Design thinking is an integral part of a successful innovation process. In fact, design is innovation and that using design thinking is the only way to reliably innovate. Design thinking unlocks true innovation within an organization.
A popular way to define innovation is as the process an organization follows to capture and develop an idea. However, this definition leaves room for formulaic solutions that might serve the organization but not its intended users.
Worthwhile innovation is a problem-solving process that leads to solutions that best serve their audience: external or internal customers. In turn, this leads to higher satisfaction and increased loyalty on the part of those people.
What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking means developing a deep empathy for the people who will use the product, process, or solution you’re working on, and keeping their needs at the heart of the innovation process. It means spending as much time defining the problem that needs to be solved as searching for a solution. Also, it means prototyping many potential solutions to see what works and what doesn’t. Further, it means embracing iterative failure as a necessary part of learning. And it means being curious, open-minded, and adventurous. Together, these qualities create a mindset that is different from typical business thinking, which tends to value speed and bottom-line impact over exploration and customer satisfaction.
Design thinking is not dependent on the knowledge or wishes of a single person. Nor is it a vague, touchy-feely exercise. Design thinking follows a defined process. You can use a variety of methods to arrive at a solution within the framework. The methods you choose depend on the project’s needs and goals and the skills and understanding of the team. This is where a leader trained in design thinking can bring value.
How Does Design Thinking Unlock Innovation?
Because design thinking includes exploring many potential options instead of one or two, it sends problem-solving teams down roads they wouldn’t usually explore, and gives them a new perspective after each iteration. The rarely-chosen extreme options often spark new ways to think about more realistic ideas. When top-level management supports design thinking, it frees their teams from worrying about failure and rewards them for curiosity and solving problems with patience. A work culture set up to support innovation needs curiosity and patience.
Who Can Do Design Thinking?
The answer is everyone—with the right training. A few hours of training in design thinking practices will begin to open even the most straight-line thinker to new ways of looking at problem solving. For many, it will be a very different way to look at problem solving. But the skills are easy to learn and the benefits are readily apparent.
The Importance of Management Support
All the training in the world won’t help if management isn’t sold on design thinking and the power of design in innovation. Design thinking builds better solutions, but it often requires more lead-in time. In an organization that prefers jumping to a singular solution, the extra time needed to define the problem and iterate through an array of potentials is often enough to shut down the whole design thinking process. Management must support the process and give teams using design thinking the space to explore and fail. In the long run, design thinking leads to happier customers and fewer solutions that need to be reworked. That is the real power of design in innovation.