Design Thinking and Leadership

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It’s always about leadership. Whether it be culture, vision or strategy, any organization has to have strong leaders in order to succeed. Any organization transformation needs a strong leadership capability as an underpinning.

I was going through the September issue of Harvard Business Review that featured several articles on “Design Thinking” by John Kolko.  It is really interesting to see how Design Thinking has started to make itself relevant in today’s business and social context. More than just product design, it’s fast becoming a great way to enable Innovation and keep organizations competitive. Every organization wants to become a design-led Organization.

What is even more interesting to note is how Design Thinking is all about good Leadership. The Design Thinking approach demands extremely strong leadership capabilities.

 Let’s take the first piece of Design Thinking which is about inspiration. How does one really get to know what the problem is? It’s all about empathy. Understanding human beings and having the ability to put oneself in their shoes is what this is all about. But it’s not just enough to understand, you have to have humility as well. Once you are good at this, things like customer orientation are very easily enabled.

Then we come to the next step which is ideation and iteration wherein we think thinks of solutions. It’s always been true, but in today’s world one needs to be good at team working and be open to new ideas. It requires persistence since this aspect involves a lot of back and forth and continuous tuning. It also requires the embrace of risk taking, since good solutions might very well, and probably will, need out of the box thinking.

Once you have a measure of the possible solutions, it’s time to prototype and test. In this stage, the ability to articulate and communicate is essential since one has to put the idea out there in a form which can be seen, felt and understood. The ability to accept feedback and use it to improve is also critical since this is the stage where the abstract starts to become concrete and hence one can expect a large amount of feedback.

Which brings us to the Divergence-Convergence aspect of Design Thinking. Having the ability to shift seamlessly between the abstract and the concrete which is a key leadership skill is essential if one has to be good at Design Thinking.

To summarize, Design Thinking is not so much about process or technical skills. It calls for the highest levels of leadership capabilities. If an organization has to transform itself to a design-led organization, the transformation needs to be a leadership and cultural transformation.

Image Credits: hbr.org

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