Why Design Thinking Won’t Solve All Your Innovation Problems

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Why Design Thinking Won't Solve All Your Innovation Problems


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Deciding on which innovation process to use is only the first step.


4 min read

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Over the last couple of years, design thinking has become one of the most common innovation buzzwords, and therefore, has become seen as a panacea to “doing” innovation. The reality, though, is far from the truth.

Related: 5 Habits That Made Elon Musk an Innovator

Design thinking is a process that helps people find a solution to a customer problem. Customer empathy is at its core, and in an ideal world, the process leads to a solution that is desirable (to customers), feasible (to build) and viable (financially) to create.

What design thinking won’t give you or teach you are all the other ingredients necessary for a successful innovation program. Here are some specific things that you still need to think about if you are investing in innovation within your organization.

Design thinking won’t create a culture for innovation.

While a decent design thinking training program should leave people feeling energized, if you haven’t created a culture where innovation thrives, any kind of training will soon be forgotten.

Take time to understand the most important drivers of an innovation culture, which include elements such as cohesion between staff, the debate of different ideas and perspectives being encouraged, and failure not being seen as a dirty word.

Related: 11 Proven Habits of Highly Innovative People

Design thinking won’t provide you with time and a budget.

No matter which innovation methodology you adopt, you are going to need to have a plan of how you attach resources to innovation. This includes both time and money.

Many organizations make the mistake of announcing they are “doing” design thinking, but then fail to carve out time in people’s weeks for them to work on innovation projects. Likewise, leaders may talk about design thinking, but unless there is a budget dedicated to it, nothing will happen.

Design thinking won’t provide you with an innovation strategy.

While design thinking will teach you how to have empathy for your customers, it won’t dictate your organization’s innovation strategy. Before using design thinking (or any innovation process), you first need to have a clear growth strategy that includes rich focus areas for innovation. Once you know the territories your business wants to innovate in, you can then adopt any number of innovation methodologies to get you to effective customer-focused solutions.

For example, deciding which markets to expand into, new customer segments to target and additional categories to explore, are all strategic decisions that need to be made before working through a design thinking process.

Related: How Do You Win the Innovation Game? Google’s ‘X’ Marks the Spot.

Design thinking won’t disruption-proof your business.

Just as design thinking won’t write an innovation strategy for you, it won’t disruption-proof your business. Instead, get familiar with Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation to understand how to balance core innovation efforts with those that are more disruptive.

In addition, Innosight senior partner Scott Anthony’s Dual Transformation is a very helpful approach in understanding how to protect and build the core of your business while also positioning your organization for future growth.

Design thinking won’t motivate your staff to innovate.

Ultimately, you can use the best methodologies in the world, but unless staff actually want to innovate, nothing much will happen.

Get back to basics and ensure that your organization has a clear and motivating purpose, that you are designing work in a way that gives people a clear sense of progress, and that the projects that staff work on are appropriately challenging and give them a chance to master new skills. Only then will innovation be able to thrive in your organization.



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