12 Thoughts on Implementing Design Thinking in Your Organization

A few simple observations on how you can implement Design Thinking in your or any organization large or tiny. These observations have been validated time and time again during my continual involvement with this activity.
1) The acceptance of Design Thinking is a lot easier when there is a real problem to be solved. If there isn’t one, it helps to talk about Design Thinking in the context of one.
2) Biggest roadblock to Design Thinking: organizations seeing it as a nice to have rather than a must-have.
3) Many of the articles I’ve read about DT misses this point: It is not only about the “who” or the “how”, but also about the “why” and “so what?”
4) Design Thinking lives in the future; hence it is hard to convince the minds that live in the present.
5) Design Thinking is really about applying design strategically across many disciplines and functions. This perspective helps designers be more comfortable with the concept.
6) Not everyone can be a design thinker. The stories I could tell you about trying to convert the unconvinced. Therefore, it is a huge myth when someone tells you that anyone can be a Design Thinker. Well, let me qualify that, anyone can be a Design Thinker if they allowed themselves to, most people can’t move past that. So therefore not everyone can be a Design Thinker.
7) I’ve found that Design Thinking sometimes struggles with credibility when non-designers facilitate the activity. The reverse is also true, in that not all designers are Design Thinkers or able to facilitate Design Thinking activities.
8) Most organizations don’t get innovation. They think it is this shiny new thing that can be sold for a premium. The trick is that most people forget that it is really a positioning play. To be positioned so far ahead that the competition has a hard time catching up. Design and design strategy (or thinking) can help you here.
9) Implementing Design Thinking requires a change in mindset. Most businesses, especially those taller that the Pyramids of Giza, struggle with change. That’s a fact. So when Design Thinking does not work take a look at the talent or the organization’s culture instead.
10) Design Thinking also needs to stop being fluffy and start being results-oriented. Wait, I think we can phrase it better. Design Thinking needs to stop focusing on the process but on the outcome. Yep, make sure there is always one.
11) There is never a 100% success guarantee with the solutions generated by Design or Design Thinking (don’t forget to learn and iterate quickly!). But that does not mean you do not identify your ideal outcomes or define your KPIs (the horror!). Just make sure it is not always about making more money.
12) Finally, Design Thinking is a very uncomfortable activity, process, approach, mindset etc. (pick one?) for many people. After working with a number of clients and also with participants from many Design Thinking workshops, we have found people lost, uncomfortable and sometimes even angry. We should spare a thought for how they feel when we are working with them. Wait; is that not Design Thinking as well?
So what do you guys think? I would love to hear your experiences and stories of how you have helped or led the implementation of Design Thinking in your or any organization. Please do leave your feedback and comments below, thank you!
If you have not already check out this other series of articles on Implementing Design Thinking. (I was experimenting if I should write many small articles or one longer one like this. In the end I just did both!)

  • leon

    July 23, 2016 at 12:25 pm Reply

    thanks for the article
    hate to be pernickety but: Pyramids of Giza

    • Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)

      August 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm Reply

      Thanks for pointing that out! Fixed.

  • Deirdre

    May 17, 2016 at 11:34 pm Reply

    Very helpful summary Brian. Thank you for your insightful thoughts

  • Maciej Blazejczyk

    June 2, 2015 at 8:14 pm Reply

    Very interesting article, thanks!

  • Marius at Worktops.co

    June 1, 2015 at 9:40 pm Reply

    I love innovation but it’s somewhat of a snakeoil term these days, much like SEO has become. I do think innovation is vital to succeed in business but it really needs to be boiled down to understanding the problem its solving. This is where design thinking is vital, variations and different approaches are important at this stage otherwise like most ‘innovative’ products created, it’ll be for a non-problem issue.

  • Tim

    April 20, 2015 at 10:57 pm Reply

    I can see the pros and cons of design thinking; we have successfully implemented it in our product design team but the prototyping guys seem to be struggling with it!

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