In recent times, the rapid development of technology has created an urgent need for invention, new lines of thought, and inquiry.
In this social context, creativity and problem-solving skills are among the most desirable, yet sometimes challenging to develop in the workplace.
Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt at Google explains that design-thinking helps teams to foster a culture of innovation. It helps to generate and test ideas creatively and effectively.
He adds that the approach develops an individual’s capacity to innovate by encouraging them to practice a certain mindset. They can then apply these skills to a variety of tasks.
Organizations and individuals across disciplines are adopting the concept, which is revolutionizing the way teams approach the development of new products, systems, and processes.
What is design thinking?
Design thinking has roots in a range of disciplines, and gradually developed through the design of new products, buildings, and machines. The concept is now applied more broadly in response to the need for innovation in our time.
This broadening of the concept’s applications has been criticized for trivializing the design process, but it is undoubtedly useful in many contexts.
Organizations can use the design thinking cycle as a roadmap for innovation at a team or individual level. The process has almost limitless applications and can help to remove the stumbling block of generating ideas.
One of the great benefits of the cycle is that it trains people to become solution-focused. The goal of the process is to come up with answers, not create more problems. This mindset can help to boost productivity and positive feedback loops.
The cycle involves six stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, implement. Each stage encourages different thought processes and helps to build creative momentum:
To explain how the process might be used in the workplace, imagine your team is tasked with devising a new social media strategy. You can start by empathizing with different members of your target audience. What do they want to know? What are the pain points in their lives? What problems do they need to solve?
Then comes the fun part, and your team can brainstorm content ideas together. You would then pick out a few ideas that represent key themes that pop up. After that, you would test run a few posts to see how your audience responds. If these ideas are received well, they could be built into your new strategy. If some don’t work, you could go back to any point in the cycle to find out why and problem solve.
And the process doesn’t just apply to inherently creative tasks. Perhaps your team needs to come up with a new system to make a process more efficient. Each stage of the design thinking cycle could be applied in this context to ensure that the most effective idea is implemented.
Benefits of the design thinking cycle
1. Requires employees to engage in higher-order thinking skills
Higher-order thinking skills, such as innovating, creating, and critical thinking, are now in high demand. This trend will continue as the need to develop new products, ways of working, and technologies increases.
When employees are encouraged to engage with higher-order thinking skills, they require more attention and utilize more brain capacity. As a result, they will be more motivated by the tasks and invested in the outcomes.
2. Links to experiential learning
The design thinking process is very active and participatory. When employees work in this way, they have the opportunity to learn experientially, through testing their ideas and learning from mistakes.
According to the 70:20:10 model for learning and development, 70 percent of learning in the workplace is experiential — learning through practice and experience, followed by reflection, critical analysis, and application.
3. Strategies and ideas can come from anyone
A generally held view is that strategy is the sole responsibility of those at the top of an organization. Those in leadership set the strategic direction of the company and steer the team in that general direction.
While executives do need to take charge and make final decisions about which way to head, this approach can lead to missing the ideas of those working at other levels of the organization. Employees are generally an untapped resource of creativity and innovation - implementing the design thinking cycle can help to uncover this.
4. Boosts employee engagement
When employees are encouraged to use higher-order thinking skills such as creativity, this automatically boosts engagement and motivation to complete a task.
Researchers have also linked better engagement in workplace tasks to the retention of staff. Staff retention is a problem across organizations in the modern workplace and can have a direct impact on productivity.
5. Motivates employees to learn
If team members are using the design cycle to come up with new ideas, processes, and concepts for their organization, they will invariably hit stumbling blocks along the way. Perhaps they aren’t confident in collecting reliable data to develop an understanding of customers. Maybe low self-confidence holds them back from contributing ideas to a brainstorming session.
Wherever the problems arise, they provide employees with an opportunity for learning and professional development. If an employee wants to learn more about collecting data, she could enroll in an introductory course. If he has an issue with self-confidence, an online course might help to reframe his thinking.
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Sophia is a freelance writer who specialises in thought leadership, opinion pieces and content creation for learning publications. Her work focuses on the latest research in learning theory and practice. She regularly contributes articles on workplace learning and professional development to the Go1 blog. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.