Design Thinking process, A Culture to build and sustain

The design thinking process is becoming increasingly popular because it was crucial to the success of many high-profile, global companies such as Google, Apple, and Airbnb

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Are you thinking of running a design thinking workshop? Please read this first. 

Over the past decade, it has become imperative to develop and refine skills which allow us to act on quick changes in our environment and behavior. The world has become challenging, interconnected, and complex, and need solutions that can implement quickly. The concept of design thinking is focused on users rather than on the problems itself. It is a non-linear, iterative process which attempts to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. 

The design thinking process is becoming increasingly popular because it was crucial to the success of many high-profile, global companies such as Google, Apple, and Airbnb.


What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a five-stage process. These stages are not always sequential, and one can run the steps in parallel patterns, out of order and iteratively repeat them. The different stages of design thinking are independent, which contribute to the entire design project, rather than sequential steps. The ultimate goal is to derive a deeper understanding of the product and its users. 


The great concept has proven its benefits. There is a sudden rush of signups on workshops and certifications for the same. The critical question is, will it work in your organization? Is the Org ready for this? Are people prepared for this? Do employees have the mindset to adopt and execute?

Let me share a scenario. An IT company (software services), been around for five years, having good growth. They added over 50 employees in the last five years. An agile company with not many processes and flat organization, pleasant environment, friendly, and engagement level is high. The company looking for expansion and growth and has approached a VC showcasing talent, capability, and a unique business idea. VC gets excited and invests. The company gets the ball rolling by immediately hire 20 odd employees and initiates Design Thinking workshops to accelerate from concept to GTM. Will it work? I think most of you by now would have concluded that it may face enormous challenges. Yes, you are right, think from your organization perspective - the situation could be very different, but the principles are the same. 

Let us go back to design thinking. As mentioned before it is a non-linear process; one can start from Ideate or emphasize or even testing what is available. Imagine the commotion and arguments from where to start. Yes, one can put a decision-maker in place who will decide, but then it will kill the concept of design thinking as the basic premise is on inclusivity, creativity, and above all - independence. 


Back to the key question: Will this work?

Yes, if the Org and Team are at a Performing Stage (Tuckman’s Model) or at least in the norming stage. 


Considerable time have to invest in understanding org, people, behavior, and overall culture. Let us take the above scenario if the 20 odd folks added; the entire company has gone back to the forming stage (Tuckman’s Model). 


1. Building Trust and Rapport

It is essential to work on building trust and rapport between the team members. This part is the hardest every organization faces. The leadership team needs to observe and identify a change agent. In every organization or the group, there will be one or a few people who are the movers and shakers and have a natural ability to connect with people. Bring them on board, convince them first (as they are the early adopters) which will quickly help to bring in the early majority as well. This group will approximately bring 50% of the Org on board (Diffusion of Innovation Theory). Alternately, run team building activities, small cohort sessions, and create a hobby space to foster genuine conversations and help understand each other. 


2. Absolute Clarity:

Human’s love clarity, they strive for familiarity, and they love to be safe and sound. Any change or ambiguity will throw them off guard (reptilian brain). At its simplest: the certainty gives the illusion of control, and the illusion of control makes us feel safe(r). When employees work in an uncertain environment, they are typically hyper-alert to a potential threat. That is not in the kind of head-space to make a significant contribution to be highly creative. One cannot focus on being original or solving problems if they are wrestling with an instinctive flight, fight, or freeze response. Next question is how to bring clarity. Three steps are all it takes to bring clarity in Organizations and Teams. 


a. Clarity of purpose: 

Everyone on a team must share a common goal, a clear understanding of why they are doing whatever they are working on in the first place.


b. Clarity of plan

With the clarity of purpose, the team knows the end. With the clarity of the plan, the team will know how to get there.


 c. Clarity of responsibility

A team will have clarity of responsibility when each person knows exactly what role they have in the execution. 


Design thinking is a great concept and a tool like any other tool. What is essential for a leader to think through is whether or not the environment is conducive for learning and development, and if people are willing to work together most objectively. Is there enough trust and bonding between people to foster healthy debates, creativity, inclusiveness, openness, challenging the status quo, accountability? The first step for a leader is to create an environment of trust and accountability, then work on clarity and responsibility. If these are done well, any change management will work, including design thinking. 


I am deeply passionate about people and business processes, and I love to find ways to marry both and help in execution. Anyone interested to discuss this topic in detail, please feel free to get in touch. 


#designthinking #leadershipideals #topleaders #leadershipthinking #organisation #behaviou


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