Design Thinking and Corporate Creativity

Design Thinking and Corporate Creativity


Here’s a common occurrence in companies today: management declares that innovation is a priority and seemingly in an instant, armies of consultants with elaborate, graphics-filled presentations are building models and plans that describe how the company will innovate. An “innovation team” is formed, and a few small projects are run to demonstrate the potential of this new initiative. Everyone is excited – for the moment.

But after a while, nothing changes. Why? For one, meaningful innovation takes time. It’s an iterative process of testing new ideas and accepting failure until one succeeds. Most companies want to see results – fast – so they eventually go back to the old way of doing things. Second, companies often fail to embed innovation into their culture. To truly be innovative, it takes a different way of thinking, and working, and making decisions. It takes empowering employees to take risks without the fear of failure. It takes rewarding creativity and ideas over immediate results. Enter Design Thinking.

Design Thinking provides a methodology that fuels innovative thinking. It helps people learn how to think vs. telling them what to think. It embraces empathy, inspires creativity, and encourages experimentation that produces meaningful solutions to customers’ unmet needs. Design Thinking is ultimately a way of using insights to generate new, innovative ideas, not another process to build or organization to staff.

Design Thinking teaches companies to see things from the perspective of their customers. Too often, companies believe they are so expert in their field that they look at things through a single lens – their own. They employ best practices, gather mounds of data, and hire people with vast experience. The danger is that they don’t take the time to see things through the eyes of their customers and end up force-fitting standard solutions to customers’ unique needs. As American Professor and Physician Dr. Prabhjot Singh put it: “We spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.”

Design Thinking awakens the creativity in all of us. As children, we were all creative. We played. We explored. We were fearless. Over time we were taught to think in a more linear fashion, to seek the single right answer, and never fail. Design Thinking encourages insightful experimentation. It accepts failure as part of the path to success. It reignites the creativity we all once had to create meaningful solutions for companies’ most pressing needs.

Companies use Design Thinking to create new products or services, solve existing problems, uncover the unmet needs of customers, and discover new opportunities. It is comprised of five basic steps:

  • Empathize – Understand the perspective and needs of your end-users
  • Define – Use insights to define the real problem to be solved
  • Ideate – Explore a wide variety of ideas through intense (and fun) brainstorming
  • Prototype – Transform ideas into physical form creating a tangible representation of your solution
  • Test – Take prototype to end-users for observation and feedback; refine prototype or idea as needed

Most importantly, Design Thinking allows companies to chart a new path simply through a new way of thinking. It enables innovation.

As Henry Ford said: “If you always do what you did, you will always get what you got.” In a world that is constantly changing, we need to do better than that.

About the author

Jeff Warren is the President and Founder of Barkley Consulting Group, a Management Consulting Firm that combines real-world experience with thought leadership to bring transformative solutions to organizations. He is a guest lecturer and speaker and works in an advisory capacity for start-ups in the technology sector.

In addition to his consulting practice, Jeff also serves as the Program Director for Design Thinking at Stony Brook University.