Design thinking hit the mainstream, thanks in part to this ABC Nightline segment about the award-winning design firm, IDEO.

It was followed by the rise of the d.school at Stanford University, a training ground for design thinkers, and finally by the adoption of design thinking at notable tech firms such as Intuit and SAP.

Shelley Goldman, faculty at the School of Education at Stanford University, as well as several colleagues from both the School of Education and the d.school, outline the transformation of students into design thinkers in a 2012 publication, Assessing d.learning: Capturing the Journey of Becoming a Design Thinker.

They argue that design thinking requires not just learning a process and skill set, but also a set of mindset shifts.

The process of design thinking moves through five phases.

  1. Empathizing with who you are designing for
  2. Defining the needs of who you are designing for
  3. Generating ideas
  4. Prototyping to better understand those ideas
  5. Testing ideas

Executing this process requires a number of skills:  conducting customer interviews and observations,  running effective ideation sessions, and working in groups, among others.

But more than just new skills, the authors emphasize that design thinking requires adopting four key mindsets.

  1. Human-centered: The authors describe this mindset as moving beyond "egocentric views of the world and no longer design based on their own needs, desires, experiences, or preferences." This mindset facilitates the shift to an others-centric viewpoint and enables the designer to  empathize in the first phase of design thinking. It's common for entrepreneurs to be motivated and inspired based on their own needs. But if you want to be a successful design thinker, you have to think broader than your own needs, and expand your inspiration to the needs of your target customers. There's only one you in the world, so if you want more than yourself as a customer, you'll have to shift your focus to others.
  2. Experimental: This mindset allows the designer to view everything as a prototype. It helps the designer see that doing, making, and visualizing are integral parts of the problem-solving process. As an entrepreneur, it might be easy for you to stay in the planning world. Many ideas look good on paper. But prototyping requires that you get specific and concrete. It's during this action that you'll start to see where your ideas need to evolve.
  3. Collaborative: This mindset helps the designer see that collaboration, particularly across disciplines, is necessary for innovative problem solving. Few companies thrive on the brain power of one person. That's because successful businesses require multiple skill sets--from how to sell an idea, to how to manufacture or code the product, to how to measure the impact your product or service is having on your customers. Without a collaborative mindset, you won't be able to align everyone around a shared mission and your business will struggle to survive.
  4. Metacognitive: Metacognition means thinking about your thinking. It is the mindset that we use to monitor our progress as we we work and to assess when we need to change course. The mindset requires developing the necessary awareness to catch when we are off-track. Most entrepreneurs experience several false starts before they find success. It's this ability to recognize a false start and course correct that makes the metacognitive mindset so critical to success.

Spending the time to change your thinking isn't easy, but it will help you avoid many of the common mistakes made in the business world. So remember: If your business is looking for a creative boost, don't just focus on process and skills. Work on your mindset and you'll be much more adept at true design thinking