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How to transform your organizational culture with Design Thinking

Innovative strength is one of the most important elements of business success.

Companies of all sizes, operating in the most diverse segments, strive to promote creativity, consequently innovating consciously.

What all recognized innovation leaders have in common is that, at some point, they have transformed their culture. 

How do you transform something as integrated as a business culture?

Some methods can help with this process, methods that are made just for this. That is the case of Design Thinking, a structured approach to innovation. DT focuses on the user and seeks to generate solutions that align the consumer’s desires and needs with value generation.

We will be touching on this topic throughout this article. Keep reading to understand how you can implement an innovation culture into your company with Design Thinking!

What is organizational culture?

Let’s take a step back to understand what organizational culture means. 

Organizational psychologist and professor from the MIT Sloan School of Management,  Edgar H. Schein, created a cultural model that distinguishes three levels of organizational culture: 

  • On its surface, it can be experienced through artifacts in the form of symbols and rituals
  • Below are collective values ​​that control behavior
  • The lowest level consists of unconscious assumptions about basic social norms

Schein points out that these levels form the organization’s “worldview.” They are all part of the problematic “ordering” of the organizational social system. They interact with each other and keep each other in check, avoiding total control. 

Within this, collective values ​​and basic premises can only be influenced very slowly and indirectly. That’s because only the visible artifacts of organizational culture can be designed. However, some peculiarities are difficult to “materialize.”

In this way, the company that wants to introduce Design Thinking to support transformation will work with artifacts to form a culture of innovation. It would be counterproductive to introduce Design Thinking into your company if your culture has not first been aligned with the innovation mindset.

It is necessary to consider – and we will talk about this later – that Design Thinking is not just a creative process. Above all, it is a mentality based on several principles, such as placing the user at the center of the strategy. 

What’s more, to develop real innovation, you need prototyping skills, problem analysis, and iterative work.

Design Thinking applied to cultural transformation. 

Nothing works better for innovation than radically aligning your products and services to customers’ needs. A product will only be successful if it improves the lives of its users. 

At first glance, the path of Design Thinking may seem unconventional, but it is a structured process that offers space for new ideas, solutions, and strategies.

Design Thinking brings together a wide range of specialized disciplines such as thinking, acting, and feeling. It is one of the few methods that do justice to our daily business scenario’s speed, complexity, and uncertainty.

  •  Design Thinking is a problem solving and idea development strategy centered on human beings.

Some of the most important principles of Design Thinking are:

  • Use of analytical, intuitive, and empathic thinking
  • Problems are examined very precisely
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Failing fast
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Thoughts are visualized to promote a common understanding
  • There are no good or bad ideas, only starting points for innovation

→ You might also like Design Thinking and Agile in the context of Digital Transformation!

Acculturing Design Thinking for a substantial transformation of organizational culture

One thing to keep in mind if you want to unlock the full potential of design thinking is that it should not be seen as something that only occurs during a project. You can do this, but it wouldn’t be worth it. 

  • Design Thinking becomes a real catalyst if it is implemented top-down and consciously understood as part of the corporate culture.

Check out some tips to acculture your team around Design Thinking!

Forget the traditional mindset.

Design Thinking promotes a culture of innovation that cannot be reconciled with strict hierarchical thinking.

That’s because fear does not lead to motivated employees or even new ideas, but isolation and silo thinking. And that is the death of creativity and innovation.

Keep in mind that, in addition to the creative aspects, Design Thinking emphasizes, above all, an iterative approach. Instead of brilliant presentations, it is better to use concrete prototypes exposed to customer criticism’s reality. 

Errors in the approach or technical execution of prototypes are explicitly understood as opportunities in the learning process and as the potential for innovation.

Promote empathy

It is empathy that makes it possible to understand customers’ real needs in the best possible way. Companies need to try new approaches to tackle problems differently in times driven by competition and quick solutions. Taking your time to really listen to your users can hold the key to groundbreaking insights.

Encourage healthy divergence.

Encourage your team to act differently, to think with empathy, and with an open mind. Always consciously allow for various solutions and think in all possible directions.

Bring Design Thinking to light.

Design Thinking requires a complete redefinition of the work culture, through which employees define themselves—finding joy and fun in what’s new and openness to change. Education for independent thinking must be actively promoted. This makes Design Thinking a “problem” for top management. 

As in sports or meditation, a two- or three-day seminar can end up being a new hobby or a lifelong practice. 

To have real innovation and long-term success in the market, these approaches need to be intuitively anchored in the thinking and performance of all the people involved.

Seek expert help.

Set up a Design Thinking project to discuss the way things are done in your company today. If necessary, seek help from a specialized consultancy.

The professional approach brought by good consultancy can facilitate the understanding of Design Thinking; it also avoids misunderstandings and even resistance to change – the external eye is not seen as a threat. People can relax and lean on the methodology.

→ See how this is possible to do this in practice; check out a success case: Intrapreneurship: employees engaged in the innovation process!

What do you think? Are you prepared to transform your organizational culture with Design Thinking? Go deeper into this theme; download now our best-selling e-book: Design Thinking – Business Innovation!