Culture and Design Thinking

Innovation through design thinking is a key element of an organization’s success. Results from a study led by the Design Management Institute found that over the last 10 years, design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage and outperform other organizations by 228% on the Standard and Poor’s 500. So, what exactly does design thinking entail, and what happens when companies incorporate design thinking processes into their business models? 

Importantly, design thinking isn’t a formulaic process that produces one-size-fits-all results. Rather, it entails dynamic organizational culture change. Organizational culture can be thought of as the collective set of values and rituals that a particular company abides by. By innovating upon a company’s work culture, design thinking aims to establish more creative, human-centered problem solving abilities and more customer-centric and profitable solutions. While it is a structured means of innovating an organization’s work culture, design thinking also relies on more intangible qualities amongst employees and executives alike. As examples, some of the most important principles of design thinking include the use of analytical, intuitive, and empathic thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, failing fast, and the basic agreement that there are no good or bad ideas, only starting points for innovation. 

When successfully implemented, design thinking can positively influence an organization in countless ways. Firstly, it establishes a culture of open collaboration. One way design thinking does this is by encouraging the use of cross-functional teams, which pull together individuals from fields ranging from engineering to human resources to finance. This dynamic naturally brings together different talents and requires flexible thinking across multiple disciplines. In addition, it requires the mindset that all perspectives matter regardless of job title or level of expertise. To compound this, companies can provide teams with more tools that enable in-person collaboration, such as whiteboards and designated group spaces, rather than relying strictly on traditional tools that foster individualism, such as Excel and similar programs. 

Furthermore, when companies replace traditional work hierarchies with cross-functional teamwork and openly value risk and failure as positive steps towards developing the right solution or product, creative and divergent thinking becomes more prevalent amongst employees. Rather than having tasks bound by strict rules and requirements, employees are better able to contribute their own ideas without fear of personal repercussions. Additionally, framing complex problems as opportunities for creative collaboration can make work challenges more enjoyable. The ability to then translate these insights and new strategies into tangible solutions in hardware, software and service interactions is precisely what helps companies improve. 

Lastly, embracing design thinking can lead to increased learning amongst employees. This is primarily done by not only allowing failure, but actively encouraging it. By doing so, companies provide employees with opportunities to develop the intuition and skills needed to experiment, improvise, and potentially completely rework established ideas and practices. In the end, embracing this failure-and-learning process can bring something entirely new, and potentially better, to the market. 

In the end, quantity matters less than quality; having more designers doesn’t necessarily equate to good design. Rather, it is the means of establishing a company culture that values collaboration, divergent thinking, and failure that gives organizations a competitive edge in the marketplace.  

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