After decades of working with organisations, Peter Senge from MIT has concluded that the level of experimentation is a make or break characteristic for organisations’ long term survival. And yet, experimentation is something that large corporations in particular grapple with.
It’s neither for a lack of awareness that innovation matters, nor for a lack of trying, as the trend of creating human centred design groups shows.
However, a closer look at those mushrooming Design Thinking departments in large corporations reveals that they are mostly compartmentalised, repeating the old mistakes of silo creation.
Most of the time the Design Thinkers are not embedded with production, finance and accounting, sales, or operations teams. That’s a missed chance, because they could be effective agents for the mindset shift that is necessary to become agile and creative, in order to solve the complex problems humanity faces right now.
What could they bring if embedded into business?
They could become effective change agents who bring lightness, play, and alleviate the fear of failing that holds people back.
After all, human centred design is a mindset. It’s not about cunningly creating needs t
hat were not there before and then throw fancy products on people that just create more waste and use more scarce resources.
The human centred mindset is one of curiosity, one of failing forward to create something great by learning from the feedback of those you create for and with. It makes us engage not just with customers, but ideally with all stakeholders. It’s a willingness to understand and create from their often contradictory needs, and a willingness to be open to their experiences and preferences, even if they run counter to our own opinions and beliefs of what’s desirable. And it means falling in love with the feedback more than with our own ideas.
So, yes, this can save a lot of time and production costs, but more importantly, it offers a structure for responding creatively to challenges which are too complex for one person, a small team, or one department.
Magic can happen if teams are multidisciplinary and multi-departmental and thus bring in a wide range of perspectives and experience to a problem. Blind spots are illuminated. Ideas become more innovative. So how can this be achieved?
The good news is that it does not need 100 Design Thinkers to make it happen. What’s more important is that leaders create time and safe spaces for experimentation.
When they set clear boundaries and create context, they empower their people to tap into their creative potential and their courage by risking to fail. As long as failing is shunned, experimentation is not going to happen. And a handful of Design Thinkers or other misfits who are operating on the fringes of the business, are not really going to raise the level of experimentation in a company. But a handful of them will make a big difference, if the leadership is willing to integrate them into the day-to-day business and embraces the failing forward human centred mindset.