Design Thinking isn’t for everyone*

*but it can be

by Josh Roberts

We are big fans of Stanford’s d.school methodology at the Southern Growth Studio and employ these methods often for our innovation clients. At its best, Design Thinking is an inspiring process that reveals a variety of positive ways clients can evolve. The framework can energize stagnant organizations, even before tangible results are developed – the process itself creates a buzz that has a way of spreading around even the most departmentalized office environments.

But Design Thinking isn’t for everyone.

I think Excel-based, linear-oriented organizations sometimes have trouble trusting a process that can look too playful or iterative to find significant long-term value. Rudimentary drawings, excessive amounts of sticky notes, and rooms full of people creating ideas that will get the organization shut down can be uncomfortable in certain environments.

We’ve been fortunate to find great Design Thinking success with clients that, at first glance, look like they might have trouble adopting it.

Here are three things these clients consistently do to make the process work for them, and they can work for you:

  1. Get ready for new learnings – When empathy is collected the right way, you will learn something new about users that won’t be found in quantitative data. This first stage of this human-centered design process is the most rewarding part of the Design Thinking for me, and that’s even truer when you are prepared to embrace this primary market knowledge and evolve because of it.
  2. Embrace total participation (no lurking) – When you’ve started a Design Thinking project, the buzz spreading through the office is usually from the internal ideation sessions that challenge participants to stretch their imaginations beyond current capabilities and biases to create powerful, user-focused solutions. Organizational leaders often get curious about the enthusiasm and creativity coming from sessions and want to watch it in action. Don’t let them. Be respectful, but firm in your stance supervision is not allowed, but leaders are absolutely welcome to participate. When department heads, VPs, and CEOs lead by example in the Design Thinking process, it frees everyone to think big, to aspire to be disruptive.
  3. Properly define success – Design Thinking executed properly should be refreshingly disruptive in a variety of beneficial ways including your user’s experience, your organization’s culture, and your internal problem solving processes. It’s often more appropriate to measure success with terms like, “we’re going to change the way our customers engage us,” rather than, “we’re going to grow our top line by 5%.” When done right, the latter is a by-product of the former, which benefits the organization more than a single line item metric ever could.

Maybe your organization has flirted with doing a Design Thinking project and shied away, or perhaps you’ve tried it and weren’t satisfied with the results. Focusing on these three things can help make Design Thinking work for anyone. Give it a try with these things in mind, and you just might be surprised by what your organization is capable of doing.

Happy disrupting.