Integrating Design Thinking: 6 Key Factors

Creative Problem Solving: Implementing Design Thinking | Focused Program | IESE Business School

Design thinking is an approach that helps organizations address complex, human-centered problems and better serve their end-users by challenging prevailing assumptions, identifying novel concepts and delivering superior solutions.| Illustration: Norman Gracia

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

While the world’s most famous physicist wasn’t an expert in design thinking, he certainly made a good case for it!

More than a process, design thinking is an approach that helps organizations address complex, human-centered problems and better serve their end-users by challenging prevailing assumptions, identifying novel concepts and delivering superior solutions. To this end, design thinking leverages a robust set of techniques on user research, creativity, prototyping and testing.

According to Joaquim Vilà, a professor of strategic management, innovation and design thinking at IESE Business School, companies that continue to rely on conventional approaches will progressively struggle to remain competitive amid today’s context of market volatility and changing customer trends.

As Prof. Vilà explains, “In their rush to solve problems as quickly as possible, business leaders often bring inbred biases and skewed perceptions along with them. Design thinking creates value by breaking down these barriers.”

The success of companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM and Procter & Gamble  are prime examples of its power: over the past ten years, these firms have consistently outperformed others on the S&P 500 by more than 200 percent after integrating design thinking in their operations. Despite its proven benefits, many firms face resistance when trying to implement it, says Prof. Vilà.

“Design thinking is a novel and counterintuitive approach that deviates from traditional problem-solving methods,” he explains. “In order for it to take root and prosper, organizations have to trust the process and use alternative, more subtle measures of success, at least during the initial phases.”

To this end, he considers the following six factors critical to its successful integration:

1. Innovate with your customers

There is no better way to get to know your customers than involving them in the development process from the get-go. Their participation helps in defining the right problem, while mitigating internal biases and “thinking-inside-the-box” mindsets.

2. Make design thinking a multidisciplinary group effort

Individuals and teams are naturally wired to focus on their own objectives. You can counteract this tendency by uniting them around a common objective to address underserved customer needs. This will break down departmental silos, bring more ideas to the table and enhance organizational agility.

3. Integrate prototyping and testing in your company culture

When you show your customers a prototype, you will receive immediate feedback based on something tangible. They will tell you where it hits the mark and where it falls short.

4. Empower a design-thinking transformation leader

It’s important to appoint a high-visibility “innovation ambassador” to encourage, guide and train others on the process. This person should preferably a manager with cross-functional responsibilities, with an undisputed top-management support and a determination to overcome factors that might impede satisfying end-user needs.

5. Deliver solutions as you go

Firms should avoid the trap of trying to go from zero to 100 at breakneck speed. When implementing design thinking for the first time, Prof. Vilà advises firms to leverage it to address a concrete, strategic problem that can be resolved in the short and medium term. “Start small and grow as you go,” he says.

6. Stay true to the approach

People are naturally resistant to change and prone to reverting back to their comfort zones. For this reason, it’s critical that they stick to the established process until they have internalized it. Once they prove their competence in the design thinking approach, give them the freedom to adapt it to their objectives and preferences.

If you’re looking for new approaches to enhance your professional development and organizational growth, IESE’s “Creative Problem Solving: Implementing Design Thinking” online program is for you. Aimed at managers who oversee business development, talent management, strategic projects, customer service and innovation initiatives, the program explores problem-solving strategies applicable to a broad range of business challenges and contexts. The next edition will be held online from June 23 to July 16, 2020.


Written by business communicator and editor Suzanne Hogseth

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