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October 28, 2018

Want Design Thinking to work? Think beyond Design Thinking

When we receive queries from clients asking us to conduct Design Thinking training, we ask them why they want to do it.

What’s the need, how and why are they looking at Design Thinking, what’s the current environment and culture of the organisation…

 

And we get two types of responses, based on which we propose the best way forward.

If the client just wants an overview of Design Thinking, what it is, how it works and what it can do, we have 2-hour ‘Design Dive’ workshops to 2-day ‘DT101’ programmes that they can consider.

However, if the client is looking for something bigger, we ask them to pause. If the agenda is to change mindsets and bring in a human-centred approach to business, build capability to find the right problems, and create the right products with an attitude to experiment and learn rapidly, we tell them that a training programme just won’t cut it.

Training programmes and REAL change

For the last 12 years we have been in the training & development space. And discovered one irrefutable truth which every honest training professional will agree with – that just 1 or 2 days of training rarely make the desired impact when it comes to real learning and sustainable change. Sure, we inspire thinking, introduce tools and techniques and instigate action. But more often than not, in the face of existing (read legacy) cultures, systems and mindsets, the takeaways evaporate quickly under BAU delivery pressures.

Our experience in the last 8 years of conducting Design Thinking workshops around the world is no different. We have seen, repeatedly, that while we have moved participants tremendously in the classroom and received the customary excellent feedback (and extended contracts), the participants have often struggled to translate the learnings into action.

After thousands of hours of working with 40+ clients, I for one have no qualms saying this: a short Design Thinking (or what is stylishly called Design Doing these days) workshop by itself will not change realities on the ground. It will not foster innovation, inspire curiosity, build empathy, and lead to better products and services for people.

It needs more than that.

Imagine you are out of your depth

Imagine the situation that if you are a HR, finance, sales or design professional attending a training programme, and you are suddenly asked to come up with and apply engineering and coding skills to create solutions. Skills that you lack. I am sure you will struggle, maybe fail.

Now imagine a technology professional who has been always asked to write code and create software to suddenly go out and do empathy research, to listen, observe, question, empathise, generate insights and so on. Stuff that he has never been asked to do before. Once again, the chances of success are low.

It can be scary, frustrating in fact, and as we see in fast moving business environments, difficult to sustain. The result: learnings are abandoned, forgotten.

Because it’s hard to change. To change entrenched beliefs and behaviours, carefully built through years of experience and exposure over just 16 hours. Biases, delivery pressures, established ways of doing things, and lack of leadership motivation to change all pile up against implementation of Design Thinking, and hinder results.

One cannot pick up completely different skills in randomly designed programmes, overnight change their mindset and thinking and adopt new ways of seeing things.

We have to acknowledge this – that if we are serious about Design Thinking to stick, we have to first build capabilities that can support the journeys.

Design Thinking as a Development Journey

In the last 4 years, our success has come from convincing clients that learning and change can happen only through sustained efforts. And this means investment of time and money beyond the tick-in-the-box training programme, to what comes before and after. We have to acknowledge that learning can’t magically happen without creating the environments that support learning and implementation.

Our strong experience in leadership training at The Painted Sky has helped us create the right mixes and blends that work . We have augmented Design Thinking journeys for clients with other learning inputs, to create the right skills BEFORE and AFTER the programmes.

We have conducted various supporting programmes like

  • Emotional Intelligence programmes to help participants understand biases, appreciate mindsets, explore the reasons behind behaviours,
  • Listening & Questioning skills workshops to conduct better Empathy Research, since we know that this is where participants struggle the most,
  • Story-Telling programmes to capture and structure and present data in the right way as User Stories, to derive the nuances and generate insights (and frame problems),
  • Stakeholder Management sessions to understand the interests and needs of sponsors, influencers and other key people in the organisation,
  • Influence & Execution programmes to build awareness of how to design and pitch prototypes and POCs better for greater success.

And we do this not as consultants but learning and mentoring partners: we are not another design firm that picks up a mandate from a client and delivers an outcome for them.

Through a mix of training programmes (the above plus a 2-day Design Thinking bootcamp that is a must to set context and give an overview), mentoring sessions, reviews and assessments, we partner clients to reach three objectives:

  1. come up potent and tangible problem statements that need to be solved,
  2. build on the best ideas and solutions to create POCs and MVPs, and
  3. most importantly, build capability in Design Thinking among participants that they can practice in future, across projects.

Thanks to this approach we have had great success. While many excellent product and service ideas and solutions have emerged from the extended programmes, we have seen how participants have transformed from tactical to strategic thinkers, developing greater abilities to understand and appreciate customer issues and come up with truly innovative ideas that work.

 

So that’s what we propose to clients looking to bring about true transformation – to go beyond the obvious, the feel-good programmes, and dive deeper on the extended journeys that lead to best results.

To succeed in Design Thinking, companies must understand that they have to built the right skills and attitudes for Design Thinking to work. They have to go beyond Design Thinking.

Anirban Bhattacharya

Anirban Bhattacharya

Now Hiring! Founder at ubqt Design Thinking School. Founder at The Painted Sky.

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