Why Design Thinking Works

by Jeanne M. Liedtka

OCCASIONALLY, A NEW WAY of organizing work leads to extraordinary improvements. Total quality management did that in manufacturing in the 1980s by combining a set of tools—kanban cards, quality circles, and so on—with the insight that people on the shop floor could do much higher-level work than they usually were asked to. That blend of tools and insight, applied to a work process, can be thought of as a social technology.

In a recent seven-year study in which I looked in depth at 50 projects from a range of sectors, including business, health care, and social services, I have seen that another social technology, design thinking, has the potential to do for innovation exactly what TQM did for manufacturing: ...

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