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How to use Design Thinking as an end to end innovation process? This is the question I’m asking myself frequently. Many people might say, Design Thinking is already an innovation process by definition, so why asking for something additional? Let me explain why.

There are many definitions of Design Thinking existing. One of my favorites is the following: “Design Thinking is a human centric approach for solving problems by creating new ideas.” This sounds definitely like innovation. But I see two key gaps, which prevents Design Thinking from being a true end to end innovation process.

First gap is at the beginning of the process. Design Thinking assumes, that it is possible to phrase a challenge. This means, that there is a known problem, which needs to be “Understood” and “Observed” to fully explore the “Problem Space” and understand peoples needs at an empathic level.

But what if there is no specific problem known? What if, there is just the diffuse feeling that a certain innovation driver like a new social or technology trend might get increasingly important and relevant for a company? Roger Martin (“The Design of Business”) would call this a “Mystery Space” within a companies knowledge funnel. Can Design Thinking be used to approach a mystery space, before actually deriving innovative solutions out of this?

I think so, but Design Thinking has to be tweaked significantly for that and this is especially true for the problem exploration phase. As you do not have a physical human persona within the mystery space yet, you have to switch to something like an abstract corporate persona. Consequently, research about the problem space will not be so much about observing human beings. Instead it will be much more about creating context regards the innovation driver (e.g. “Internet Everywhere”) and the companies actual situation, pain points and needs in relation to the innovation driver. This then can be the basis for identifying opportunities and describing (”prototyping”) them as a “Solution Vison” for e.g. an innovative connected car solution.

In a second step, this solution vision can be tackled by using the classical Design Thinking approach, as now you have at least a rough idea about the problem and the user (persona) in scope.

But at the beginning of my blog, I have talked about two gaps. Where is the other one?

I think, for this, we have to shift our focus towards the end of the innovation process, where it is about implementation and  roll-out, but this is a topic for another blog. Stay tuned and also look a the blog of Marc Dietrich regards the Design Thinking methodology in general: