Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation

The idea of business innovation means everything a business needs to do to stay relevant in the community. It is not enough just to want to be more creative, but to implement actions that will lead the business to design thinking for strategic innovation. Design Thinking is a way to find innovative solutions for problems. This methodology for applying new ideas involves the notion of design as a way of thinking. Using the design thinking approach, a company makes decisions based on what customers really want. Applying the design thinking methodology assures that many possible solutions are extensively analyzed in the first stage and then we reach a final solution by improving the best ideas.

Design thinking and innovation is the search for a balance between business and art, structure and chaos, intuition and logic, concept and execution, ludic spirit and formality, and control and freedom. The change is inevitable. Organizational structures and processes must be transformed to make way for new forms of management where innovation is a component that allows achieving the expected results. Although you cannot teach to be innovative, there is a methodology that facilitates the generation of new solutions and paradigms in the face of new business challenges. It is about the design thinking approach, a mechanism that proposes solving problems by applying design thinking to create new products and business experiences that transcend the functional.

Design thinking for strategic innovation implies:

Focus on the user:

In the business world, problems are the starting point. That is, if something works, no effort should be made to improve it. However, this is not an indicator of customer satisfaction. Faced with this, design thinking methodologies places the client at the center of everything, so understanding their unmet needs and expectations is essential to propose new ideas.

Creation of a more flexible processes:

Many times an innovative idea is forgotten due to the complex bureaucratic structure of a company. Design thinking approach promotes an “act to learn” approach, in which the organization must be more open to new proposals made by employees, ensuring that experimentation and creativity become a fundamental component of the organizational culture.

Generate value, not just capture it:

More than 80 percent of systems and management techniques focus on capturing value, not creating it. Instruments such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Six Sigma or Lean Startup are useful to keep a business running. However, design thinking process steps seek that each action creates value through the design of disruptive and attractive solutions.

Design of experiences:

Do you know how customers relate to your product or service? The design of experiences is an established set of design thinking practices that involve everything from the discovery of the product to the interaction with it. Allowing to analyze how people relate to the product, service or brand to discover how to captivate them through a different experience.

Create multidisciplinary teams:

The basis of innovation is diversity. When an organization has members from different areas, it can promote the generation of disruptive ideas that help employees to get out of their conventional roles and eradicate the thought patterns of their comfort zone to confront them with ideas of another nature to solve problems of creative way. The design thinker perceives everything around it as an opportunity to create solutions for users’ problems, whether they are high-level executives or residents of a fishing community. Therefore, adopt, start, be an observer and impartial, from a different understanding of the bottlenecks, get a greater understanding of the problem, to take solutions to seek. This is the difference of design thinking in relation to the other methodologies: to open paths for the disciplines to be grounded and modified through the understanding of the systems in a complex and co-creative way.

What are the phases of design thinking?

From the immersion, analysis, ideation, prototyping and implementation stages, it is possible to perform the context, analyze, and generate ideas and test, observing their impact before implementing.
With design thinking for strategic innovation, you can find an appropriate way to schedule a plan, aligning your larger business goals with your existing expansion and knowledge programs. This can motivate and promote the commitment of all parties involved in the execution of the strategy, in addition to generating a balance between sectors. Thus, it is possible to arrive at a structured result and with more chances of effectiveness.

What is a strategic planning for innovation?

For example, is a safe and targeted way to achieve the company’s real objectives, in addition to contemplating the complexity of the organization of the system? Here’s how the design thinking process steps can be valid in this context.

Immersion: identifying the problems to solve

  • How is my company currently?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How can we get there?
  • Who is involved in this process?
  • How is the market in which my company is inserted?
  • How to measure the results in the middle?

The immersion stage is dedicated to collecting information to answer these and other questions. It serves to investigate the context through the elaboration of a research plan, including protocols of primary research, that help in the mapping of the scenarios to be studied. The information gathered during the Immersion is raised through the conduction of semi-structured interviews, which help in surveying the profiles of employees, their divisions, and areas of support, as well as other stakeholders involved in the process.

Analysis and ideation with design thinking tools
After immersion, the problems are exposed and it is necessary to organize as clearly as possible the results of this information gathering to analyze them.
For this, the project team uses visual tools as frameworks on the field of action of the areas (objective, mindset, and strategic vision), visualization of the current workflow and also the mapping of interaction between the areas that subdivide it. These views are treated as inputs for ideas and as guiding criteria for the elaboration of the ideation phase. From this framed view of the problem, ideas are generated creatively rather than restrictively. At that moment, collaboration is one of the most important aspects to be stimulated, which can occur through the realization of co-creation workshops with multidisciplinary groups.

Prototyping: test and feedback of ideas
Initial prototyping is a low-cost materialization that will illustrate the idea generated for presentation to people. It can be performed at any stage of the project and iterates solutions, adjusting them as needed. In this way, management can filter the projects that best fit the strategic objectives defined in the planning, selecting a winner or combining relevant parts of the projects.

The implementation
Is the consequence of this cycle: research and analysis – generation of ideas in co-creative workshops – the creation of prototypes for tests.
This non-linear cycle can be repeated as many times as necessary to gain an understanding of the context. With this well-structured process, it is possible to generate a broad engagement among all the members involved. In addition, sometimes very simple and inexpensive ideas improve structural problems and the full productivity of one or more teams. Implementation, however, needs to be monitored and change management considered. In a next planning cycle, those involved will be able to evaluate and generate incremental improvements in their projects, gradually internalizing the attitude of pro-activity and innovation culture in each activity carried out. With each cycle of strategic planning and checking, teams more and more understand their key role in delivering business results: this is an intangible gain of great relevance, often not valued. If you ask a group of design thinking supporters exactly what this methodology is based on, it is likely that you will get very different answers. This is because there is no single common and integrating definition of design thinking and innovation, and, since this method tends to address ambiguity, perhaps it is fine that it is so.

Next step: planning execution. As for the results of the final version of the planning, it is necessary to create means of maintenance and the constant checking of the micro and macro objectives, and the assertiveness of the tools used. It is necessary that the management system contemplate moments of evaluation periodically.

For most professionals, the idea of ​​design as a way of thinking can be traced back to 1969, the year in which Herbert Simon wrote “The sciences of the artificial”. Simon was born in the United States and was a political scientist, economist, sociologist, psychologist, and professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The distinction he makes between critical thinking as an analytical process of “breaking down” ideas and the form of thinking centered on design, as a process of “developing” ideas is the basis of design thinking methodology. So is his definition of design as ” the transformation of existing conditions in ideal conditions “. From Robert McKim’s 1973 book, “Experiences in Visual Thinking” to the first use of the term by Peter Rowe in “Design Thinking” in 1987, to Richard Buchanan’s highly influential article, “Perverse Problems in the design thinking “, Simon’s great idea (which implies that design is always linked to an improved future) continued to give shape to discipline in all directions.

Recently, design thinking for strategic innovation has captured the attention of entrepreneurs, as articles on the subject appeared in publications such as Bloomberg Business Week and Harvard Business Review. While Simon and his followers used a more thoughtful and academic approach to the epistemological foundations of practice, the commercial press’s assessment of design thinking is too simplistic. By emphasizing the implementation of a people-centered strategy to identify problems, followed by the rapid transformation of prototypes of ideas into tangible artifacts or non-functional models to solve such problems, the commercial press tends to do with design thinking the same as it does with most complex issues: turn it into an easily accessible set of tools that anyone can use.
The commercial press has idealized design thinking as a way to solve problems and increase profits, describing it as a step-by-step process in which adhesive notes, mental maps and other overly simplistic representations of complex systems or experiences are used. What is its simplest definition? Design thinking is a way to make entrepreneurs think like designers and designers like entrepreneurs. However, this methodology is much more than that.

So, what is design thinking?

A way to approach design obstacles through empathy?
A strategy to solve problems collectively?
A framework to balance needs and possibilities?
A means to solve difficult or “twisted” problems?
An attitude to address curiosity and inquiries?
A fixed process and a set of tools?
A problem-solving strategy at the systems level?
A culture that encourages exploration and experimentation?
A buzzword that suggests that designers can do more than just design?
A buzzword related to management that is sold as the next strategic tool?

The answer to everything is: yes and more. Another definition of design thinking: it is the search for a magical balance between business and art, structure and chaos, intuition and logic, concept and execution, fun and formality, and control and power. It is the model for a people-centered approach to strategic innovation and a new management paradigm to create value in a world of ever-changing networks and revolutionary technology. Although this framework is completed with valuable tools or processes, it is the model itself where the magical balance resides. Design thinking for strategic innovation consists of cognitive flexibility, that is, the ability to adapt the process to the challenges. When it comes to organizations that successfully apply design-thinking methodology to challenges, that model is essentially cultural.

If we had to describe the culture of a design thinking organization, these are some of the words that could arise:
Fast and agile
Adaptable and flexible
Driven by motivation
Creative and innovative
Connected and firm
Full of energy
Committed to taking risks

How many large organizations have a culture with all these characteristics? The answer is: very few. For this reason, design thinking and innovation is so difficult to achieve without the help of other organizations, usually smaller, that do have this type of culture. Renowned design critic and professor Don Norman suggests that one of the main problems related to innovation is the ability to manage what is desired, what is possible and what is economically viable. Although Norman refers to the design of objects, the problem is the same when designing systems, services or even cultures.
Design thinking is not an experiment, but it allows us and encourages us to experiment. The association of design thinking approach with the company or its application in an organization is often simplified too much. This methodology covers much more than a large number of sticky notes on a wall or creative ways of doing brainstorming sessions. In addition, it involves more than a process of five, six or seven steps to reach those ideas. It is important to recognize that design thinking for strategic innovation has a focus on questions and expressions, which complements and improves existing skills, behaviors, and techniques. However, it is also fundamental not to define the discipline as the antithesis of analytical thinking based on data. Design thinking is its own mode of analysis: a method that focuses on the forms, relationships, behaviors, interactions and real emotions of humans.

This method includes:

  • How a product, service, system or company currently lives in an ecosystem.
  • How people interact with the above and what is the nature, frequency, and attributes of that interaction.
  • How the different elements of the ecosystem are related to each other and if there is any impact at the systems level.
  • What other ecosystems exist next to your ecosystem.
  • How can new perspectives be obtained by broadly analyzing the communicative events within those ecosystems and how they are interrelated from a systems perspective?
  • What are the key characteristics and behavior patterns of new relationships when analyzed from a system level?
  • What are the behavior patterns of people regarding the information and how to assign them visually to make sense?

Is design thinking a science or an art?

In the business world, the problems (starting point) and objectives (target point) work like a chess game: the initial positions of the pieces are clearly defined and the objective, of course, is to checkmate and win the game. However, in design, this is not the case. In his book “The reflective professional”, Donald Schön explains: “In the real world, problems do not present themselves to the actors as they are, they must be constructed from the material of problematic situations that are complicated, difficult and uncertain”.
For this reason, design theorist and professor Horst Rittel classified the design problems as “twisted” or “perverse” and warned that we need a completely different approach, which he defined as the second generation of theories and design methods. Rittel defends the idea that if the first generation wanted to turn a design into a purely rational process, the second generation recognizes that the notion of rationality implies serious paradoxes and that the distinctions between systematic design versus intuitive and rational versus irrational are unsustainable.

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