Urgently Wanted: The Design Driven Manager

The potential of Design Thinking becomes more and more visible because organizations like Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike en Proctor & Gamble not only show overtly that they use it, but start showing significant results. They outperformed their peers in the last decade with 219%, measured by the Design Value Index (assessment by Design Management Institute).

Design Thinking is a people-oriented, prototype driven process for innovation. It is a useful approach to get to understand and solve complex challenges where the classic, analytic methodologies fall short. We still trust the pure analytical techniques too much, that only add small improvements to the status quo. And that is not enough anymore.

To innovate we need approaches like design thinking.

The VUCA-world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) that characterizes the 21st century is exactly the right moment for organizations to embrace Design Thinking or even better, to develop the Design Thinking skills of their managers. There is a reason why at least 5 skills that are also important in Design Thinking are in the ‘10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Evolution’ of the World Economic Forum: complex problem solving, creativity, emotional intelligence, service orientation en cognitive flexibility.

Design Thinking is a mindset and a process

So Design Thinking is an approach for Creative Problem Solving that is inspired by the way designers work. It is neither always the best nor the only approach but it is a methodology that managers can add to their toolkit to work in a future oriented, human oriented and creative way with their teams. There are several toolkits for Design Thinking. One consists of three phases, the other of 5 or 9 phases. It doesn’t really matter, as long as the three big phases are present:

It is not a linear process but, for learning purposes, it is often presented in a linear way.

Design is the ability to move from the existing to the preferred. The future is a design problem.— John Kao

The key elements of Design Thinking

Even more important than the process are the key principles of Design Thinking:

Empathy

A large part of Design Thinking is about empathy. Empathy for those you are trying to find solutions for. It often is the customer and as such, the approach starts with in depth understanding of that customer. But it can also be the employees, from where changes in the organizations are being shaped. It is essential that the human being be at the center of this approach.

Co-creation

The base for Design Thinking is to connect different perspectives and disciplines. This is done through working in a multifunctional way and having groups come up with creative ideas. This does not only create multiple solutions, but especially support, because shared ownership and responsibility have been created.

Learning by doing

Design Thinking is based on a ‘build fast–fail fast’ attitude, which allows to quickly identify the path to success, to build and to test. It is essentially a feedback-driven approach and iterative by nature. Less time is spent on planning, more time on action and learning.

Holistic thinking

The entire environment of a product, service, process and cooperation is studied, not only a part. That way it is avoided that only symptoms are addressed, but instead you look for sustainable solutions.

Developing Design Thinking skills in your organization

You don’t have to be a designer to use Design Thinking. Becoming a good designer will cost you years of special education. But what you can do is start to think as a designer and use designer tools in your management style to stimulate and support change and innovation from within your organization.

Every manager can learn and use Design Thinking

To give a concrete answer to the growing complexity of modern technology and modern business, Design Thinking should be a central part of a strategy and culture change.

Design Thinking boosts creativity in organizations and employees and creates a mindset to help balance analytical and creative thinking as well as exploring and exploitation.

And above all, it leads to improved teamwork, energy and involvement of employees.

The greatest danger in times of turbulence 
is not the turbulence, 
it is to act with yesterday’s logic 
–Peter Drucker

Innovation ‘anytime, anywhere’

More and more, innovation is considered to be a responsibility of the entire organization, as an anytime, anywhere capability.

Innovation is not a department or project. Innovation needs to continuously take place, in the entire organization, within teams as well as with individuals. We need creativity and entrepreneurship from within. To leave your fate in the hands of external consultants who execute a one-time exercise is not sufficient anymore. To put your future in the hands of the R&D department is too limited too.

You want to innovate your products, processes, service and your organisation. You want your people to think about their own role and how to innovate it. You want every team to be involved in the future of the organization. You want to see that new direction of the organization translated in every layer of the organization and executed in a co-creative way. You want change to be supported by your employees. To achieve that organizations and their managers and employees need to develop and embrace new ways of problem solving.

By Sara Coene

About the author

Sara helps managers develop their Creative Leadership. She’s a Design Thinking Coach and Managing Partner at Bedenk, a creative Consultancy and Business Coaching agency focused on the development of Business Creativity within organisations.

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