Companies like Apple, Netflix, Facebook are disrupting Industries and Business models making it amply apparent that traditional Problem-Solving models are no longer adequate. Therefore, unleashing creativity, new ways of thinking and innovation are all at a great premium across industries. Needless to say, without a strategy for this to happen, it is likely to remain an aspiration rather than reality. Design Thinking is the Strategy that challenges status quo, forces Companies/ Teams out of their comfort zones of pet theories and old thinking.

Busting the ‘I am in charge- I have all the answers mind set’

It is not uncommon for leaders to experience the pressure of being in charge where leaders experience a self-pressure to believe they have all the answers!

This sets off a primordial pre-programming to shoot from the hip, to make Executive like Decisions at the drop of a hat with no second opinions, no self-doubt!

The interesting thing is that this behaviour comes from a place of deep insecurity. The animalistic belief that acting otherwise (make yourself look bigger, don’t get eaten) will save you from harm. In the end it won’t, besides as a leader this can potentially put in place of harm those looking to you for directions.

During one of my experiences at the Harvard Leadership and Innovation Lab- Francesca Jena a Researcher and Thought Leader in the space of Leadership Failures presented her Research where she had studied 100 CEO`s and their Failure stories. In each instance there were three conditions that repeated themselves.

  • The Leader was surrounded by people who thought like him/her
  • Admitted to being a victim of Groupthink on generating solutions to problems
  • Had access to data/ dashboard/ front line information that wasn’t used!
  • Had developed an unfounded confidence their intuitive ability to make the right decision

Leaders therefore have an important choice to make in this ever changing, tumultuous world where things are changing so fast that the future is no more a linear extension of the Past! No past solutions might work!!

You can either ‘Decide’ the Future or ‘Design’ the Future. How can leaders ‘Design’ the future?

By finding solutions with deep empathy. Like Ross Starke says, “At the heart of all great Leadership is empathy, respect and the desire to move something towards its ideal state- ultimately making the world a better place, even if just for a small subset of people.”

How does Design Thinking work?

Unlike analytical thinking which focuses on problems at hand and considers how current resources and knowledge might fix the problem, Design Thinking focuses on the ultimate goal apart from what the current situation may be.

It involves 5 steps:

  1. Empathize- working to fully understand your customer through observations and interviews
  2. Define- synthesizing findings from Step 1 to develop a ‘user point of view’
  3. Ideate- structured brainstorming of possible solutions
  4. Prototype- giving a physical, digital or diagram form to selected ideas
  5. Test- putting prototypes into practice if they meet the User need identified in the beginning

 Why does design thinking work?

– Because it is intentional, evidence-based and user centric. ‘User centric’ is the keyword here. There is no room for individual pet theories or off-the-seat-of-the-pants, because the Boss said so?!

Design thinking is a democratic process of Problem-Solving where the whole system engaged in addressing the user/customer voice.

Effective design thinking uses a balance of rational and creatively structured thought processes to explore possibilities of what a future state could be- and to create designed outcomes that benefit the end User (or the ultimate customer). It is consequently not only a process of Imagination but must be viable and possible to execute within the bounds of current knowledge and methods. In this way Design Thinking offers a Smart Framework for understanding and pursing innovation in ways that adds real value to customers.

Creativity is crucial to the design process, especially in discovering the unmet needs of customers in a given situation and also Testing and Refining possible solutions to ensure that they are attractive and actually work!

How Design Thinking is Leadership in Action

Woven into the fabric of our Culture is an emphasis on thinking based upon logic and deduction. In most of our education and training we are taught that Problem-Solving involves taking a series of inputs analyzing them and then Converging upon a single answer.

At times we find that we have the tendency to go with what appears to be the ‘best’ (most acceptable) choice as compared to the ‘right’ choice. Convergent thinking is a practical way of deciding among existing alternatives. What convergent thinking does lead to however, is probe the future, creating new possibilities

In fact if you look at it objectively, the entire body of work we execute as Leaders/Managers is in the domain of Restoration. There is a normal standard of Performance and all deviations from the standard are indeed ‘Problems’ that we spend hours resolving. There are committees and meetings and endless discussions to find solutions that work! Design thinking pushes beyond the standard norms most Teams chase, to explore Generative Energies of new vistas, new solutions that have either not been thought of or not yet explored.