Unlocking Innovation at Your Company with Design Thinking

by
Manish Limaye
and
Chris Merritt

By now, many companies have heard of Design Thinking and how it can help spark innovation. Innovation is simply the effort of creative ideation and the fostering of new ideas. Design Thinking fosters innovation by encouraging organizations to focus on the people they're creating for, which leads to better products, services, and internal processes. For many, the concept of Design Thinking makes sense in the context of designing great user experiences or prototyping and testing new products and features. However, many companies, like Ford and Nike have expanded the use of Design Thinking to solve a wide range of challenges that go well beyond the classic definition.

If your organization struggles with developing unique innovative solutions to rapid societal changes, issues related to corporate culture, or problems affecting diverse groups of people and you have tried traditional problem-solving methods with little success then give Design Thinking a try.

Thinking Differently

Originally coined by John E. Arnold in 1959, Design Thinking was adapted for business purposes by David M. Kelly, the founder of IDEO, in 1991. Unlike traditional approaches to problem-solving that address viability and feasibility (i.e., what are the business benefits and can I implement the solution in a timely manner), Design Thinking introduces the characteristic of desirability. It’s a human-centric approach to problem-solving focused on inspiration, divergent and convergent thinking, prototyping, and frequent user testing. 

Empathy not Sympathy

 For some organizations, Design Thinking can represent a completely new way of thinking. It means having genuine empathy for the user or person. Empathy means that you feel what a person is feeling. Sympathy means you can understand what the person is feeling. Empathy is not just an important ingredient in Design Thinking—it’s the secret sauce. Without it, the entire method falls apart. Why? Because empathy allows you to put yourself in others’ shoes and see the problem from their perspective. It challenges long-standing assumptions and may lead to new and diverse ways of thinking. 

Getting Started

Design Thinking can unlock new ways of framing problems resulting in innovative solutions. Although, it may feel messy at times and uncomfortable. If you are open to using this approach to solve some of your challenges, you can significantly increase the odds of success by recruiting the right team. There are a few important characteristics that your team members need to possess for Design Thinking to be effective: a collaborative spirit, a curious nature, and most importantly, empathy for the people who experience the problem. It’s essential to involve a diverse group from every part of your organization because everyone has a unique context and perspective, which can illuminate issues and ideas that would otherwise go unnoticed. There may be additional benefits as well, such as forging cross-organizational relationships and fostering a sense of ownership that will build unity throughout the organization.

A Practical Example

Design Thinking works best by approaching challenges in ways that best suit human needs regardless of the scale or authority of the challenge. In other words, where we need to make human sense of things. The foundational components of a company (finance and legal, planning and leadership, sales and marketing, operations and people) often go through changes resulting from growth, external systemic impacts, technological advances, and more. One timely example of widespread change most organizations are grappling with is the new normal resulting from the pandemic. Design Thinking can be leveraged to provide solutions to problems such as the following:

  • How do we foster healthy company culture and camaraderie in the era of remote work? 
  • How can we attract and retain great talent? 
  • How might we improve the processes we have in place for doing a given job?
  • How do we build a sense of belonging without being physically together in an office?

 In the Harvard Business Review article, How to Do Hybrid Right, author Lynda Gratton states that when designing flexible work arrangements, focus on the individual human concerns, not just institutional ones.

No Limits

With a diverse, cross-functional team assembled, an empathetic perspective, and a clearly defined challenge, there are no limits to the ways you can unlock innovation at your company or organization. Design Thinking can help you build great products and services, yes. But the true benefits of Design Thinking will breakthrough once you start leveraging it for bigger problems. It’s a bold strategy, but once it takes hold, your organization will have gained a huge advantage.

Data reveals organizations that use design thinking practices regularly see 56 percent higher returns and significantly higher revenues than those that do not. If you’d like to learn more about Design Thinking and how it can transform your organization, let’s talk! At Allata, we have helped organizations big and small utilize Design Thinking to deliver unique customer experiences and true product differentiation.

Manish Limaye

Manish Limaye, a Vice President at Allata, is an established consulting professional and business operator with over 25 years of experience delivering world-class solutions to various clients. He holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Kansas and an M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University. Manish’s expertise as a career management consultant involves working across a diverse set of engagements, including customer experience design and implementation, B2C and B2B conversion optimization, innovation acceleration, custom application development, and technology strategy.

A fierce advocate of Design Thinking, Manish works with clients to take a User-Centered approach to business strategy and product development. Like Tron, he fights for the User. Manish enjoys building high-performing design cultures that deliver consistently and work well within a traditional consulting model. He is a lifelong learner and skilled at bringing a diverse group of talented individuals together to deliver solutions that meet or exceed expectations.

Chris Merritt

Chris Merritt is a Manager at Allata and has been designing digital products for 15 years. He believes that listening to and empathizing with people is the key to creating great experiences. His expertise includes workshop facilitation, prototyping, and high-fidelity UI design.

Chris spent most of his career running his own design business but joined Allata to work with a strong team that can take on bigger challenges. Together with the Allata XD super team, he is helping clients create powerful products with great experiences.

Outside of work, Chris loves being a family man. He and his wife, Amy, have three kids that keep them plenty busy, but he tries to carveout a little time to read, watch a movie, or dream about the next mechanical watch to add to his small collection.

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