In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, University of Virginia business professor Jeanne Liedtka describes her seven-year study into projects in various sectors, including business, health care and social services, and discusses how human tendencies get in the way of innovation. Her research finds that design thinking “has the potential to do for innovation exactly what Total Quality Management (TQM) did for manufacturing: unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment and radically improve processes.”
We couldn’t agree more. Her theory, based on this extensive research, is that design thinking gets around long-held biases we all have, as well as our tendency to cling to the status quo, and become attached to workplace norms. How often have we all heard: “It’s the way we’ve always done it!” as an argument against change.
These biases stall innovation. But with design thinking, groups are given the tools (and permission) to move beyond old habits to find a fresh perspective.
Liedtka’s study found that to be successful, innovation must deliver three things:
Low-risk and cost of change
This can be a tall order for organizations rooted in legacy ways or systems, but design thinking is poised to help deliver all three by addressing behavioural obstacles and counterproductive biases of human beings.
All too often, defining a problem or challenge starts with one’s own point of view, and can lead to solutions that are right for the team or the organization (streamlined processes, for example) but not right for the customer or end user. Developing empathy for the customer, which is at the core of design thinking, forces a fresh point-of-view, delivering big ideas that lead to superior solutions.
When innovating in conventional ways — a standard brainstorming session, say — it’s inevitable that someone in the group will start theorizing about how certain ideas or possibilities can’t work; They’re too risky or too out there. The end result is less than optimal stagnation and status quo. By following the design thinking process through to prototyping and testing, teams take a lot of the risk out of the equation. When they reach the final outcome, they have the confidence it’s going to work.
No change or innovation is going to hold water if employees don’t get behind it. Change can be scary and threatening, especially for people who were quite comfortable with the status quo. But by immersing people in design thinking and training them to use these tools, employees become part of the process, part of the solution, part of the transformation.
That’s why design thinking works. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.