Ideas / Design Thinking

Design thinking doesn't happen in a temple.

by James Young, Principal

One of the common misconceptions about Design Thinking is that it’s reserved for a select few. Design Thinking is often seen as the domain of a mysterious “priesthood” (creative people), and that these practitioners can only engage in Design Thinking in a “temple” (a lab or designated “creative space.”)

I’ve seen a common theme among companies that have tried and failed to benefit from Design Thinking. I like to say they chose to believe in the priesthood and made an offering at the temple … but their prayers went unanswered.

One company I know of hired a design group whose goal was to evangelize various teams, and built a really cool innovation lab that they showed off to everyone at the company. But a culture of innovation was never established. Another hired a “high priest” of Design Thinking, but his teachings never took hold. The product managers never really saw the value of Design Thinking and undermined his efforts.

The good news

Design Thinking doesn’t happen in a temple. It can happen anywhere, with any member of your team. In fact, that’s the way it should be. All you need to do is make sure your people have the knowledge and confidence to engage in Design Thinking. And while it’s true that’s not easy, the good news is that it’s far from impossible. I’ve seen it happen, not once but many times and in many very different organizations. Stick with me and I’ll explain how.

Innovation Sprint
photo credit: Caleb Haye

Seeing the light

People from all areas of your organization can be trained in Design Thinking, but top-down doesn’t work here; what’s needed is a bottom-up approach. One company that has succeeded in this approach is Intuit. They began investing in Design Thinking training over a decade ago, and continue to do it right.

Kaaren Hanson, Intuit’s former VP of Design Innovation, told me they had many false starts in their efforts to bring in Design Thinking, including the “temple” approach. That is, they sent senior leaders to half-day workshops, hoping they’d come back and spread the gospel. But it didn’t work.

Spreading the word

What did work was building a culture of Design Thinking from the ground up – everyone in the company is trained in it and uses it to solve problems across the company. Rank-and-file employees and senior leaders all understand the theory and mechanics of Design Thinking – and see the results in their own domains. And with that comes a strong sense that they have the ability to come up with truly creative and powerful ideas.

You don’t need a fancy lab with inspirational posters on the wall and Play-Doh on the tables. Instead, start from the bottom up; give permission for creative ideas to come from anyone, anywhere, any time; and most importantly, train your people on the theory, tools, and mechanics of Design Thinking.

Innovation Sprint

Seek and ye shall find

If you are interested in a Design Thinking training for everyone at your organization, non-designers and designers alike, the one I’ve developed may be right for your organization. It can help instill a culture of innovation at all levels of your organization.

If you’d like to find out more about how this course can transform your workforce, let’s get to know each other.