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Driving Innovation Through Design Thinking

Innovation rarely just happens. People usually need a set of tools, frameworks, and methodologies to help them think outside of the box. This is especially true in today’s day and age where technology has created an era of constant change.

Given the challenges, how can you help your organization stay relevant and be innovative? One way is to give your people the tools they need to innovate continuously.

At KSMC, our approach to innovative solutioning for ourselves and our clients includes Design Thinking methodology.

Why does innovation matter?
We see innovation all around us – paradigm shifts, new and easier uses of technology at work and at home. Our society is constantly innovating to solve new and bigger problems. Innovation begins when someone sees a problem worth solving in a new way.

For years, innovation has been used as a way to differentiate. How organizations drive innovation on a daily basis takes discipline and requires change. Organizations must regularly ask themselves what needs they have that require a new solution.

Creating and unleashing collaboration and creativity in your organization can be messy, but it’s essential for innovation. Design Thinking is one tool you can leverage to help drive innovation.

Enter Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a problem-solving philosophy and methodology designed to draw upon creativity, imagination, and logic to facilitate collaboration and drive new solutions in a human-centric way.

For innovation to be successful, one element is critical: an understanding of the people involved and the need you are attempting to resolve. This starts with empathy – one of the core principles of the Design Thinking methodology.

How can you leverage the Design Thinking methodology to innovate?
Empathy
The path to innovation starts with empathy – the ability to share the feelings of another. Empathy requires a human element and is attained by mostly listening. To truly understand a need, a diverse team of people will help you draw upon different perspectives and insights. Beginning with empathy helps you fully understand the needs of the people involved in the challenge you are trying to solve – making the ultimate solution more relevant.

Ideation
After working through empathy exercises, the next step is to ideate. During this step – now that you understand the need – ask yourself if you fully understand the problem. Once that has been defined, it is time to begin brainstorming solutions. This step is all about idea generation.

There are several techniques you can use to get creative ideas flowing through brainstorming. Here is an easy exercise to try:

Exercise: Brainstorming with Sticky Notes
For this exercise, you only need pens, sticky notes, and a few participants.

To begin, circle up. Announce a topic to the group. An example might be “ways to improve the sales process.” Each participant then has 30 seconds to write down an idea that comes to mind on their sticky note. (Remember, there are no wrong answers.)

When the time is up, the sticky note is passed to the right. With another 30 seconds on the clock, people read what is on their sticky note and then either add to the idea written or jot an entirely new idea down. This continues until each sticky note has made it around the circle at least once. To wrap up the exercise, someone reads aloud the ideas and the team selects a few that resonate with the need.

What to Expect from Design Thinking
Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management published a research paper entitled, “Quantifying a Culture of Innovation.” In this study of 154 companies over five years, they found four factors particularly important for successful innovation:

  1. Scale of activity: the more people who participated and the more ideas the better.
  2. Frequency: the more brainstorming and ideation events the better.
  3. Engagement: the more active participation of people the better.
  4. Diversity: the more diversity related to participants roles and departments the better.

Another finding was that higher concentration of ideas – from a small active group – was much less effective than broad participation from diverse fields.

The study found that focusing on process or product innovation or between sustaining and disruptive innovation made little difference. The most important factor was that the more people who actively participate, the more valuable the ideas that emerge. It highlighted the importance of engaging a diverse group of stakeholders as highlighted by the principle of empathy in the Design Thinking methodology, as well as the need for broad teams to participate in ideation.

An organization that strives for continuous improvement and innovation is spurred by Design Thinking methodology. It helps with the development of new ideas as well as making sure they are connected to true needs. Tools such as Design Thinking help teams learn, test, and know it’s okay to fail, be agile, and keep moving forward – all necessary on the path to innovation.


Michele Hovet is the Client and Partner Innovation Director for KSM Consulting. Michele serves as a thought leader and solution innovator. Connect with her on LinkedIn.