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It’s time to put your Design Thinking cap on

by Keir Vaughan

These days, people seem to be waxing lyrical about Design Thinking and its potential to change everything. But what exactly is it, and how can you make the most of it across your organisation?

For those of us who are unfamiliar with Design Thinking, it’s essentially a design methodology that provides a human-centric, solution-based framework for solving creative problems.

It comes in many guises – depending on who’s talking about it – but primarily, it’s a way of working that involves collaboration, participation, comprehension and empathy. It invites a sense of freedom that allows us to let go of our preconceived notions and, ultimately, arrive at ingenious outcomes that go well beyond the ‘first thought’.

A new way of looking at old problems

Design Thinking cites that the most important first step is the one we take backwards to redefine the challenge statement. In doing so, teams become invested in the challenge together, sharing the desire to affect change for the greatest number of people and, thus, the challenge statement grows richer.

The process changes the way teams communicate – opening up new dialogues that are capable of overriding the preconceived solutions we would usually default to. In turn, this gives us the means to travel along unexpected routes – hopefully towards those ingenious outcomes.

The challenge is in the challenge itself

While guiding their businesses to a more innovative, agile and adaptable future remains front of mind for most senior execs, the tendency is still to shy away from the very process that could incite the change they’re looking for.

Instead of prioritising the business potential that comes with human engagement and interaction, they tend to focus on more predictable and tangible outcomes, like structure, process and governance.

The reason? According to the Harvard Business Review, executives fear the idea that “anything could happen” when relinquishing the reins of control – ironic, given that this is precisely what will lead them in a better direction.

It’s time for leadership to embrace the unknown

Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, put it best when he said, “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”

Every design challenge is an opportunity to explore, to affect change and to create something truly wonderful. But the cost of doing this is facing the dark shadow of the unfamiliar.

Yes, we could fail – but that’s exactly what will help us define a successful outcome.

If we start to work through processes like Build, Measure Learn, we can discover how people are affected by our challenge in a much shorter space of time. Wrong turns are discovered early on and we can quickly acquire the insights we need to explore tangent directions, fast.

Any failures in this sense, and at this stage of the process, aren’t really failures at all. They’re merely an exploration – a way of teaching us to trust the process, not so much the outcome (although a breakthrough solution that provides great business value is always nice).

Importantly, with processes like this housed under the umbrella term of Design Thinking, we can begin to understand and engage with the people at the core of our challenge. And that’s what will lead us to the successful, human-centric solutions we’re looking for.

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