I’m sure that by now you’ve heard the terms Design Thinking and Design Thinkers. I’m also pretty sure you’re assuming this is just another fancy term for Design and Designers. Well, you may be in for a surprise. This is not about the combination between aesthetic sensibilities and the obvious capabilities. This term has been defined in a multitude of ways as colorful as the color wheel. It’s been said that design thinking is innovation intelligence. It is moving the right-brainers to the core of the organizational globe and plugging them into every department. I understand it as a practical application, a systematic approach to problem solving and innovation. To me, design thinking is both a quality and a skill, “art and science”, heart and mind.
Industrialism vs. Craftsmanship
In order to understand the recent surfacing of the term, it’s important to rewind back a decade or so. In the path of manufacturing wealth, humanism and the emotional connection between makers and consumers were extinguished by the cold production line. Morality, emotions, and aspiration were no longer a business practice much less a requirement. It’s no surprise to find so many brands dealing with distrustful clients, disconnected consumers, apathetic employees and bland, non-impressive products & services. And that’s on a good day.
Case in point, Ford Motor Company. On January 23, 2006, at the time Bill Ford announced the closing of fourteen factories (cutting 34,000 jobs), he said this in relation to the failed ways and new plans:
“Here is what we will not stand for: incremental change, avoiding risk, thinking short-term, blocking innovation, tying our people’s hands, defending procedures that don’t make sense, and selling what we have instead of what the customer wants. In short, we will not stand for business as usual. [...] We call our North American plan, “The Way Forward.” It’s bold and sweeping and it builds on the innovation-driven vision we talked about last September. It puts the customer first. [...] We must be guided by our long term goals of building brand, satisfying customers, developing strong products and accelerating innovation. [...] To me, innovation is seeing what others can’t see, and using that vision to build what others have never built. [...] As we tried to design it, test it, and launch it on time, we found that the old systems and methods were getting in the way. So we put scientists and product engineers on the same design team and offered them the flexibility to get the job done. [...] Today, we are moving from a culture that discourages innovation back to a company that celebrates it.”
It’s actually shocking to hear a Chairman and CEO speak in such a refreshing manner, with emphasis on what we’ve always been fighting for. But we creatives couldn’t break through the bureaucratic walls that kept us tucked away in the right corner. Thankfully and sadly, many companies have been forced to analyze their business and found that any trace of true differentiation was M.I.A. They were just an incremental or duplicate version of their competitors. Bummer.
In this tech world congested with a massive blur of apps, goods, and services fighting for a piece of the Millennial (Generation Y) pie, differentiation can be the most powerful business strategy. What powers differentiation? Innovation. And what drives innovation? Design thinking. Design drives innovation, innovation powers brand, brand builds loyalty, and loyalty sustains the bottom-line, profits. Awesome!
Disruptive innovation can be the greatest advantage any company can tap into with the help of design thinkers. Wikipedia defines disruptive innovation as:
…the innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in the new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.
Be mindful. Be designful. Be a catalyst.
I believe that design thinking empowers. It is the key to innovation. And it is hard work because it’s about action. In the commercial sphere, it is the intelligence that allows innovation, customer experience, and brand value to intertwine into one solid chord. However, there’s a greater purpose that’s evident the minute you step outside the corporate sphere and consider the human race as one people sharing and consuming the Earth’s resources. What are we going to do with this incredible tool we hold in our hands, the power of innovation for a greater good? How can we improve not just our lives but the lives of others around the globe? How can we improve our environmental footprint? How can we collaborate, share knowledge, contribute more and consume less?