The 3 Tenets of Design Thinking Culture Change

Earlier this month, I was very pleased to be involved in the Remix Sydney event where I joined a very prestigious panel to discuss one of my favourite topics: Design Thinking.

DT may not be a totally new idea but it is a greatly misunderstood one and one that organisations would do well to pay more attention to. As the world is more rapidly disrupted by new ideas and technologies, business models are coming under increasing stress and pressure; Design Thinking is a methodology that can hold more answers than it is often given credit for.

remixsydneyJoining me on the panel were impressive thinkers from organisations such as IAG, SAP, AMP and Deloitte Digital; all organisations which in my mind that are leaders in this space. IAG in particular is – as an Insurance Company – can perhaps be considered surprising in the adoption of radical ideas but nevertheless is being quite aggressive in the way it is embracing Human (or User) Centre Design into its strategy.

So what is Design Thinking? It is described by one of its pioneers as “matching people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and viable as a business strategy” (Tim Brown, CEO IDEO) and sees the principles of design brought into the wider field of problem solving in business. Principally it involves a blend of empathy, creativity and rationality in innovation. It is particularly useful in solving problems that are more complex, such as “what will my business look like in 3 years” when the answer is impacted by a multitude of variables impossible to predict. These are known as “wicked problems” that are “difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements.”

My recipe for organisations thinking of adopting this approach – as I outlined in the panel discussion – involves the following key elements:

  1. Listening: an organisation is required to be humble as it listens to its employees’ many voices. The kind of hubris where leaders imagine they know more than anyone else is the antithesis of Design Thinking. This kind of open mindedness is key to adaptation.
  2. Customer centricity: true to its origins, Design Thinking must place the customer or end-user at the centre of all creativity – the customer or the user after all knows the most about what they need and this is where innovation must begin.
  3. Agility: Commensurate with the precepts of The Lean Start-up, an organisation must prime itself to “turn on a dime”. As iterative and incremental improvement is becoming a common tennant in business, like sharks you must keep swimming or die. Reacting fast to what Design Thinking throws up is key to harnessing its power.

So this does involve a difficult culture change that will challenge many organisations. Those that do not embed these characteristics into their fabric will struggle to adapt to the new energies it generates. Ultimately, organisations that do not pair cultural change to a change in planning methodology will find only new problems as conflict arises between those practicing Design Thinking and the rest of the organisation.

Ultimately, a departure from the past is what is most important and this is why the young – who are not bound by the legacy of the past – can play such an important part in a Design Thinking revolution: