August 20, 2018

How design thinking fits into any organisation

“Innovation” seems to have been turned into a business buzzword that has become so overused as to lose its meaning for some people. That would be a pity because innovation has always been and will always be essential to progress. And it’s been with us forever — consider the wheel as Exhibit A.

Businesses today all want to push innovation, so much so that some business leaders invest in sending themselves or their people to workshops, seminars and other events to learn about how to light a fire of innovation in their organisations.

The most common driver of innovation these days has come to be known as design thinking. There are many versions of this concept, but the one you probably recognise is the model conceived by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (Stanford

According to the Stanford, design thinking is “a methodology for innovation that combines creative and analytical approaches and requires collaboration across disciplines”.

Design thinking has five stages, not necessarily a linear process: building empathy, defining the problem, ideating, creating prototypes, and then testing them with users.

The great thing about design thinking is that it can be used as a problem-solving tool. After all, innovation is also about solving the problems your market or potential market.

And since no organisation is perfect, design thinking can be used even on a smaller scale to solve internal problems. The customers in this case could be your own people in the organisation.

So here are some reasons why design thinking could be applied in any organisation and how you can use it to solve problems in your organisation.

First, I firmly believe that design thinking is a mindset, an attitude to solving problems and innovation. It drives innovation and this means driving solutions to problems. Whether your organisation is actively driving innovation externally or not, the use of design thinking can even help solve problems within.

Second, design thinking is cyclical. This means that you and your organisation can keep maintaining and improving the solutions that have come out of the design thinking process. You can be prototyping and testing your solutions, while being able to empathise and get important feedback from the users.

Additionally, the cyclical nature of design thinking allows you and your organisation to have a long-lasting foundation for solving problems. You and I know that there is no such thing as a problem-free business as each business has its own set of challenges and its own ways to tackle these issues — protocols, manuals and the like.

This brings us to the third point: design thinking can be used as a foundation to tackle problems, especially those that are not in the usual protocol or manual.

This is not to say that each business must precisely follow each step in the design thinking process. But the beauty of design thinking is that it can be used as a foundation, and it’s up to you and your people as to how they want to tackle the problem. Design thinking just allows them to know where to begin.

Fourth, with design thinking come the right tools to tackle other elements that could be work-related or even in one’s personal life. Empathy, one of the stages in the process, is one of the most useful tools from the design thinking process.

You use empathy to understand your customers better and even do the same with the people in your organisation. The same can be said about ideation. Design thinking says that ideation is about brainstorming with complete freedom and the point is to generate as many ideas as possible.

Design thinking allows you and your organisations to solve problems in creative ways. It is applicable in all businesses and industries as it is about solving complex problems externally and even internally. The thing about design thinking is that it is not a fast fix that most organisations want. But if you want to actually solve complex problems at their root, design thinking is your solution.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre.  She can be reached by email at or

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