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Is Design Thinking a Catalyst for Innovation?

Is Design Thinking a Catalyst for Innovation?

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that regards problem-solving as a creative pursuit, and it makes sense in many business contexts. For example, design thinking can be used by brands to discover successful product improvements, or it can be used in leadership training to help business and organizational leaders make a greater positive impact.

While there is nothing mysterious about design thinking, it does require effort, as well as the shedding of preconceived ideas. Design thinking is prefaced by preparation and willingness to have one’s ideas changed. The results can be impressive, and this is what makes it so valuable. Although most CEOs consider innovation to be a top strategic priority, only 55% of them believe the returns on their innovation investments are sufficient. Design thinking could change that for the better. Here’s what you should know about design thinking as an engine of innovation.

Key Stages of Design Thinking.

Design thinking is an iterative process that first requires that participants put themselves into the shoes of those for whom they are designing. This stage is about understanding the problem you want to solve, from the perspective of those who need the problem solved. Say you want to create a mobile phone case targeted to parents of toddlers (who tend to chew on things). It's essential to understand what those parents go through when they’re using their phones while their young children are around. What are their pain points? What have they tried that didn’t work? Brainstorming that is informed by empathy for the customer is better at solving problems.

Next is defining the problem. You do this based on the information gathered from the time spent in the metaphorical shoes of the product user. Once you define and articulate the problem, begin generating ideas. This is the time to brainstorm and think outside the box, looking for alternative ways to view the problem you want to solve. Once your ideas have been refined enough to be practical, you create a prototype, which you then test. It’s important to note that the testing phase isn’t necessarily about discovering how great your product is. Often the testing phase ends up being about better understanding the needs of the users. Prototyping wastes far less time when it is based on the principles of design thinking.

[Related: Tried and True Tips for Brainstorming in Solitude]

Brainstorming and Idea Refinement.

Because brainstorming and the refining of ideas are iterative processes, design thinking is a great fit for this activity. What effective design thinking does during the brainstorming and idea refinement stages is bridge the sometimes-egocentric “empathy gap” that can exist between decision-makers and actual customers. It’s essential during these processes for leaders and tech developers to avoid projecting their needs and wants onto the customer. Brainstorming sessions should always include people with different experiences and perspectives in order to produce the most effective collaboration.

[Related: There is No Mind Reading in The Career World]

An Iterative Process to Catalyze Innovation.

Design thinking appreciates that creativity is ultimately about solving problems. It requires the use of both quantitative data (“People do this”) as well as qualitative data (“Here’s why people do this”). It requires that you do your best to identify with the people who have a problem that needs solving and that you really listen to their needs and ideas. It goes beyond what you would get if, say, you prototyped a product your design team liked and let a focus group play with it.

Leadership development training isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition, and design thinking can have a valuable place in leadership development. After all, the leader of a nonprofit needs different skills than the leader of an investment bank. Innovazing is all about helping leaders increase their positive impact and take their organizations to a higher level. If the idea of better leadership through design thinking piques your interest, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We would be delighted to hear from you.

[Related: Step by Step Guide to Planning Your Business and Marketing for the New Year]


Saleema Vellani is the Co-Founder and COO of Innovazing, which is an education and leadership development firm that strives to help organizations cultivate more impactful leaders. Innovazing uses emotional intelligence tools and techniques, based on neuroscience, in its highly-customized programs for social enterprises, nonprofits, higher education, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. Aside from launching five fast-growing ventures across four countries, Saleema has also provided consulting for over twelve years to a wide spectrum of organizations.

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