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What design thinking can do for organic growth and innovation

Design thinking can do for organic growth and innovation what TQM did for quality—take something we always have cared about and put tools and processes into the hands of managers to make it happen.

Designers and managers

Whether design thinking can—or should—be taught to managers is a hotly debated topic among designers. How you define design itself lies at the core of the argument. Designers bristle at the suggestion that managers can be taught enough
about design to be anything but dangerous. They point to the years of specialized training that designers receive—and worry that unleashing managers to think of themselves as designers will erode the quality of and appreciation for what trained
designers do. We believe that their concerns need to be taken seriously and that the way to do this is to differentiate design from design thinking.

Gifted designers combine an aesthetic sensibility with deep capabilities for visualization, ethnography, and pattern recognition that are well beyond the grasp of most of us—managers included. But when it comes to fostering business growth, the
talent that we are interested in is not rooted in either natural gifts or studio training—it lies with having a systematic approach to problem solving. That, to us, defines design thinking, and it can be taught to managers.
Like any process, design thinking will be practiced at varying levels by people with different talents and capabilities.

4 Basic questions

Despite a lot of fancy vocabulary like “ideation” and “co-creation,” the design process deals with four very basic questions, which correspond to the four stages of the process: What is? What if? What wows? and What works? The What is stage explores current reality. What if envisions a new future. What wows makes some choices.
What works takes us into the marketplace. The widening and narrowing of the bands around each question represent what designers call “divergent” and “convergent” thinking. In the early part of each stage of the design thinking process, we are progressively expanding our field of vision, looking as broadly and expansively around us as possible in order not to be trapped by our usual problem framing and pre-existing set of solutions. After we have generated a new set of concepts, we begin to reverse the process by converging, progressively narrowing down our options to the most promising.

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The Project Management Aids

To succeed at harnessing the power of design thinking to grow your business, you need to do more than try out the ten tools of design thinking: You have to manage the growth project itself. This is not as easy as it may sound. You are gathering large amounts of data, dealing with significant ambiguity and uncertainty, and working with new internal and external partners—all under the pressure of deadlines and resource constraints. With all these new tools and new types of data, this train can easily come off the tracks.


Incorporating design thinking into your search for growth is going to take some patience on your part. Most companies, however well intentioned and excited about innovation, aren’t P&G and Google; they still don’t “get it.”
Chances are that yours is one of those. All kinds of obstacles will probably be thrown your way while you are beingasked to find profitable new growth opportunities. That challenge—moving a design project through an organization—is the subject of our final chapter.
Managers trying to innovate and grow new businesses in big bureaucracies need all the help that they can get.
And design really can help. Big time. So let’s get started on showing you how.





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