it enable us to make more informed decisions and ask better questions.
  • Having a bigger social impact by creating new meaningful products, services, organizations and processes. Hybrid Thinking combines the knowledge and tools from many different fields.
  • Transforming and innovating our educational institutions and learning approaches used in schools, universities and organizations. Hybrid Thinking teaches us how take on any problem, instead of learning what we cannot do or what we’re not good at.

Case Example: Hybrid Thinking transforms education

We teach young people to design and build their future using heart, hands, and hammers. [Project H]


Project H uses the power of creativity, design, and hands-on building to amplify the raw brilliance of youth, transform communities, and improve K-12 public education from within. Their programs teach rigorous design iteration, tinkering, applied arts and sciences, and vocational building skills to give young people the creative, technical, and leadership tools necessary to make positive, long-lasting change in their lives and their communities.

Their goal is to transform education and initiate projects, such as Studio H, which is an in-school design/build class for 6th-12th grade students. It was first launched in Bertie County, NC and is now based at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA. Studio H students apply their core subject learning to design and build audacious and socially transformative projects.

Further Resources

TED talk “Get ready for hybrid thinking” — Ray Kurzweil

If you enjoyed this article and wanna follow up on these topics, feel free to follow me on Facebook or get in touch via contact@saschabardua.com.



Sascha Bardua

Creative Technologist at Taikonauten in Berlin. Passionate about preparing children for the digital world while playing outside.