Jeanne Liedtka is one of the leading lights in the practice of design thinking as a strategy for innovation. Designing for Growth (the book she co-authored with Tim Ogilvie in 2011) has influenced my own practice as a design thinker in consulting with organizations.

I had a chance to meet Liedtka at an Academy of Management Conference two summers ago, and exchange views on design thinking for innovation. She sees a parallel between design thinking and the Total Quality Management movement (TQM). TQM processes have made it possible to institutionalize quality, scale it and make it part of everybody's job in the organization. She believes design thinking will become a core competency for innovation.

Insights from Designing for Growth

Claudia Kotchka, during her time at P&G said that getting people to try the methodology was crucial: "We would take 10 people from a business unit, all disciplines, and put them on a wicked problem. We never told them they were using design thinking methodology -- ever. It wasn't important for them to know what it was called. All they had to know were the basic steps and how to approach the problem with a different mindset." I think that is a very wise approach. Certain terms have emotional baggage and people can get too hung up on labels.

In another chapter, Jacqui Jordan from Australian giant Suncorp underlined a key tenet of design thinking: Scrutinize the problem space. "As managers, we are often solutions looking for a cause -- we are so quick with answers," she said. "Design unsettles people because we don't pretend to know the answer, and so much of our (design thinkers') interest is with the problem, rather than its solution."

How to make innovation a core competency and grow your business

  1. Tell human-centered stories. Stories are the soul of data, and they personalize realities and potential futures. This can help bosses, co-workers and employees reluctant to add something new to overburdened plates see abstract ideas as tangible, relevant and human.
  2. Supplement stories with data. We live in a quantitative, analytic world, and while past statistics can't describe a new future -- nor assure success in it -- a list of successful projects helps co-workers consider the design thinking toolkit. Consider, Jacqui Jordan's boss at Suncorp: "The Australian market for commercial insurance was shrinking at 8 percent per year. We got 1 percent growth in Year 1 and 8 percent in Year 2, post-merger. We're getting 9 scores on customer satisfaction, versus 6 or 7 before." Let the results do the talking.
  3. Provide transparency to design thinking. Since the design process can seem foreign to analytically trained managers, let people see it in action. Provide a room, if possible, where the learning underway can be displayed, where Post-it notes, white boards and posters are available for all to see.
  4. Invite analytically oriented co-workers into the idea testing process. They'll be able to spot weaknesses in your argument and help you "fail fast and cheap," and therefore succeed sooner.
  5. Share the learning and business results. Don't shy away from bad news. In fact, consider shouting it because you've learned enough to pivot, or halt, before the organization writes big checks. The goal of design thinking is to learn, and learning what doesn't work can be almost as valuable as learning what does. As successful venture capitalists (who expect less than two in 10 projects to succeed) illustrate, data that helps halt investing is worth seeking. --Courtesy of Darden Ideas to Action

How will you integrate Design Thinking with innovation? I'd love to hear your thoughts

Published on: Apr 27, 2017
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