When an organization decides to implement design thinking they first need to conclude that they have the correct ATTITUDE. This covers for example factors such as mindset and company culture – both as individuals and the organization. Having agreed that the ATTITUDE is correct, the organization should consider its ABILITY to implement the design thinking process. ABILITY relates to the internal skills of individuals, their desire and willingness to learn and is there sufficient financial resources available to support such a process. Having agreed that the necessary skills are available and that financially the organization can support the process, they need to consider what ACTION is required to bring about implementation. This is where they organization considers leadership and team work or collaboration. Collaboration is a vital part of the process and requires consistent focussed leadership at numerous levels within an organization. Finally, consider OUTCOME, what the organization is aiming for or what the individuals involved are focussed on bringing about. In this theme for example we place factors such as measurability, innovation or competitive advantage. All organisations are driven by profit and require a return on investment. Research has shown that one key factor for organisations disengaging with design thinking is the difficulty to measure the effect design thinking has on the outcome. Justifying return on investment is another.

(Examples are mindset, maturity, culture and failure)

Out in industry design thinking has for the majority been welcome and seen as a new methodology or process for problem solving. However, some academics are not convinced and have proposed design thinking as being a management fad and state that little empirical research has been actioned relative to design thinking in organizational settings (Carlgren, Rauth, et al., 2016, p. 39). In an article these authors question whether design thinking is in fact a new way to execute design or if it may be an alternative format of organising any task that is not directly associated with traditional design? This could be an area of further research. Owen[1]  offers an alternate and notes that design thinking has “distinct value to decision makers” (Owen, 2007, p. 16). Owen states that “design thinking is in many ways the obverse of scientific thinking. Where the scientist sifts facts to discover patterns and insights, the designer invents new patterns and concepts to address facts and possibilities” (Owen, 2007, p. 17). Design thinking offers businesses the opportunity to make their intentions real by clearly defining goals, better understanding customers and getting teams properly aligned. The result being improved output (Clark & Smith, 2008, p. 9).

Part of the process of design thinking involves risk taking and this means that users need to accept failure as an outcome in many cases. In 2015, a study was undertaken by the Hasso Plattner Institute in conjunction with the Stanford Design Thinking Research Program to determine the current state of design thinking practice in organizations. The study focused on understanding the reasons for engagement or discontinuing with design thinking by both individuals and organizations. The study found that organizations associated failure as a negative and not a positive learning experience. Individuals within organizations therefore steered away from applying design thinking as this would affect their careers paths.

  1. Leifer et al. (2012a, p. 112) contradict this approach and remarked that “prototyping allows practitioners to reframe failure as an opportunity for learning”. The authors also discussed a hypothesis motivated by Weisberg where it was observed that “creative failures are more often explained by the absence of relevant information than the presence of irrelevant information” (L. Leifer et al., 2012a, p. 52). The study also found that design thinking often failed within organizations because of lack of training or the wrong people being trained in a field that they do not have an interest or believe in. The concept of failure is a significant point to explore further in this dissertation, however data collected within the study showed that there were numerous other significant obstacles to the adoption of design thinking within organization including company culture, individual beliefs, financial constraints and lack of measurement processes. The Hasso Plattner Study (2015) recognizes and highlights these issues but does not extend further to analysing the individual processes or steps within the design thinking methodology or offer any discussion on possible solutions (Jan et al., 2016).

 In an article Kolko[2] describes design culture as nurturing; it does not encourage failure but recognizes that it is rare to get things right the first time. L. Leifer et al. (2012a, p. 108) supports failure as being an important part of the design thinking process. The authors express further that failure should not be artificially avoided and that advanced users of design thinking take risks and do not have a fear of failure. Carlgren, Elmquist, & Rauth (2016a, p. 353) note “the focus on rapid testing of hypotheses, failing and learning from mistakes in design thinking was perceived as difficult in companies with a strong risk-averse culture”. Company culture is the first of ten factors that will be considered when undertaking the research.

Purdy & Popan (2016) define the major aspects of design thinking as “understanding the practical and emotional needs of a client, using prototypes or physical models to explore possible ways of achieving goals, and being willing to try different paths even though they may result in failure”. As an example, Apple, leverages failure as learning, viewing it as part of the cost of innovation (Kolko, 2015). The author cites a further example of General Electric[3] (GE) Software Teams learn what to do in the process of doing it, iterating, and pivoting. Employees in every aspect of the business must realize that they can take social risks—putting forth half-baked ideas, for instance—without losing face or experiencing punitive repercussions (Kolko, 2015).

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