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Although design thinking traces its roots to the late sixties, the discipline entered the business world a mere decade ago. According to Tim Brown and Roger Martin, two respected thought leaders in the field, the time has come for design thinking to go to the next level.
My take on it: it is all about the need for innovators to think like change leaders – whether they are working on super complex or relatively simple innovations.
Article first written for the blog of HR People & Strategy (USA). Also appeared on the blog of the Strategic Capability Network (Canada).
2009: business people embrace design thinking
Arguably, the design thinking movement in the corporate world started in the fall of 2009 when two books hit the shelves (of course, several organizations had started adopting design thinking principles prior to 2009; some of their stories were actually featured in these books):
- “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation” by Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO in Palo Alto;
- “The design of business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage” by Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.
Together the two bestsellers made a strong case for using design thinking to improve user experiences; develop new products or services; revamp corporate strategies; disturb or reinvent industries. Since then, countless organizations across sectors have been practicing design thinking and its human-centered approach to innovation.
Brown and Martin make a new case
A few weeks ago, Brown and Martin came back to the forefront with a co-authored article in Harvard Business Review titled “Design for Action”.
The thought leaders note that design thinking has been tackling increasingly complex challenges over the years. As a result, a new hurdle has appeared: “the acceptance of what we might call ‘the designed artifact’ – whether products, user experiences, strategy or complex system – by stakeholders”. The authors explain that “with very complex artifacts, the design of their ‘intervention’ – their introduction and integration into the status quo – is even more critical to success than the design of the artifacts themselves.”
Traditionally, designers could focus on the innovative design while leaving the roll-out to others. Not any more. Design thinking practitioners must raise their game by working simultaneously and in parallel on: 1) innovating; and 2) developing buy-in for the innovation.
Brown and Martin illustrate this dual, integrated approach with two cases: the launch of MassMutual’s “Society of Grownups”; and the large-scale efforts of Intercorp to “design a new Peru”.
Experienced change leaders in familiar territory
When reading these examples, I couldn’t help thinking: “Well, this is all about applying sound change leadership principles while innovating”. Indeed, experienced change leaders should be very familiar with the recommendations in the article:
- Engaging all the principal stakeholders – not just the users;
- Carefully orchestrating engagement throughout the innovation process;
- Iterative rapid-cycle prototyping to build confidence and develop commitment;
- Full-scale pilot to test assumptions (about the emotional reactions and more), involve stakeholders and adjust as necessary.
- Series of small steps in the right direction – as opposed to a big-bang approach.
From Design Thinking 1.0 to 2.0
In the fall of 2009, the business world entered Design Thinking 1.0 by discovering the importance of thinking like designers. Countless innovations came out of this realization.
Six years later, we might be entering Design Thinking 2.0 with the design world’s own aha moment – that adopting a change leadership mindset from the get-go significantly increases the chances that the innovation will take hold. This “new” insight should yield even greater things.
Brown and Martin have coined a fancy phrase to capture the injection of change leadership thinking into the innovation process: “designing the intervention”. If it helps designers become change leaders, I am totally fine with it.
The important thing is that the two communities – designers and corporate types – have been learning a great deal from each other’s over the years. Business people have been thinking like designers; and designers are now becoming change leaders. Another proof that getting different folks around the same table is very powerful.
Bottom-line: innovations that stick!
P.S. The article seems to imply that “designing the intervention” – a.k.a. thinking like a change leader – is for very complex innovations. I agree it is a ‘must-have’ in such situations. However, I would argue that innovators should bring their change leadership thinking regardless of the complexity. They just need to ensure the intervention matches the challenge. Don’t bring a backhoe when a small shovel is enough for the job.
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