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Why Design Thinking is Good for Digital Transformation

Tricia Morris | Jan 5, 2017 701 views No Comments

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In a new Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Focus report from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte University Press, nearly half (44%) of the more than 3,700 business executives, managers and analysts surveyed currently believe their organization is adequately preparing for digital disruption.

But how should the other half (actually more than half) get started? Many say it’s with a design thinking exercise to accelerate their organization’s digital transformation. In a recent interview with Ray Wang, Principal Analyst, Founder, and Chairman of Constellation Research, as well as the author of the best-selling book, Disrupting Digital Business, Wang notes executives have to set up an environment for people to be successful.

“So the top-down setup is important,” says Wang, “but then it’s the bottom up, where people are able to submit ideas and know that they can innovate and co-innovate inside organizations. Digital transformation (defined by Constellation Research as the methodology in which organizations transform and create new business models and culture with digital technologies) isn’t a project that you just put up once – it’s part of your culture.”

And that’s where design thinking comes in: getting everyone involved in innovation.

“What many organizations do is they begin the process with a design thinking exercise,” notes Wang.

In one of many Harvard Business Review articles, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO and author of Change by Design, defines design thinking as “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs to what is technologically possible and a viable business strategy (to) convert into customer value and market opportunity.”


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“The key part of design thinking working is diversity,” says Wang, “but not in the traditional sense of race, religion, or gender. In this case, it’s about disciplines. Accountants, architects, authors, artists – they all think differently. When you put them in a room and you’re trying to solve the same problem, they come up with different angles. It’s the intersection of these different disciplines that sparks innovation.”

Joe Dickerson, technologist, author and UX Lead, Microsoft UX Team, MS Services, echoes Wang’s support of design thinking to spur innovation:

“The design thinking process helps people generate ideas in a collaborative way that takes full advantage of everyone’s perspectives. By having different people from different teams come together, you have a wider and deeper ‘pool’ of experiences to inform ideation.

“The key to success,” Dickerson notes, “is to make sure the collaboration and brainstorming is properly facilitated and timeboxed, to allow the right structure to help the innovative ideas grow and flourish.

“Those limits actually make the groups focus more, and by splitting everyone into smaller teams, there is a bit of friendly competition between the different groups that encourages people bring great ideas to the table.”

And does design thinking actually work?

“I’ve facilitated design thinking sessions with multiple organizations (at all levels),” says Dickerson, “and at the end of every session there is always at least one innovative idea that the group decides to move forward on, and this idea quite often never existed before the workshop began.”

But it’s truly a team effort.

“One key is that this collaboration is both ‘additive’ and positive,” notes Dickerson. “In the initial brainstorming, you are encouraged to respond with ‘Yes, and…’ instead of ‘No, but….’

“Allowing people to add to an idea instead of tear this emerging idea down is important. Even people who don’t consider themselves ‘creative’ can build on the ideas of their peers to add value. The time to criticize comes later, when you start to build out an operational plan to make the vision a reality – but even then, that critique should be of the details, not of the vision itself.”

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