Why all Leaders should include Design Thinking in their toolbox – and the requirement for cultural change

According to the World Economic Forum report “The Future of Jobs” from January 2016, the three top critical skills for 2020 and beyond will be complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. What does this mean to leaders who primarily demonstrate and excel at other leadership skills? One of the tools which might prove very helpful to build and enhance the required skills is Design Thinking.

Design Thinking can be described as an approach for practical, creative problem solving, using the experiences from how designers think and act outside of the traditional design domains. A more comprehensive definition of Design Thinking is found via Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_thinking

Digoshen CEO Katy Caroan recently had the privilege of interviewing two experts on the topic of Design Thinking, Start-up Coach and Non-Executive Director Fennemiek Gommer and Anne Mieke Eggenkamp, Talent Coach and university lecturer in Design Thinking, for our “Exploring Leaders” podcast. They are both partners of Caracta, a consulting firm based in the Netherlands, working to help leaders use Design Thinking Principles as a strategy to succeed in business. In short, this means that they support leaders and companies in using their creative potential more fully to solve complex problems.

Throughout their upbringing, higher education, and business experience, they both built skills and experimented with left and right brain dominated subjects, giving them the opportunity to help in situations requiring complex problem solutions. Fennemiek is focussing primarily on strategy and innovation, whereas Anne Mieke combines creativity with learning.

Why is Design Thinking becoming a leadership tool?

Traditionally, the left and right brain skills sets were kept separate, you either decided to go to business school or design school. Fennemiek explains that now, as the changes are coming at a higher and higher pace and the level of complexity is increasing, we are finding ourselves in a situation when the traditional left brain, step-by-step approach is not working for all types of problems anymore. She refers to the so-called wicked problems, requiring a different and more agile and iterative process where you can use a lot of tools used by designers.

According to Anne Mieke, designers are fascinated by the problem as the starting point for the process, they focus on the needs and the urgency of the needs. Then you try to get to know as much as possible by focussing on the human and the human needs, gaining insights on the detailed requirements. “Instead of proposing The Solution, you come up with propositions of several solutions, adding to a list of alternative choices, working in iterations”. She puts emphasis on the process; “…it is never a straight line towards the final product. It is a mentality, including empathy, as well as a way of working.”

Photo: Pixabay

What can Leadership teams do to embrace Design Thinking?

What should leadership teams and boards do if they are struggling in this area? Fennemiek gives the advice to start with understanding the question and keeping the end in mind. Moreover, the design of the team is crucial, adding the right disciplines, including the mentality of people able to generate ideas and apply critical thinking. In fact, Anne Mieke describes it as a paradigm shift as the process requires you to continuously learn how to do it better. It affects the company culture, and you need to accept that you do not know what the answer will be. The acceptance of the unknown will, according to Anne Mieke, open up free space for individuals and teams to embrace the process and become more creative.

When asked about the typical challenges they meet when working with leaders and organizations, they refer to the traditional project management methodologies, such as the dominant PMP and PRINCE2 Project Management methodologies. These methodologies work well for waterfall projects in more controlled environments, but can’t be applied successfully to wicked problems. Additionally, this puts more emphasis on the required cultural change to address wicked problems. The pitfalls are typically found in the lack of embracing and anchoring the cultural change process.

Fennemiek summarizes the challenges as follows: “It’s not only strategy, nor innovation. It’s a human learning process”. They both realize that Design Thinking is not a holy grail, sometimes it works, sometimes it does not work. However, something has shifted over the last few years though, as Harvard Business Review and other well-recognized publishers have shared concepts and experiences from using the methodology.

Fennemiek and Anne Mieke continuously learn and find inspiration by observing their surroundings and reading literature on the topics of whole brain thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence and more. They have generously put together a suggested list of Design Thinking literature for our followers below. To take part of this and more ideas by Fennemiek and Anne Mieke on the topic of Design Thinking, tune into the full interview on our podcast Exploring Leaders Episode 11.

podcast by digoshen

More insights and involvement in #digital and transformational #change 

To get more insight of what Fennemiek Gommer and Anne Mieke Eggenkamp know and share, we recommend you to explore and build more knowledge of design thinking.  Besides exploring the links shared in the list below, you can follow them on LinkedIn and via Caracta.


December 2017

List of selected books on Design Thinking: whole brain thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence etc. The list is in random order – just pick and choose what appeals to you!

1. Metaskills, five talents for the robotic age – Marty Neumeier

2. The opposable mind, winning through integrative thinking – Roger Martin

3. Creative confidence, unleashing the creative potential within us all – Tom & David Kelley (Ideo)

4. Out of our minds, learning to be creative – Ken Robinson

5. Moonshots in Education, blended learning, it explores digital and online learning in the classroom and what it takes to make a “moonshot.” – Esther Wojcicki

6. Swarm intelligence, What nature teaches us about shaping creative leadership – James Haywood Rolling jr.

7. Leaders make the future, ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world – Bob Johanssen

8. Wired to create, unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind – Scott Barry Kaufman en Carole Gregoire

9. The whole brain business book, unlocking the power of whole brain thinking in organizations and individuals – Ned Herrmann

10. 101 design methods, a structured approach to driving innovation in your organization – Vijay Kumar

11. Extraordinary outcomes, shaping an otherwise unpredictable future – Iris R. Firstenberg and Moshe F. Rubinstein

12. Designing for growth, a design thinking toolkit for managers – Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie

13. The 4 lenses of innovation, a power tool for creative thinking – Rowan Gibson

14. Thinkertoys, a handbook of creative-thinking techniques – Michael Michalko

15. Emotional Intelligence, why it can matter more than IQ – Daniel Goleman

Links to insightful leaders and companies mentioned by Caracta

Kelly Brothers at Stanford, founders of Design company IDEO and their blog about Design Thinking https://designthinking.ideo.com/?cat=81

Open Letter about design of AI by many scholars and thought leaders https://futureoflife.org/ai-open-letter/

Poul Pohlman, CEO of Unilever with focus on Sustainability and long-term shareholder value: http://fortune.com/2017/02/17/unilever-paul-polman-responsibility-growth/

Leadership in the future

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Find more inspiration in Digoshens podcast “Exploring Leaders” and check out the regularly updated lists of Digoshen Recommended Podcasts

About Digoshen

We think it is important to share insights from inspiring #innovation and #digital1st thought leaders. If you are one of them, or know someone we should talk to, please send us a hint via https://digoshen.com/contact/ or via Twitter @digoshen .

These interviews are shared on the blog of Digoshen  https://digoshen.com/blog/

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