I’m a huge fan of TED Talks. Whether I’m listening to one on my iPhone or watching one on YouTube, it’s a familiar place I go to be exposed to good thinking, great leaders, and new ideas. It’s easy only to surround yourself with people, thoughts, and ideas that are familiar. But breakthrough leadership requires new thinking. You won’t get that if you never push yourself to learn about and explore how others are thinking. It was several years ago when I stumbled onto this particular talk about design thinking from Tim Brown. It’s based on his book, Change by Design. I highly recommend that you take the time to explore both. If you watch his talk, I’m almost sure you’ll order the book.
Tim began his career as an industrial designer. What he realized working with some very large brands around the world was that the same principles that drove his design thinking could benefit leaders trying to achieve a breakthrough in their leadership.
BREAKTHROUGH HAPPENS WHEN LEADERS ENGAGE AND COLLABORATE.
For example, Tim realized that creating a product within a company should include collaboration between marketing and engineering. Most of the time the engineers would dream and build the product and then, at the appropriate time, marketing would step in and figure out how to sell it. A better scenario is if marketing and engineering collaborated from the very beginning. Their individual thinking, biases, and assumptions could lead to a better final product that would achieve greater marketplace success.
He then took it a step further and realized that great design sources its inspiration from the accumulation of a variety of information points. It’s about assembling a lot of supporting ideas into a new, singular idea. Over time, Tim observed that most organizational leaders tear apart ideas rather than link and build together.
STOP TEARING EVERY IDEA AND PROBLEM APART. INSTEAD, SEE HOW IDEAS AND OPPORTUNITIES FIT TOGETHER.
Deconstruction is a common technique in learning that naturally carries itself into boardrooms across the world. Break an idea down into its fundamental core, and you’ll better understand it. While this is true, it also trains our brains to operate based on our perspective, assumptions, and bias. Great design, on the other hand, combines the biggest challenges, goals, and opportunities into something new.
Design thinking is an approach to innovation and breakthrough that works. Shortly after becoming president at Southeastern, I faced a series of obstacles. Rather than just taking each problem apart and seeing it independent of the rest of the organization, I listened to leaders across the organization. Together with the executive team, we connected the best ideas into new thinking that led to unprecedented breakthroughs.
WHEN IS IT TIME TO UTILIZE DESIGN THINKING?
Here are four indicators to consider:
1. Persistent, systemic problems are met with iterative thinking. Organizations are a series of systems. If you want to change the output, you have to retool the machine. That starts with how you and your leadership think about breakthrough and innovation. 2. Lack of collaboration across different areas of your organization. The industrial age brought about efficiency and segmentation. In the information age, collaboration is key to uncovering new possibilities. 3. Working harder is the answer to every problem, challenge, or obstacle. Working harder is rarely the solution. Most often, what used to work isn’t as effective now. That means it’s time for new thinking to emerge. 4. Your organization has plateaued or is in decline. As Jim Collins would say, “It’s time to face the brutal facts.” New thinking is required to reverse course and start growing again.
DESIGN THINKING IS A DISCIPLINE AND MUSCLE THAT YOU MUST DEVELOP AND BUILD OVER TIME.
If you see those things in your leadership or the leadership of others in your organization, I would strongly encourage you to share Tim’s TED Talk and book. Start a conversation that will give you and others permission to see old problems in new, collaborative ways.
Great design is a blend of form and function. Those two characteristics and qualities should contribute to breakthrough and release the latent potential in your leadership and your organization. If you feel stagnate and stale, then I would encourage you to get familiar with the principles of design thinking and watch the world of possibility become very real for you and your team.
CHALLENGE: Get familiar with design thinking. Read the book with a small group of your key leaders. Identify areas where design thinking could help you break past your current constraints. Build on that experience until all of your core leadership has learned about and experienced the breakthrough the comes when design thinking is utilized.