Sustaining creativity and design thinking takes practice. And if you work at it, then your company will be better equipped to stand the test of time.
Firms have long trumpeted being led by engineers or technologists. These days, more are crowing that they are design-led firms.
The term "design-led" isn't only being wielded by the usual suspects--a.k.a. those in the traditional design fields such as J. Crew or Warby Parker; nor to those companies which invest a lot of time and money in developing an amazing logo. But those unusual suspects, in healthcare, education or government, can also be design led organizations because of the ways that they are designing services and delivering meaningful experiences to their users.
Bob Schwartz, vice president of design at GE Healthcare, has led this charge for years, and believes that it is possible to develop a vested interest in the design process throughout the organization. GE Healthcare's pediatric MRI developments is evidence of this investment in spreading design thinking throughout the organization. While design thinking is abuzz among many companies today, getting buy-in throughout the organization is a very different story.
I had a conversation recently with Christi Zuber director of Kaiser Permanente's innovation consultancy, an internal group that incorporates design thinking processes to assist its healthcare stakeholders. She posed the question 'How can companies truly exercise design thinking?' And by extension, what about the people who are not convinced?
Well the truth is that you may never convince them, although there are multiple ways to inadvertently get buy-in for design thinking. For example, one might use the charrette process. The charrette comes from the beaux arts period at the Sorbonne in Paris when a group of art professors challenged their students to develop a creative work using a limited amount of materials, by a deadline. When time was up, the professors walked through the halls collecting all work into a cart- a charrette or chariot of sorts- no matter the state of completion.
In today's terms, the charrette refers to a consensus building process among diverse stakeholders. It has traditionally been used within the architecture and urban planning fields- but diverse sectors are now applying the charrette and the National Charrette Institute will certify you, if you are interested. The charrette process incorporates many of the design problem solving processes: it is user-centered, values prototyping and requires intensive collaboration.
Ultimately, a cultural shift needs to happen in a company to make it "design led," and leaders--both at the top and emergent leaders--must practice elements of design thinking in areas of their lives outside of work. For example, some years ago I came to terms with the fact that I was not a good follower.
I realized that there would be moments in my life when following would come in handy--in a marriage, working on a team, etc. I intuitively knew that part of being a good leader was knowing how to follow as well. I decided to learn the tango- because in that delicate dance it is essential for the woman to follow- or else it is a complete mess! I was actually exercising a bit of lateral thinking--a design thinking principle, connecting the dots between two distinct realms to help me in my work practice.
I propose that in design-led firms, leaders and associates must practice what Twyla Tharp called a "creative habit" to get comfortable with ambiguity, making mistakes, and embrace the rigor that is required of iterative processes. No matter the size of your firm, ultimately the best design led organizations are those where leadership buys into it.
And those are leaders who are not necessarily trained designers themselves. Larger organizations are often challenged with scaling the design thinking processes, beyond specific departments; smaller sized organizations are often challenged with sustaining the process because they are often overextended.
The most important element is to develop a culture that encourages personal growth which mirrors design principles of prototyping, improvisation, and being curious about the other- your customer!