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The Importance of Design Thinking to Corporate Strategy

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is "an innovative problem-solving process rooted in a set of skills," according to a recent MIT Sloan article. In another MIT Sloan piece, the discipline is explained as the application of designers' or engineers' problem-solving techniques to corporate innovation processes. These elements are the hallmarks of design thinking:

  • Fast iterations.
  • Early and frequent interaction with customers.
  • Agile process design with less hierarchy.
  • Learning-by-doing approach involving creating prototypes and mock-ups.

Harvard Business Review succinctly expresses the importance of this discipline in corporate strategic thinking today, saying it "can define the way an organization functions at the most basic levels." This can include how a company relates to its customers, develops new products, devises new business models, assesses risk and solves problems. Organizations in every industry use design thinking in their corporate strategies. In fact, the concept has become so important that many organizations have introduced a chief design officer role into the C-suite.

Some of the nation's top business schools partner with major corporations to innovate their MBA curricula and to teach game-changing concepts like design thinking. Boise State University has been a pioneer in this regard, according to recent graduate (from Australia) Karolin Marakool:

Boise State came up and caught my attention purely because of the design thinking aspect. It was the only program I found anywhere that even remotely talked about the concept of design thinking, let alone had a course dedicated to it. Boise's online MBA program started with this course, and its learnings were leveraged across all of the courses from then on. That was fascinating to me since I use design thinking and other design methodologies in my work. To me, that was a winner.

How Does Design Thinking Help Creativity and Innovation?

In 2008, a Harvard Business Review piece launched the concept of design thinking into prominence. Author Tim Brown, then CEO of the innovation and design firm IDEO, provided several examples of this discipline, two of which will help elucidate the concept:

  1. A collaboration between IDEO and frontline employees from a healthcare provider to reengineer nursing staff shift changes at hospitals resulted in streamlined information exchange between shifts. The result was more time for nursing, strong patient care and a happier staff.
  2. To combat lagging bicycle sales in America, Japanese component company Shimano worked with IDEO to overcome the reasons why 90 percent of Americans do not ride bikes, from the danger of being hit by an automobile to intimidating retail experiences. This resulted in a new brand concept called "coasting," which described a safer, more relaxed way to enjoy the sport --and to sell bikes that would appeal to this mindset.

How are such creative and innovative results achieved? By leaders and teams who employ the creatively nimble design thinking approach, which removes all preconceptions and biases, suspends judgment and takes critical thinkers to their natural conclusions. They succeed by following these basic collaborative steps, which students explore and practice in the Boise State University online MBA program:

  1. Research the problem by involving product and service users.
  2. Come to a complete understanding of the problem and define its parameters.
  3. Go wild -- explore a wide range of possible solutions.
  4. Iterate extensively through prototyping and testing.
  5. Implement through customary deployment mechanisms.

Design thinking is for visionaries who like to think big and redefine existing ideas. The more you know about how it has led to the reinvention of companies and industries, the more you will envision it transforming your own career.

Learn more about the Boise State University online MBA program.


Sources:

Harvard Business Review: Design as Strategy

Harvard Business Review: Design Thinking

Creativity at Work: Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation

MIT Sloan: Why Design Thinking in Business Needs a Rethink

MIT Sloan: Design Thinking, Explained


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