Is Design thinking principles rooted in YOUR corporate culture?

By Annita Fjuk og Birgitte Yttri

2 February 2017 13:37

(updated: 2 February 2017 13:52)

Is Design thinking principles rooted in YOUR corporate culture?

How do we manage the high uncertainties coming along with digitalization? Design thinking is one possible answer – if its key principles are rooted in the corporate culture.

Ill. Design Thinking

How do we manage the high uncertainties coming along with digitalization? Design thinking is one possible answer – if its key principles are rooted in the corporate culture. Design thinking (DT) is an innovation approach, particularly powerful to manage high-uncertain problems in the fuzzy front end of projects that holds big doses of risk taking.

Certain key principles characterize DT, such as empathizing with customers for better understanding their jobs to be done. A project manager in a Telenor subsidiary explains the value of this in the following way:

“People think generally innovation is something like an idea. But before innovation comes user research, and believe me:  user research is the hardest and most difficult part of the process (…). You are not out there for finding solutions; you are out there for trying to understand what their thoughts and problems are (…)”.

According to the Harvard- professor and one of the most influential business theorists of the last decades, Clayton Christensen, understanding the jobs is the key to growth and competitiveness through innovation.

The world of business has never been more volatile or unpredictable. Sources of competition and disruption can appear anywhere—not just disruption in products, services, and technology, but also in channels to market, policy, talent, brands, and supply chains.

Tim Brown, CEO Ideo

Another key principle is prototyping, to continuously discover and learn how to best match and drive the customer’s jobs to be done. The more wicked, complex or uncertain a problem is the stronger the need for prototyping, to reduce risks early or even to change directions of focus. A top manager in one of Telenor’s subsidiaries explained the value of prototyping in the following way:

“We must not end up with what a boss wants. What he thinks about the outcome is uninteresting. The driving force is the insight developed throughout the prototypes”.

Prototyping is not merely a means for matching customer jobs, it a proficient and visual way to catch management attention and to move fast in the digital marketplace. A third principle is collaboration, to fully utilize the human resources and expertise across corporate functions, partners and service ecosystems.

To effectively manage unpredictable business environments, success is not merely a product of training, visionary talks, new organizational structures or rewards systems. The right culture for handling uncertainties demands entrepreneurial key principles, hallmarked by taking risk and initiative, flexible and motivated employees where the role of leadership is to inspire for high performance and embracing new challenges.

However, in too many big companies, these principles are not rooted in their corporate culture. Analysis of the Telenor Culture Survey 2016, a large-scale, global assessment of culture including 21064 employees, shows that cultural evolvement and a new way of working is demanded to  drive innovation, as expressed by one of the employees:

“In-order to increase innovation we must provide the best environment to our employees and this will ultimately paying off by creating difference in the markets. Encourage and promote (from all levels) new ways of working which suit our organization moving forward, we must keep learning and change, not only in terms of new digital skills and competence but also in terms of mindset in terms of agility and daring to fail” .

One of the world’s most recognized experts on corporate culture, Jon Katzenback, highlight that behaviors are the most powerful determinant of real change. To evolve towards the right culture, leaders must model the behavior they want to embrace throughout the organization. Key elements of right culture such as experimentation, radical collaboration, tolerating failure and embracing change - that’s what innovation is all about, without losing the focus on results-orientation, often described as an ambidextrous organization by leading scholars. 

We argue that rooting of selected key principles of DT into the corporate culture will drive evolvement of the right and preferred culture. If done right, the corporate culture acts as a force field that drives agility and innovation to significant value.

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