By Rethinking Design as “Design Thinking,” Organizations Become More Innovative

The world has finally realized that the way creative people think is a process that can be applied to problems throughout an organization, not just in the design department.

Thanks to the persistence of many creative people and to a changing economy, design thinking is becoming mainstream thinking and is sparking innovation in every area of business, from how services are delivered to how an organization is structured. Design thinkers see possibilities that can radically change the way we do business.

design thinking, innovation, innovative, creative thinkingIn his book, Change by Design, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, defines the process: “design thinking converts need into demand. It’s a human-centered approach to problem solving that helps people and organizations become more innovative and creative.”

In other words, encouraging right-brain thinking in every aspect of your organization brings teams together and sets in motion a cascade of creative ideas that not only solve existing problems but also open the door to new products, services and delivery systems.

Not everyone can be Steve Jobs. His fully-integrated concept and message permeates all levels of Apple, from its organizational structure to R&D, from end-product design to marketing and presentation. Apple embodies design thinking and the benefit that thinking brings to all aspects of a business.

But design thinking is not only for design-oriented firms: All organizations can benefit by design thinking. Kaiser Permanente and Grameen Bank have used design thinking successfully to develop innovative products and corporate cultures.

From Creative Thinking to Competitive Advantage
Whole Foods employed design thinking from the start. The chain began with in 1980, based on the mantra of co-founder John Mackey: Find the finest natural and organic foods, and distribute them to customers.

He defines the Whole Foods mission as a sum of its parts, stating that each element of the corporation plays a huge role in this grassroots organization's success:

  • The products: Most flavorful and natural foods available.
  • The people: Define the company as a decentralized, self-directed team culture with a respectful workplace that nourishes a highly-motivated, creative work force with a strong incentive to succeed.
  • The planet: A hard-line commitment to take care of the world through Whole Planet Foundation’s micro-lending operations and, on the local level, support for food banks and neighborhood events.

Whole Foods’ brand innovation takes place at the structural level, not with media campaigns. Whole Foods succeeds because it delivers unique products and services that are perceived to enrich the lives of its customers. The brand platform is its deliverables.

Mackey created an innovative culture that became a competitive advantage for the company. He designed Whole Foods as a social system, not a hierarchy. The delivery system to the customers is dependent on and integrated with the work culture.

Many organizations talk the talk about teamwork and empowerment, but very few actually walk the walk. Whole Foods is the rare company that not only has clear vision and purpose, but has the commitment to implement it.

Organizations with a defined sense of purpose achieve greater levels of innovation than those that don’t. Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, summed it up nicely. “The real challenge lies in getting better and better at a different thing," he said, "in devising clever solutions to wickedly difficult problems.”

How do you innovate? Each organization has a different way of encouraging innovation. How do you do it? Are you incorporating design thinking in your organization?


Guest blogger Janet Giampietro is a creative consultant who provides strategy, direction and design for non profit and for-profit organizations, janetg@j-giampietro.com

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