Design Thinking and the Innovative Workplace

Design Thinking and the Innovative Workplace

eading organizations recognize maintaining the status-quo is a failed strategy in today’s rapidly expanding and shifting business climate. As a result, they have come to realize the best and only option is to innovate if they plan to thrive in a competitive marketplace. Without innovation, organizations risk the possibility of either being acquired by a company with entirely different priorities or going out of business.

Yet when it comes to fostering a culture of innovation, or even one of calculated risk taking, many businesses lack the commitment required for launching and sustaining ground-breaking processes that demonstrate originality and drive positive results. In general, this lack of commitment stems from two factors: 1) fear of failure; and 2) a linear, traditional approach to problem-solving and planning. The latter represents a step-by-step (“waterfall”) approach that is time consuming and expensive. The outgrowth alternative is an emphasis on iteration and experimentation that is becoming more prevalent and accepted across market sectors.

Design Thinking—a term and strategic approach that means far more than the simplistic “outside the box thinking” epithet often attached to it—can change the paradigm to foster workplace innovation consistently. Design Thinking involves a creative, agile mindset that incorporates the ability to ask questions from a variety of vantage points. These attributes are applicable not only to the design of the workplace but to the evolution of a culture that quickly generates, shares and assesses the economic viability of an idea. Design Thinking can also help differentiate a brand while providing a competitive advantage.

The impact of VUCA

VUCA, an acronym first used by the U.S. Army War College to describe the unpredictability following the break-up of the Soviet Union, has been applied to today’s business environment. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and represents the endlessly changing nature of the competitive business world. As the Harvard Business Review defined it in February 2014, VUCA is “a catchall for ‘hey, it’s crazy out there,’” and warned that each component requires a separate response if companies hope to overcome each significant challenge. Here is a brief overview of how each manifests itself in the work environment.

  • Volatility. The term represents a rapidly changing and unpredictable marketplace due to extraneous factors ranging from terrorism and politics to disruptive technologies and socially accepted customs, habits and patterns.
  • Uncertainty. Doubts about the state of the marketplace or economy are likely to impact decisions such as investments or expansion plans.
  • Complexity. Unlike a complicated system that is mostly linear and easily understood, the complex system is non-linear with interactions and interdependencies, some of which may not be readily apparent. Corporations battle with complexity because of a wide range of seemingly unrelated sources such as international competition and attracting the best talent that can impact current and future planning.
  • Ambiguity. Much like uncertainty, an ambiguous environment yields multiple interpretations. The fear of ambiguity is likely to forestall decision-making.

Design Thinking does not ignore VUCA components. It incorporates them strategically and creatively. A recent IBM study concluded that creativity may well be the most important requirement for “successfully navigating an extremely complex world.” Other studies verify the importance of the creative mindset inherent to Design Thinking. Case in point: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by retired General Stanley McChrystal. The general found from his experiences in Iraq that he needed to move away from a hierarchical approach to fulfill his strategic vision of developing an army capable of defeating an enemy that was anything but conventional. Business analogies gleaned from McChrystal’s book on the importance of creativity are well-supported. A linear mindset can be a straitjacket when coping with competition that more effectively responds to a rapidly changing and complex environment.

Source: Team of Teams. McChrystal. 2015.

Design Thinking: not just for designers anymore

David Kelley, founder of international design firm IDEO, is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of Design Thinking. Kelley and his brother Tom, authors of the book “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential in Us All” make a convincing case that the creative mindset required for innovation is not limited to “creative types.” They describe a “human-centered designer’s toolkit” that contains five elements for facilitating a Design Thinking process. They include:

  1. Empathize. It is never enough to give lip service to contrasting viewpoints. The design mindset examines those views, the reasoning behind them and considers their validity for defining the problem to be overcome.
  2. Define. This is no place for vague ideas. The innovation model must be clearly defined along with its purpose and measurement of its effectiveness.
  3. Ideate. This word “to imagine, conceive or form an idea or image” was associated with the philosophies of Plato, but it has found a place in modern Design Thinking through discussions that foster creative idea generation.
  4. Prototype. This tool goes beyond the theoretical. It is a version of the product or approach to be reviewed by a team then altered or modified to achieve the desired solutions.
  5. Test. The item, product, approach, etc., is tested through an “iterative process” to evaluate and measure if it effectively fulfills the goals envisioned in the earlier steps. The Interactive Design Foundation states that among the purposes of the testing phase are “to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of users…”

