We Need to Democratise Design Thinking

We need to stop saying that Design Thinking is good for innovation.

The case has been made – the evidence is there – it’s time for a new conversation.

It’s proven itself in highly complex and bureaucratic organisations.

The ATO introduced Design Thinking in the late 90’s, and since then have used it not just to improve the usability of their products and their digital capability, but in strategy and communications – including shifting public opinion around the GST.

IBM has hired 1000 Designers over the last 4 years and ‘the big blue’ have been vocal about their ambitions to become the world’s largest design company.

Deloitte, once called the sick puppy of the Big 4 back in 2004, credit Design Thinking as a major factor in their resurrection.

Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia talks frequently about how Design Thinking transformed them from a failing start-up to a business phenomenon.

The major universities are all over it. Since SAP founder Hasso Plattner founded the d-school at Stanford over 10 years ago, it’s become the largest Design Thinking school in the world.

Right here at home, Swinburne’s Design Factory in Melbourne is leading the change for collaboration between industry, research, and students on their 6 and 12-month design thinking programs.

So if Design Thinking has indeed proven itself and there is no cause to keep banging the drum – what’s next?

We believe it’s time to have the conversation about democratising Design Thinking… to give everyone this skill set – from Accountants to Zoologists.

We don’t need everyone to adopt the title of Designer – we believe that finding out what having a design mindset really means can be the catalyst for change; people in your organisation who are now looking at their world through a different lens; finding out what’s desirable, viable and feasible. They may only learn the basics but the cultural shift and the difference in their approach to workplace challenges will be meaningful and lasting.

Just last night we saw this concept of Design Thinking democracy come to life.  

The emerging leaders at one of our most valued clients have spent the last three months with us learning and putting into practice Design Thinking skills. This group is going beyond the basics so they can teach others.

Last night we saw them present their learning journeys and the first early findings of their work.

Their newly acquired skills have been applied to realise a more innovative approach and to establish a culture of collaboration and innovation… Real innovation because they have a place to start and a framework to work from, and culture because they have set an example of the new way we approach their work. They aren’t just talking about big ideas, they are tackling significant strategic challenges around culture, employee experience, and even diversity. And it’s not easy. Their learning and application of their learning are challenging in itself. These challenges are the kind of problems that even the most experienced of leadership teams would rather not touch – but progress is scary, and leadership should be uncomfortable.

If you had have asked me a few years ago what would have the biggest impact on an organisation’s ability to innovate, I would have said: make sure the people leading innovation in your company understand Design Thinking.

Now, if you ask me I will say: make sure everyone in your organisation understands Design Thinking.  Innovation is everyone’s responsibility – and we will only see true disruption by design when we give our people the right skills, knowledge, and mindset to do it.

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