In recent years, “design thinking” has become popular in many industries as established companies have tried to apply designers’ problem-solving techniques to corporate innovation processes. Key elements of the design thinking methodology include fast iterations; early and frequent interaction with customers; agile process design with less hierarchy; and a learning-by-doing approach that involves building prototypes and creating mock-ups of any kind as early as possible in the process.
Over the past seven years, the authors have helped more than 20 companies pursue more than 50 design thinking initiatives and have found that such initiatives rarely proceed according to the textbook model. Innovation, they note, is an inherently messy process that conflicts in many ways with established companies’ processes, structures, and corporate cultures. For example, they note, many established companies punish failure, which discourages the risk-taking design thinking requires. What’s more, the design thinking methodology calls for egalitarian, self-organized teams, but this isn’t how most large companies work. In fact, the design thinking teams the authors studied tended to have clear process and project owners, usually senior managers who often supervised 12 to 15 design thinking projects at a time.
The authors argue that companies need to take five steps to take full advantage of the potential of design thinking. They recommend that companies (1) encourage top managers to champion design thinking initiatives, (2) balance intuitive and analytical thinking on design thinking teams, (3) set ground rules that give design thinking teams the autonomy they need to function well, (4) integrate design thinking into the company’s product development processes, and (5) focus on learning rather than on profits as metrics for design thinking projects.
“To be successful, a design thinking program must be closely linked with the organization’s social dynamics,” the authors write. “Without the right supporting mechanisms, you probably won’t achieve the desired results.”