Source: Rolf Hapel, director of citizens’ services and libraries, Aarhus, Denmark

One element not in the toolbox but worthy of inclusion is agility. When it comes to the workplace, an agile environment is one in which work is not concentrated in one office setting but rather where workers have a variety of different spaces where they can perform their functions. Agility is all about human behavior and people’s ability to respond to the changing nature of work. An agile workplace is one that supports a wide variety of work modes: focus, collaboration, learning, socializing, respite, rejuvenation and nourishment. The agile workplace enhances employee engagement and enables users to decide and co-create a work experience away from the traditional office. Such environs encourage feedback loops for thought sharing and suggestions for improvement that can have innovative outcomes.

Another outcome of an agile work environment is increased opportunities for brainstorming. This process enables participants to ask questions first before going after solutions. In his April 2018 Harvard Business Review article “Better Brainstorming,” Hal Gregerson argues that better questioning is more conducive to problem solving and subsequent innovation. He describes a technique called the question burst,” which places an emphasis on brainstorming questions instead of solutions. He cites Amazon, Zappos, Tesla and Pixar as successful examples of this approach as employees are “encouraged to value creative friction in everyday work.”

Design Thinking: A pathway and a journey

Contrary to what some might believe, Design Thinking is not a Wild West scenario devoid of rules. Despite the workplace freedoms associated with it, Design Thinking does not eliminate the need for clearly defined corporate governance. It does, however, require executives and managers to be aware of and be sensitive to work environments that may stifle innovation. When leaders are committed to creating an open and safe environment that allows for the free flow of ideas, they minimize fear of failure and provide a platform for encouraging diverse teams to problem solve effectively.

Design Thinking is ironic in that it’s both pathway and journey to innovation. It is the pathway for leveraging workforce creativity by challenging a linear status quo. Design Thinking breaks down silos because it requires flexibility, input and a variety of disciplines in order to benefit the organization. It is forward leaning, relying less on what worked in the past and more on what might work in the future. The goal is to create a workplace and environment for developing processes associated with a culture of innovation. It is also a journey because Design Thinking is a constant that corporations must take if they expect to remain viable, creative and growth-oriented.

The agile workplace that drives Design Thinking helps create connections, familiarity and trust. With a trust-based culture that incorporates testing, piloting and risk-taking, it is more likely that leadership and employees will be able to do their best work and keep their organizations viable for years to come.


Source: workdesign.com

Design thinking strategy for innovation

How do you create a strategy for guaranteeing that innovation and creativity flourish in your organization?

By Linda Naiman

When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. Design-led companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 10 years by an extraordinary 219%, according to a 2014 assessment by the Design Management Institute.

Great design has that “wow” factor that makes products more desirable and services more appealing to users. 

Due to the remarkable success rate of design-led companies, design has evolved beyond making objects. Organizations now want to learn how to think like designers, and apply design principles to the workplace itself. Design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organizational change.

“Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business…to create advances in both innovation and efficiency—the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.”
—Roger Martin, author of the Design of Business

Engineering, medicine, business, architecture, and painting are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent—not how things are but how they might be—in short, with design…Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
—Herbert Alexander Simon, Nobel Prize laureate (1969)

You can design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. The design way of thinking can be applied to systems,  procedures, protocols, and customer/user experiences. The purpose of design, ultimately, in my view, is to improve the quality of life for people and the planet.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused and action oriented towards creating a preferred future. Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be—and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer).

“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
– Tim Brown CEO, IDEO

Distinctions Between Design and Design Thinking

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
— Steve Jobs

“Design is the action of bringing something new and desired into existence—a proactive stance that resolves or dissolves problematic situations by design. It is a compound of routine, adaptive and design expertise brought to bear on complex dynamic situations.”
—Harold Nelson, The Design Way

Nigel Cross (2007), in his book Designerly Ways of Knowing, says, “Everything we have around us has been designed. Design ability is, in fact, one of the three fundamental dimensions of human intelligence. Design, science, and art form an ‘AND’ not an ‘OR’ relationship to create the incredible human cognitive ability.”

