Why Design Thinking Needs Business Thinking

I met a friend for a beer last Saturday. We hadn’t met in a while. He suggested we go to a bar called Labour in Vain. It happens to be opposite another bar called The Perseverance. We talked about a lot of things including the names of the two bars and how it relates to work and business.

This got me thinking about Design Thinking and Business Thinking (aka strategy). How intertwined is Design Thinking with strategy? If we are not persevering with a clear strategy then could we be just labouring in vain?

At Naked Ambition we deliver Design Thinking workshops and experiences to help our clients lift their creative problem solving capabilities.

Our conversations often start with a recognised need. An organisational development specialist, a team leader or an executive sees a challenge that has not been addressed in a way that completely addresses the underlying need.

Our clients are living in a world where management theories born in the 20th century are not cutting the mustard. The thing is we live in the same world and see the changing face of work and business. People, place, and technology are three work themes that are changing the who, what, where and how of our daily 9 to 5.

Our clients tend to be incumbents in their industry. Successful, market-leading organisations who have both a desire to be innovative and who truly recognise that disruption is happening across all sectors of the economy. No sector, including their own, is immune.

The question we always ask our clients to consider before building their innovation capability is, “What comes next?” Do you have the right architecture in place to support and grow this new way of thinking and implement the ideas that are generated?

We know that innovation capability needs to involve the right people, tackling the right challenges in the right way. Even though you can show progress in a sprint, it takes many sprints, a sustained effort, to truly win.

So how does this world of innovation and design thinking collide with strategy? In their now classic book Playing to Winhow strategy really works, Roger Martin and A.J. Lafley get to the heart of strategy with 5 questions every business needs to be able to answer:

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. Where will we play?
  3. How will we win?
  4. What capabilities must we have in place to win?
  5. What management systems are required to support our choices?

In an ideal world, we believe that everyone in your organisation should know and understand the answers to these 5 questions. It is what drives their purpose.

In answering these questions, Martin and Lafley suggest you consider:

  • Creating new how-to-win choices where none exist;
  • Not kidding yourself – if you can’t create a credible how-to-win choice find a new playing field (or get out of the game);
  • How to win in concert with where to play. The two choices should be mutually reinforcing;
  • That the dynamics of an industry are not set and immutable. Your choices may be determining the dynamics.
  • Questions of where to play and how to win should not be only for customer-facing functions. Internal and support functions should be making these choices too;
  • If you are already winning, how can you set the rules of the game and play better?
  • If you are losing, how can you change the rules to tip them in your favour?

We always ask for clarification around your winning aspiration, where you play, how you currently win and how you aspire to win in different or better ways going forwards.

We ask these questions because we want your organisation to benefit from the capability uplift. We know innovation doesn’t stop after a workshop or a single sprint.

What about your organisation. Are you persevering with a strategy or labouring in vain?

The Team @ Naked Ambition

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