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Mountains Poking Through Clouds
May 28th, 2019

5 Truths: Integrating Design Thinking Into Your Business (and Life) Culture

As a design innovation and experience firm, we’ve practiced design thinking for over 30 years. Addressing our client’s product, brand, and service challenges from a holistic, human-experience perspective. Employing a bespoke design thinking, visioning, and implementation process. All of which translated into many millions in revenue for our clients. But that’s not all. Our work has also mitigated risk, shortened development cycles and time to profitability, increased customer satisfaction, and garnered wide-ranging accolades from peers. (See a partial list of awards on our site.) As we like to say, “We design brands, products, and experiences that people love.”

But is there an even greater value our clients have experienced working with us? Aside from a healthy ROI, I like to think that they’ve culturally expanded their horizons about what’s possible. Both personally and professionally. Design thinking is a way of living. A way of reframing problems that seem unsolvable, and looking at them from a people-centered perspective. This one action gives you great insights that can inform new ways of examining the problem and new ways of solving it.

I’ve shared 5 truths that are required to integrate design thinking into your business—and your life. There are even more useful principles, but these are five that, when implemented fully, can make a profound difference.

1. Act On What You Do

I was at a leadership breakfast recently and was asked what I did. When I mentioned design thinking, the conversation went something like, “Oh, that’s great. But when we’ve tried that, we ended up with a PowerPoint deck and a binder that collects dust on a shelf.” What was missing was the implementation. We’re a design firm. Design thinking is part of our process. But that’s only to discover the core problem. We then use all the talents and experiences in our toolbox to take the issue and apply strategy around a concept solution, and then design, innovate, and implement the experience. Discovery followed by action. You must take the insights you’ve gathered to inform a better solution. Then you must implement that solution.

2. Nurture The Process

Design thinking is a different way of thinking. Nonetheless, most of us do it from time to time without even knowing it. It takes discipline and time to unlearn old habits and embrace new ones. First, take a more inclusive approach to thinking. Find common ground through direct conversation to gain trust and invite empathy. Empathy exposes a path to understanding what you don’t yet understand. However, you must be open. One who already “knows” all the answers cannot learn. Design thinking allows the discovery of new paths. Those new paths can then be developed and implemented. With nurturing.

3. Build Advocacy

Have you ever heard the saying, “not invented here?” That feeling and idea needs to be thrown away in order for design thinking to take hold in this regard; shedding yourself of any pre-constructs and opening your mind up to new thinking from multiple sources can pay huge dividends. London Business School professor, Nader Tavassoli, speaks about the “6 A’s of Engagement.” You move an employee [or customer] through attention, awareness, acceptance, advocacy, action, and adherence. This process involves understanding roles, as well as the conversion of antagonists to ambassadors. Finally, you must bring the process to life by showing why and how it works. It’s then that things happen. Design thinking needs to be part of every process within your organization. There’s not much room for agnostics, so you have to build advocacy for the process to work.

4. Do it Right (Or Do it Over)

No truer words have been said about product, brand, or service development. Too many companies go for broke on an idea that they are pretty darn sure is right. Then, once they’ve cut steel, bought printing and web, and sent out a sales force to market this new thing, they discover the awesome idea is gasping its last breath. It is very hard to put that horse back in the barn. Not to mention, devastatingly expensive. The design thinking process is about getting it right. With certainty. The process allows for ideation, prototyping, testing, and refinement, over and over again, until you know you’ve got a winner. Only then do you move forward with your people-centered solution and take the market by storm. It is far cheaper to do it right the first time.

5. Good Design Is Good Business

By now you have probably seen or read one of several design index reports declaring that companies in their design index perform between 211% and 228% better than the S&P 500—a composite index benchmark for the last 150 years on business performance. Metrics are available to various performance data on design-led companies versus others in similar or same markets. The jaw-dropping performance is no accident. Technology brands are blowing up right now for a reason. They get it. Service organizations are beginning to understand the increased power of their brand and product when the human condition is considered and empathy is applied—from design thinking through implementation to elevate and reframe the roles in recruiting and retaining the best talent available. That impacts the bottom line in a big way if carried through to implementation. IBM chair and CEO, Thomas J. Watson, was right when he declared, “Good design is good business.”

So, do you want what they have? Then give design thinking a try. It’s a big commitment. But what you reap is a better bottom line and an amazing transformation of the health of your company, product line, brand, service, and customer experience. And that can only mean good things for the longevity and success of your organization. But don’t forget the follow-through. Because everything worth doing, is worth doing right.

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