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Design Thinking is out there and here to stay. Years after the definition has been coined and explored by agencies such as IDEO, it becomes more and more ‘common sense’ and a regular practice to make innovation more successful. That all might be fine, but… what are the next steps needed to make design thinking more mature, embed it as way of working in the core of big corporates and become less ‘design’ and more ‘business’?

That was the main focus of the Global Summit 2018 of Design at Business. Design at Business is a cross-company network which connects changemakers from more than 150 large companies around the world. Philips hosted the 2018 edition in Amsterdam together with local Dutch partners such as ABNAMRO, TomTom, The Design Thinking Center as well as the Design Management Netwerk (DMN).

Philips’ Maarten Rincker curated the event and kicked of the three days packed with keynotes, workshops, plenary discussions, debates and networking. ‘After 15 years of defining and implementing its time to explore a critical question: do we need to innovate Design Thinking?’ Rincker and his team designed the Summit in a ‘Design Thinking way’. Thus, making clear that the result should depend mainly on the input and interaction of all 120 participants, who came from big corporates to small and medium sized businesses, education/research, as well as digital and creative agencies.

Of course, there were keynotes from people from the industry and business. The first day Maarten van Aalst presented in a personal way the case of the Red Cross where the importance of Design Thinking to tackle huge social challenges became tangible. Marco Steinberg (Snowcone and Haystack, Helsinki) pointed out the benefits of Design Thinking regarding the public sector, working on societal challenges in a far more effective way by developing a keen eye for the interests of all stakeholders. McKinsey’s Anna Koivuniemi brought in the business perspective and showed as example how Artificial intelligence (Ai) can and will change the future of work. She also emphasized the need for digital maturity and leadership throughout the company and especially on C-Level: ‘technology and digitalization will have the most impact on our own internal processes, so make sure you’ll be prepared by developing the right skills and ways of working. For me, Design Thinking is capable to contribute to that.’

The next day saw Alexander Grots (former IDEO) who presented a ‘short history of Design Thinking’. He sketched challenging future scenarios of the ‘discipline’ and clearly pointed out the increase in complexity: ‘we are in the middle of the development of design for products to design for services and even designing systems. The need to cooperate with more disciplines and external stakeholders is clear, and Design Thinking methods – if applied properly – will really help to make this happen.’ Paul Gardien showcased the Design Thinking approach of Philips which contributed a lot to change design, R&D and innovation within his company, making it far more ‘outside-in’, holistic and user/stakeholder based. ‘We worked ten years to finally become capable to explore the world of our users with an open and curious eye, thus creating better products, services and solutions’. Joy Mountford, leading the team at Ford who designs autonomous vehicles, dived into the topic of rapid prototyping and testing. ‘Apply Design Thinking less theoretical but use it to create, build, test fast and fail fast. Think and especially act more like a start-up.’, she stated.

A kind of ‘re-thinking’ was definitely needed. Therefore, the participants were actively invited to define ‘challenges for Design Thinking’. This caused a lot of interesting debate and resulted in a final list of 12 challenges who were discussed on day 3. Ranging from ‘Design Thinking as a way to make organizations even more context-focused’, ‘Design Thinking as methodology to solve ‘wicked problems’ and design systems’, to ‘validate Design Thinking by present its results to decision makers in a more inspiring and convincing way’.

Christina Taylor (former Swisscom) delivered the final keynote. ‘Don’t be afraid of numbers’ she started, ‘but just show the numbers. Design Thinking is not about design, it’s about solving a business problem. Make clear you contribute to that solution and explain why ‘new’ ways of working are far more effective.’ Based on her experience she also pleaded for a pragmatic approach where a mix of quick wins and bold moves helps Design Thinking to become a household routine within enterprises. Christina also warned: ‘After a start the true success always depends on a solid implementation. Never forget to create learning loops in developing products or services, they are the only ‘political safe way’ to proceed. So, make it a routine to report on feasibility, viability and desirability on a regular base. In that way C-Level will understand and embrace the need of ‘working and looking different’.

To finish: eight take-aways:

  • Design Thinking is a mentality, a way of looking at the world and your own organization;
  • Design Thinking is way of working, managing, cooperating and ‘getting things done’;
  • Design Thinking helps to tackle ‘wicked problems’ and can help to develop and design complex systems;
  • Design Thinking should be embedded in your concrete, daily operations, on any level;
  • Make Design Thinking less theoretical: start doing it and maintain an entrepreneurial approach (think the Lean Startup method by Eric Ries);
  • Make Design Thinking core of your business, it’s not only about innovation, R&D and design, but definitely also about HRM, Finance, Operations (a.o.);
  • Stop ‘selling Design Thinking internally’ but make it inevitable for decision makers by building cases and validate these in ‘the real world of users and stakeholders’;
  • The profile of the ‘ideal’ Design Thinking professionals is ‘T-Shaped’: it includes both designers with business skills, as well as business people who are open to explore their design skills.

The challenges for Design Thinking (DT) as defined in this Summit:

  • How can DT create more trusting and meaningful interactions in work?
  • How can DT help to design systems and deal with complexity between stakeholders?
  • How can DT support teams to proactively adapt to uncertainty in rapidly changing times?
  • How can DT better integrate in business by focusing on root causes instead of symptoms?
  • How can DT help organizations to focus more on the human side?
  • How can DT create social interaction that stimulates organizations/groups to become curious (think outside their bubble)?
  • How can DT help public institutions to tackle huge societal challenges and develop human centered solutions?
  • How can we use DT to ‘build fast, fail fast and learn fast’ and support an entrepreneur mindset?
  • How can DT help people in highly structured organizations to collaborate better and unleash creative confidence collectively?
  • How can we prove the business value of DT across all management layers?
  • How can we bring using DT ideas and plans to decision makers in a more inspiring way?

More about Design at Business can be found at: https://www.designatbusiness.com

Report & photo: Pieter Aarts