Design Thinking - Getting Curious, Taking Action

November 16, 2018 7:58 AM | Lovina Akowuah (Administrator)

Written by SEWI-ATD Guest Blogger, Tom Dybro, Senior Talent Development Consultant.

You’ve noticed Design Thinking is all the rage. As a talent/OD practitioner you may be considering these questions. How would you answer them today?

  • What is “Design Thinking” and why do I care?     
  • When and How will I add value to Design Thinking initiatives in my organization?
  • Who drives ROI for Design Thinking in my organization and what are the implications for talent development/OD?
  • What are next steps for me?

In the Beginning…

Design Thinking (DT) came to life in the 1950s and 60s just as “Mad Men”  (the popular TV Show as well as true-to-life characters entrenched in organizations then) – led corporate direction and growth by designing a superior product.* To “design” with the customer/client in mind, leaders of innovation needed a break from the linear, problem-solution mindset. Today, DT is a methodology and mindset which returns many millions of dollars to the bottom line in small, medium, large, manufacturing and service businesses alike. When performed with diverse teams with divergent perspectives who collaborate rigorously in each phase of the journey the team and organization win! Most importantly, DT enables the client/customer to remember your brand fondly and return for their experience with you over and over again.

What is Design Thinking?

When practiced in the true innovative and “organic” form, DT is not a series of steps lined up in chronological order that produce a desired outcome. Instead, a DT effort is meant to be simple, human-centered and empathetic (focused primarily on the customer/client). Consider it as a literacy and language around innovation. It is used in situations with significant ambiguity, and with little existing data to review at the outset. DT is iterative and focused on possibilities.

Jeremy Alexis, Professor of Design Illinois Institute of Technology, explains that beyond mapping the end to end value chain, Design Thinking creates an ecosystem of partners for innovation.

Stages in Design Thinking – Empathize, Define, Ideate (Generate Ideas), Prototype, Test

Empathize - It is your effort to understand the way customers and clients do things and why; their physical and emotional needs; how they think about their world; and what is meaningful.

Define – This is the result of getting close to your client/customer, thinking through and synthesizing and formulating a problem statement.

Ideate – Using a wide lens to generate ideas. Use the wisdom of a diverse collective to go beyond, take liberty and expand your mind through and through.

Prototype – Iterate multiple and divergent artifacts to replicate the client/customer’s interests. E.g. Put the client within a slice of the order fulfillment process and note their delight or dismay in real-time. This produces the possibility for a new “algorithm” to view the client/customer consumption of your end product.

Test – Working out ideas into iterative trials and noting wins and opportunities to improve keeps you focused on the experience of end users.

At its core, Design Thinking cultivates a deep sensitivity to the challenges and opportunities the customer/client faces with an emphasis on quickly spinning out mini prototypes and failures over and over ultimately leading to better experiences.

Why has DT become so popular?

Three things have made DT more appealing to organizations: 1) explosive complexity, 2) continued disruptive change, and 3) a greater premium on grabbing and retaining customers/clients in a technology-soaked environment that operates with increasing speed, 24X7, across our globe. Simply put, it is the “Amazonization” of…well…everything!

Potential Next Steps…

1. Educate yourself/team on Design Thinking (see resource list below)

2. Step in – embrace Design Thinking. Remember a few years back when you were telling every manager who would listen about the 70-20-10 Model of Development. Yup – this is your opportunity to get your hands dirty in the 70%.

3. Be about change management, raise your hand to lead the change effort. Business leaders want support to transform the business and this work demands a growth mindset (Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success). This is development and leadership-rich…go get ‘em!

*While men dominated organizations in the 50’s and 60’s, both women and men with their unique perspectives are adding huge value.


Harvard Business Review, “Design Thinking Comes of Age,” by John Kolko, September 2015.

Wired Magazine, “The Origins of Design Thinking”

The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman

Design Driven Innovation, Roberto Verganti

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Roger Martin

IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit

Solving Problems with Design Thinking, Jeanne Liedtka and Andrew King

The Design Thinking Process, YouTube Video –

About the Author

Tom Dybro has over 15 years of experience in human performance  consulting, coaching, and facilitation within financial technology services. He has a proven track record of support to leadership executives, teams, managers and individuals. Tom increases organizational effectiveness using tools and techniques that enhance communication, engagement and strategic direction and is Six Sigma trained. Dybro is a contributing author to the book Chained to the Desk – A Guidebook for Workaholics by Bryan Robinson.

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