How to Apply Design Thinking to Leadership?
By Arijit Banerjee
Millennials cherish experiences over cars and homes, hence, driving the growth of design thinking-led billion-dollar-plus start-ups like Uber and Airbnb. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate a product and the experience of buying the product. This makes design thinking a key source of competitive advantage as companies look to transform the way they do business.
Design thinking demands leadership to imbibe a new mentality of using systemic reasoning combined with empathy and intuition to experiment and explore ideal future states. This is done by keeping the end user’s needs in mind, first and foremost. Many Indian companies from Silicon Valley, for instance, are looking to leverage a design thinking approach to create optimal value for customers.
Let’s take a look at three ways you can apply design thinking to your leadership to magnify positive outcomes:
1. Leverage prototyping to win your team’s confidence
If design thinking is the toolkit that the designers employ, prototyping is the strongest tool that leaders can use. Prototyping can make product development meetings more interesting and you don’t necessarily need an end product to put across ideas. Something as simple as a sketch or a storyboard can also be used to illustrate a solution. Moreover, you can also prototype a part of a product to explain the solution, such as the proposed keypad of a notebook to test its feel.
PepsiCo’s chief design officer Mauro Porcini focuses his efforts on creating a company culture that embraces design thinking to create experiences that grow the brand. Porcini believes that one of prototyping’s key advantages is that it can boost confidence. To help colleagues go to ‘yes’ from ‘no’, his team produces prototypes of new ideas before debating their pros and cons.
2. Create a culture of trying to understand foundational user problems through design research
Design thinking and design research can inform strategic decision-making on many levels. Airbnb is a perfect example of this. The company’s ‘Why Hosts Reject’ initiative tries to understand fundamental reasons why hosts reject guests, by analysing the user experience for guests, using design thinking. They made it a focus area and formed a team to conduct an in-depth foundational research to understand the root cause of problems and resolve the conflicts between guests and the host.
3. Use critical thinking to lay the foundation of design thinking
In April 2017, the Ford Motor Company, the second largest carmaker in the US was suddenly worth less than 14-year-old Tesla. Ford brought in Jim Hackett, well-versed in Ideo’s design thinking as CEO. Hackett is trying to shape the future of transportation in tight competition with younger, more agile companies – using design thinking as the crucial differentiator. He emphasises the importance of critical thinking as an enabler of design thinking. He has started company-wide workshops teaching critical thinking as one of the first phases of design thinking.
For business leaders, it is now important that design thinking and everything associated with it, are more central to their business strategies, marketing strategies, marketing executions, operations, and product designs. The emerging experience economy and the need for using design thinking demand a new generation of leaders who can combine design with business and technology to lead toward integrated conversations. Leaders who apply design thinking are able to translate their employees’ real emotions and behaviours into real things that create impact. This means leading employees to create products and services that generate value in their own lives, not just value for the company. With design thinking, business leaders can look forward to developing more empathetic and human-centered relationships with customers to foster creative leadership.