  • Science — finding similarities among things that are different
  • Art — finding differences among things that are similar
  • Design — creating feasible ‘wholes’ from infeasible ‘parts’

It makes sense, therefore, to break out of the silos we have created in organizations and develop a cross-disciplinary inquiry to foster innovation. (Read my interview with John Seely Brown on the intersection of art and science at Xerox Parc)

A Framework for Design Thinking

Design thinking for innovation by Linda Naiman

This framework integrates classic creative problem-solving (CPS) with art and design methodologies.

Design thinking offers a structured framework for understanding and pursuing innovation in ways that contribute to organic growth and add real value to your customers.The design thinking cycle involves observation to discover unmet needs within the context and constraints of a particular situation, framing the opportunity and scope of innovation, generating creative ideas, testing and refining solutions.

Double-diamond design model by The Design Council (UK)

This diagram illustrates the design thinking framework created by The Design Council (UK), which maps the design process into four distinct phases: Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. This illustrates the divergent and convergent stages of the design process.

Design thinking informs human-centered innovation

Human-centered innovation begins with developing an understanding of customers’ or users’ unmet or unarticulated needs.“The most secure source of new ideas that have true competitive advantage, and hence, higher margins, is customers’ unarticulated needs,” says Jeanne Liedtka (Batten Briefings 2015), “Customer intimacy—a deep knowledge of customers and their problems—helps to uncover those needs.”

Design thinking minimizes the uncertainty and risk of innovation by engaging customers or users through a series of prototypes to learn, test and refine concepts. Design thinkers rely on customer insights gained from real-world experiments, not just historical data or market research.

Develop design thinking capabilities in your organization

You don’t have to be a designer to think like one. While learning to be a good designer takes years, you can think like a designer and design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. Design begins with setting a strategic intention. If you are mapping out a strategy, you are designing.


Source: creativityatwork.com

15 Mind-Blowing Stats About Design Thinking

This article is part of CMO.com’s October series about creativity and design-led thinking. Click here for more.

So what’s a design-led business anyway?

According to CMO.com’s parent company, Adobe: “Companies that put design at the very core of their brand are design-led. They weave design principles into everything they do—from research and strategy to creating content. They think beyond transactions and focus on beautiful experiences that build lasting and meaningful relationships with customers.”

What separates design-led businesses from the pack? The following stats below paint a clear picture of their commonalities.

1. Design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P Index by 219% over 10 years. (Source: Design Management Institute)

2. Design-led firms consciously put the customer first, with 46% of design leaders citing an emotional bond with customers as a defining characteristic of an advanced design practice. (Source: Adobe/Forrester)

3. 75% of organizations self-report that they are engaged in design thinking. (Source: Parsons New School)

4. 71% of organizations that practice design thinking report it has improved their working culture on a team level. (Source: Parsons New School)

5. Companies that foster creativity enjoy 1.5 times greater market share. (Source: Adobe)

6. 71% of companies report creating 10 times the number of assets today than just a few years ago. (Source: Adobe)

7. 69% of design-led firms perceive the innovation process to be more efficient with design thinking. (Source: Parsons New School)

8. Design-led firms test ideas with their customers, with 83% having tools and systems in place to do so. (Source: Adobe/Forrester)

9. 82% of companies believe there is a strong connection between creativity and business results. (Source: Creativity At Work)

10. In a survey where companies were analyzed for their creativity, those who ranked highly for fostering creativity were also recently awarded recognition for being a “best place to work.” (Source: Creativity At Work)

11. Despite the recent trend toward open office floor plans, 60% of creatives said they are most creative in private environments. (Source: Business News Daily)

12. 10% of the Fortune 500 have stated that design is their No. 1 priority. (Source: CMO.com)

13. 78% of design-led companies have defined a process for coming up with new digital customer experience ideas. (Source: Adobe)

14. 50% of design-led companies report more loyal customers as a benefit to having advanced design practices. (Source: Adobe)

15. Almost half (46%) of companies that don’t embed design in digital CX strategy reported that their digital CX is on par or weaker than competitors. (Source: Adobe)


Source of article: cmo.com

Retail CEO says the wave of stores closings may even accelerate.

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