Written by Marc Bolick
What’s the next phase of the journey after learning design thinking and implementing it on a project? That question triggered a lively WhatsApp discussion recently among our global DesignThinkers Group colleagues who have seen what happens when design thinking practitioners start to shake up their organizations.
The remarkable changes in perspective and mindset that design thinking brings do not happen in a vacuum. Learning design thinking and applying it to an important project is hard work, for sure, but the real potential lies in using the human-centered mindset to change the way people collaborate to solve problems. Many new practitioners want to take this bigger step within their organizations. They see the potential to create change beyond a single project or problem and want to help drive wider change throughout the organization.
But that’s not easy to do. It’s human nature to resist change. Institutional barriers are real. In this part of a two-part series we look at some of the challenges you might encounter as you navigate the waters of change. In the next part, we will dig into some tested approaches to dealing with push-back, and discuss some opportunities that may emerge through purposely managing the change process.
In the meantime, think about which of the following challenges may emerge (or have already happened) in your organization as you begin to blend design thinking into the way you work. We would love for you to comment on this post and share your thoughts and experiences.
VIVA LA RESISTANCE
When others within your organization don’t want to do or support design thinking, they might engage in behaviors that block the process. Resistance can come in many forms, and some are easier to spot than others. Some people might refuse to participate in activities outright. Others might stall by being slow to respond or stretching timelines out too long. Finally, somebody who holds power over budgets might give excuses for withholding funds that would support design thinking activities. People can get really creative when they want to keep something from happening.
People can get really creative when they want to keep something from happening.
You can do innovation without affecting culture, but organizational culture is something you must eventually deal with when introducing a design thinking approach or scaling a design thinking project within an organization. Depending on how far you hope to go, you may end up bumping into issues that challenge the very culture of an organization.
For example, sometimes we find a company’s proclaimed customer-centric focus is more about talk and marketing. It isn’t reflected in the company’s products or how they treat customers. In cases like these, plans for scaling design thinking likely need to be much longer term, with many more people involved.
We’ve talked about unseen spaces needed for collaboration, and on the flip side of that are the hidden “territories” in an organization of which you might not have been aware. People who claim them may resist your efforts to change “the way things work around here.”
You may sense this among colleagues in the marketing and creative departments. In some organizations, they might consider themselves the de facto sources of new ideas and innovation, leaving little appreciation for similar efforts from elsewhere. Or, they might perceive design thinking projects as competing for resources if those projects begin to grow beyond their original scope.
HR and CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Another territory where your efforts could be seen as an invasion is the human resources department, which often implements any large-scale, personnel-focused change. A big design thinking initiative coming from outside that department could be seen more as a disruption than an opportunity. What’s more, as the official “people people,” they might perceive talk about anything human-centered as a direct challenge to their authority.
In some organizations, change management specialists within HR or internal consultants might be responsible to help smooth the path to change. If those people aren’t involved at some point – the beginning, in the best-case scenario – a design thinking project could be slowed down, if not quashed altogether.
If you’re really jazzed about design thinking ideas and see where it can take your organization, we applaud you! It takes some serious hutzpah to stand in front of a project team you’ve worked with for a while and introduce new techniques and ways of working. We spend a whole day of our weeklong boot camp on this challenge, what we call the “Business Day.” It’s all about how to bring design thinking into an organization and make it stick.
Design thinking is not a magic bullet: it’s not meant to solve every problem. The resistance issues we touched on above will only be exacerbated by a lack of clarity about how you hope to make things better for people.
One of the core principles of design thinking is that pretty much everything is a prototype, based on some hypothesis that you need to test and iterate. Likewise, you need to assume that the way you expect design thinking to fit in your organization will likely not be exactly the way it ends up fitting.
That said, if you are at the point of thinking big with your initiative, you’ll need to be crystal clear on where you can scale up beyond the initial design thinking application that sparked your fire. In order to maximize your chances of success spreading the human-centered way of working, you should plan to experiment, adjust and replan.
Do any of these sound like potential barriers in your organization? Share your goals and efforts in the comments below.