The fact that the Harvard Business Review asked IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown to write about Design Thinking in the current issue is as important as what he had to say in the piece. It marks the acceptance and legitimization of design/innovation as an important business process and strategic tool for managers.
HBR was behind for a time in covering innovation and design but it is running some very interesting pieces now and Brown’s article brings it up to date. I think that lag reflects the reluctance of business schools to embrace design thinking and innovation process. This is now changing, but slowly. Harvard Business School is making efforts to incorporate innovation, but in the end, we are talking about a sharp paradigm change embodied in curricula and teaching, and that is happening in only one B-School that I can think of—the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto run by Dean Roger Martin.
Brown’s HBR piece is an excellent primer. He begins by showing how
Design Thinking is a formalization of the methodology used by none other than Thomas Edison who not only invented the lightbulb but envisioned and built a whole electric industry (we'd call that an ecosystem today) devoted to meeting the unmet needs of consumers (needs they couldn't yet visualize). He used a team-based approach to innovation in his famous lab, iterated famously (his "99% perspiration" comment), failed often and learned from his mistakes.
The HBR piece has great stories on medical service innovation at Kaiser and the Aravind Eye Care System in India. There's another on the Keep The Change program at Bank of America.
At the end of the article are two short takes. One is A Design Thinker's Personality Profile (Empathy, Integrative Thinking, Optimism, Experimentalism, Collaboration). The other is How to Make Design Thinking Part of the Innovation Process (check out the piece).
I also like Brown's definition of design thinking--"it is a discipline that uses the designer's sensibility and methods to match people's needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity."
Does that work for you?
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