Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation

By Linda Naiman

Design-led companies such as Apple, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and SAP have outperformed the S&P 500 by an extraordinary 211%. In this article the author highlights the distinctions between design and design thinking and how the latter, if executed properly and strategically, can impact business outcomes and result in real competitive advantages. 

When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation, the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. Design-led companies such as Apple, Pepsi, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and SAP have outperformed the S&P 500 over a 10-year period by an extraordinary 211% according to the 2015 Design Value Index created by the Design Management Institute and Motiv Strategies.1

Designing is more than creating products and services; it can be applied to systems, procedures, protocols, and customer experiences. Design is transforming the way leading companies create value.

Great design has that “wow” factor that makes products more desirable and services more appealing to users. Designing is more than creating products and services; it can be applied to systems, procedures, protocols, and customer experiences. Design is transforming the way leading companies create value. The focus of innovation has shifted from being engineering-driven to design-driven, from product-centric to customer-centric, and from marketing-focused to user-experience-focused. For an increasing number of CEOs, design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organisational change.

Roger Martin, former Dean of Rotman School and author of The Design of Business, asserts, “Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business… to create advances in both innovation and efficiency – the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.”2

You can design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. Moura Quayle, the author of Designed Leadership, says, “Great leaders aspire to manage ‘by design’, with a sense of purpose and foresight. Lessons learned from the world of design when applied to management, can turn leaders into collaborative, creative, deliberate, and accountable visionaries.”3

Despite what critics say, design thinking is not a fad (although if not managed well, it can result in failure). Consulting firms such as McKinsey, Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte have acquired design consultancies: evidence of design’s increasing influence on business. Jeanne M. Liedtka, Strategy Professor at Darden School UVA and design thinking educator, views design thinking as a “social technology which has the potential to do for innovation exactly what TQM did for manufacturing: unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve processes”.

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About the Author

Linda Naiman is the founder of and co-author of Orchestrating Collaboration at Work. She brings a multi-disciplinary approach to learning and development based on her background as an artist and designer, helping executives and their teams develop creative and innovation capabilities through arts-based learning and design thinking. Organisations that have sought out Linda for her expertise include Cisco Systems, Dell International, Intel, BASF, HSBC, and Dawn Food Products. 

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