In the Mutable Business™ framework an organisation maintains a permanent state of reinvention, so that it can survive today’s disruptive business landscape by adapting its Business approach, its People and its Technology. Across the elements of your enterprise, the evidence and our research show that the organisations that can successfully combine all three in to innovation, by adopting Design Thinking, can adapt more effectively, and create more value.

But what it is Design Thinking and how can you adopt this mindset? Let’s start with a quote from the man who created the most valuable company in the world:

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Steve Jobs

Roger Martin, author of the Design of Business said: “Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business… to create advances in both innovation and efficiency – the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.”

The Design Value Index

When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. DMI and MotivStrategies, funded by Microsoft, began analysing the performance of US companies committed to design as an integral part of their business strategy. The Index tracked the value of 15 publicly held companies – Apple, Coca Cola, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Newell-Rubbermaid, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, Walt Disney and Whirlpool. According to its 2014 study, they have outperformed the S&P 500 over the previous 10 years by an extraordinary 219%.

What is Design Thinking?

The topic has a history right back to the 60s and a lot of thinkers and contributors have been involved. In 1987 Peter Rowe of Harvard published Design Thinking; his book provided a systematic account of the process of designing in architecture and urban planning. In 1991 the design company IDEO was formed and showcased their design process, which drew heavily on the Stanford curriculum. They are widely accepted as one of the companies that brought Design Thinking to the mainstream. Then in 2005 Stanford’s began teaching design thinking as a formal method. Take a look at IDEO’s Sir David Kelley in his excellent 2007 TED talk explaining that product design has become much less about the hardware and more about the user experience.

It is a user-centred approach to problem solving with these ingredients:

  • Human centred
  • Mindful of process
  • Show don’t tell
  • Bias towards action
  • Radical collaboration
  • Culture of prototyping

The classic flow of Design Thinking is to:

  • Empathise (search for rich stories, understand user needs)
  • Define (user need and insights – from their POV)
  • Ideate (ideas, ideas, ideas)
  • Prototype (build to learn)
  • Test (show, don’t tell)
  • Start all over and iterate the flow as much as possible

Empathise – Empathy is the foundation of a human-centred design process where you observe and engage with users and immerse yourself to uncover their needs. Look for issues they may or may not be aware of. Factor in diversity and inclusion, sustainability, and all stakeholder viewpoints. Think in terms of guiding innovation efforts and, most importantly, identify the right users to design for. Look to discover the emotions that guide their behaviours.

Define – The define mode is when you unpack and synthesize your empathy findings into compelling needs and insights and scope a specific and meaningful challenge. It’s critical to the design process because it explicitly expresses the problem you are striving to address through your efforts. Often, in order to be truly generative, you must first reframe the challenge based on new insights you have gained through your design work. Think of telling the story of the challenge from each stakeholder’s point of view.

Ideate – Ideate is the mode of your design process in which you aim to generate radical design alternatives. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts, outcomes and challenging current assumptions – it is a mode of “flaring” rather than “focus”. Step beyond obvious or easy solutions, work through misconceptions and try and harness collective perspectives. Uncover unexpected areas of exploration. Create fluency (volume) and flexibility (variety) in your innovation options. Get the obvious solutions out of your heads and think differently. This is where you can explore wild ideas or alternative stories, while trying to stay on topic.

Prototype – Prototyping is getting ideas and explorations out of your head and into the physical world. A prototype can be anything that takes a physical form – be it a wall of post-it notes, a role-playing activity, a space, an object, a model, an interface, or even a storyboard. You need to learn. Solve disagreements. Start a conversation. Fail quickly and cheaply watching the risk. But still manage the solution-building process.  Remember a prototype is not a finished product, it’s a stage in the design process.

Test – Testing is the chance to get feedback on your solutions, refine solutions to make them better, look for any preconceptions, and continue to learn about your users. Prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong.  This is where critical thinking combines to enhance Design Thinking. You test for every possibility to refine your prototypes and solutions, to learn more about your user, with the goal of testing and refining your POV.

Back to the beginning – Start again. Iterate, and iterate again.  Iterate as much as time allows.

These five steps form a closed loop, continuous flow of design and thinking refinement.  They ensure you create and improve prototypes, but make sure you test early and test often.  The Design Thinking philosophy means you start and stay with an open mindset, applying critical thinking to challenge and test the solutions that are evolving as they cycle round the process.  At some point you move from the solution design phase to the solution implementation phase.  Recognise that your solution should save resources, but not implementing the solution may cost resources.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  You should be delivering only what the user asks for and no more, a minimum viable product (MVP), then when implemented understand what users like or don’t like and build that into the next iteration of the product or service. Remember, Design Thinking is an integral part of being a Mutable Business.  Recognise that your products and services and all the procedures and processes used by your organisation should be evolving, should be in a permanent state of reinvention.  Continuous improvement is the goal.

In conclusion

You don’t have to be a designer to think like one. While learning to be a good designer takes years, you can think like a designer and design the way you lead, manage, and create. Design Thinking seeks to build ideas up, unlike critical thinking which breaks them down. Critical thinking has its place in assessing, testing, and looking for defects or improvements, but you need a balance of different thinking.  In your organisation design and creativity happen at the intersection of your people and the technology that they use. Add in the business component and those design ideas translate in to innovation. Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be, and to create desired outcomes that benefit the customer. It is a crucial ingredient in becoming a Mutable Business™.

Fig 1 - Design Thinking (click image to expand)

Diagram: The Mutable Business™ – Design Thinking
(click image to zoom)

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