Driving organisational change through design thinking

Leaders can infuse design thinking into every level of an organisation, product or service to drive new alternatives for business and society.


Have you ever wondered, what led to the creation of Apple’s iPhone? How can one develop new capabilities to solve problems in an organisation? How is it possible to re-imagine problems to create smarter, faster solutions?

Design thinking is a great way to find these answers.

Leaders can infuse design thinking into every level of an organisation, product or service to drive new alternatives for business and society. However, most people still associate design thinking with the launching of products without realising how it can also be a driver of organisational change.

My perspective on design thinking has been particularly shaped by one of our educators, Justin Ferrell, who works for Stanford’s d-school. Justin demonstrates that design thinking is not only for designers, but also for employees across all levels and functions in the organisation. I have seen directly how organisations in India are trying to infuse this approach into their work. This is an encouraging trend. Here are reasons why companies based in India should be leveraging design thinking.

1. Ride the digital transformation wave better

Digital transformation will continue to have a significant impact on India, just as in other regions of the world. According to a research by Microsoft and IDC Asia/Pacific, digital transformation will add an estimated US$154 billion to India’s GDP, and increase the growth rate by one per cent annually.

“India is clearly on the digital transformation fast track. Within the next four years, it is estimated that nearly 60 per cent of India’s GDP will have a strong connection to the digital transformation trends,” said Anant Maheshwari, president, Microsoft India in a press release announcing the study.

Companies need to quickly take action to seize this opportunity. In my opinion, there is no better means to achieve such change than by leveraging design thinking.

Companies that have been around for some time have established processes and ways of working. As organisations mature, their strengths become clearer, and resources are allocated into those areas of focus, thereby making it quite difficult to adjust quickly to the rapidly-changing conditions around them. In short, large organisations are built for efficiency, not for innovation. The design thinking process helps companies overcome this barrier.

2. Generate ideas from cross-functional teams

It is vital to have the right people, at the right time working on the right projects. This is easier said than done. Often, people are promoted simply because they are successful in executing a certain task. Design thinking enables managers to select the ideal teams that should work together on projects and build trust in such teams. It also establishes systems that guide the team to decide on whether to explore or decline different opportunities. In this case, the end user of design thinking isn’t the external customer, but rather, the internal colleague.

It is equally important for systems to be in place for individuals within teams to share and execute ideas. Possibilities are limited when direct reports are only working on the ideas put forth by the manager. You need to put in place the infrastructure so that ideas from across the teams are heard.

Much has been written about how bureaucracy is a major impediment to business growth in India. Design thinking can help tear down such barriers. The process involves empathising, defining, ideating, prototyping and testing. It quickly results in establishing new rules for effective brainstorming and creating large-scale internal transformations.

3. Win the war on talent

Design thinking has significant implications on even some of the intangibles of an organisation, such as recruiting. How do you recruit future generations? What incentivises them?

In our work at Duke Corporate Education, we have seen first-hand how design thinking can lead to success for our clients in retaining and recruiting talent. Talent is increasingly looking for development opportunities and to engage in interesting experiences. Using design thinking for hiring can have ramifications on who you hire and how long they work with you.

It was interesting to observe the LinkedIn list of companies individuals want to work for across India. Several of these organisations – such as Google and GE – made this list and are known for how they use design thinking.

Design thinking inspires a set of micro-behaviours and routines that guide the norms and systems people use to solve problems and address opportunities. It sets you up for success in product innovation as well as organisational transformation.

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