Design thinking doesn't guarantee innovation, but innovation always hinges on design-thinking principles.
Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Design thinking takes this notion further and provides a set of tools to power innovation through design.
As the popularity of design thinking continues to expand and spread across a variety of domains, it begs the question: Will design thinking ever reach the point of diminishing returns? In a recent Harvard Business Review post, IDEO CEO Tim Brown entertained a similar question: “When everyone is doing design thinking, is it still a competitive advantage?”
Competing on design thinking requires a fundamental shift in how we approach design to solve business problems and, more important, how we channel the essential values of design thinking in everything we do. For design thinking to make a greater impact and enable a competitive edge, the emphasis has to be—first and foremost—on what I like to call the application of its core principles.
This viewpoint requires leadership with forward-thinking ideals. With this mindset, we can cement a culture of design thinkers who can expand the window of opportunity from which an innovation foundation through design can be built. In this new series, I will shed new light on the central ideas—such as empathy, integrated solutions, the principle of failing early and often, and ambiguity—that place design thinking at the core of customer-centric organizations.
Design thinking calls for a fundamental shift in mindset
To deliver results through design thinking, the concept must be embraced as a way of thinking through design that is native to the problem we are trying to solve—not as a timed activity or practice tied to a special project or associated with a formal initiative. Whenever I discuss innovation, I often argue that we need to have an innovation mindset present at all times for it to flourish in the enterprise.
In the same way, success with design thinking demands a design-thinking mindset. We should consider design thinking as an endless opportunity for delivering customer-centric solutions with a holistic approach.
When we think through design, we seek that intrinsic value, which is hidden or trapped. We are thinking in the design.
Design thinking isn’t just reserved for new products and services
Design thinking is the art and science of solving problems—not limited to just new products and services.
By applying design-thinking principles, sometimes we are also solving old problems with new questions—in addition to addressing brand-new problems. This is innovation from within. We turn our held assumptions inside out to uncover the new in the old, whether it’s an unmet need or underutilized demand.
I often cite cost reduction as a great example because it can be explored effectively through design thinking. Eliminating waste and reducing cost to seize new opportunities may be considered as a lightweight alternative to developing cutting-edge products. However, lowering cost without business disruption or providing more with less is as great a challenge as anything else. Besides, it’s a true innovation competency with the potential to deliver equally greater returns.
Design thinking is the future of work
The future of work lies in the hands of design thinkers. When we consider design in the holistic sense and beyond its traditional boundaries, we see it emerge in everything we do—regardless of our organization’s size, industry, or business model. The three pillars of customer-centric work put human-centered design at the core of our everyday work: What we do, how we do it, and why we do it.
For design thinking to deliver results, each of these pillars needs to be aligned in unison with a singular objective: Customer centricity. Moreover, design thinking is not a thing that comes with an expiration date, per se. Rather, it is the way we work and think. Companies that integrate the core principles of design thinking often value a culture that fosters a more-creative, human-centered approach to work.
They can find the right balance of motivation and influence to apply design-thinking principles across all ranks of their workforce and blend them across all layers of their business processes. To scale and deliver results, these principles need to be accessible and usable by larger segments of the workforce. And cross-fertilization of ideas establishes a deeper level of thinking embraced as a cultural force.
I see design thinking as a framework for innovation. We pollinate new and old ideas, which translate into solutions that drive growth and profitability. This is how we compete on design thinking. And its core principles remain timeless for generations to come.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Design Thinking thought leadership series!