There’s a few questionable things that came about in the 80’s but design thinking certainly isn’t one of them. What is design thinking? In short, design thinking is a problem solving framework.

With design thinking you bring your whole-self to the process without restraint or the negative inner voice. You bring a state of mind that empathises with customers but also with your colleagues you’re working with. Once you can do this the solutions are only limited to the participants imagination and the ability to seek, understand and then act on insights.  

So how does this apply to leadership? Great leadership, not unlike design thinking, is dependent on the ability to identify a problem and make progress on a possible solution. Problems or opportunities may be within the organisation or may lie in waiting with a customer need that has not yet been met.  

Design thinking, helping leaders  

In the article ‘Design thinking should also serve as a leadership philosophy‘ Jesse Himsworth from Forbes highlights two key elements that assist leaders.  

  1. The Power of The Collective Brain 
  2. The Value of Human-Centred Design

The power of the collective brain refers to the fact that ideas stemming from a collective of people with different views and insights is strengthened to that of an individuals. When one person (normally one with the highest rank) is coming up with all the ideas no matter how ‘intelligent’ or ‘naturally skilled’ they may be, the idea still stems from one set of skills, abilities, views, biases and experiences, rather than many. Having many points of view in a room, as opposed to one that dictates, is always going to be a more robust and stronger idea that stands a better chance of success.  

“Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results” states the report from Cloverpop titled “Hacking Diversity with Inclusive Decision-Making”.  

Ideas and innovation are strengthened by collaboration and there’s plenty of stats to prove it.  

The Australian Government report Competition of Collaboration used data from around 7,000 Australian small and medium enterprises and they “found a significant link between collaboration on innovation and productivity growth — the impact of collaboration on innovation increased annual productivity growth by 4.1 per cent.”

 The benefits are irrefutable. The ability to harness ideas and bring together diverse points of view increases the success rate of new ideas (innovation) but is also attributed to improving the overall sustainability of any organisation. I always like to mention the sidenote of empowering individuals and helping them to find moments of joy and purpose in what they do each day. To me this is where the magic lies.   

How diverse is your team?  

Now let’s look at the team you, as a leader, are creating. Yes, I say creating because every hire, every recruit will determine the abilities of your collective brain. Diversity is a key component of collective brain that can break through the limitations of traditional thinking and create more innovative ideas.  

The BGC Report ‘how diverse leadership teams boost innovation’ states that organisations which leverage diversity in developing their solution have an advantage of 19 percent more in their innovation revenue over those that don’t.  

The X Factor  

Now to the value of a human centred approach.  Design thinking firstly relies on empathy. So, in this case leaders who have the ability to put themselves in their teams and their customers shoes. Good to Great, author Jim Collins notes empathy and humility to be the X factor of great leadership.  

If leaders successfully embed empathy into their organisation we then get a more engaged workforce.  

The ‘Empathy Monitor Report’ makes mention of the following benefits of a workplace that embeds empathy:  

1.Retention 

  • 92 percent of employees would be more likely to stay with a company if the organisation empathised with their needs. 

2. Overheads 

  • 60 percent would be willing to take less pay if their employer showed empathy, and 78 percent would leave an employer for equal pay if the other company was empathetic. 

3. Productivity  

  • 77 percent of employees would be willing to work longer hours for an empathetic employer. 

So once leaders have developed a culture of empathy what’s next?  

Constant improvement, regular feedback and individuals who are open minded enough to receive and welcome feedback can be your competitive advantage. Embrace it! An organisation dedicated to innovation realises that it is a continuous pursuit that promotes failure as an opportunity for learning. 

 Let’s talk about what’s in it for them….. and what’s in it for you as a result.  

“They hear me”…. Empowerment  

Empowering teams and instilling confidence to teams can be a momentous move to improving the decision-making abilities of teams. Not to mention improving proactiveness and productivity.  

Employees who feel their voice is heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. (Salesforce

“What I do matters, to me!” Sense of Purpose 

If what you do each day is aligned with your own personal cause then there’s no doubt you will be happier at work as well as happier after hours. If you’re fulfilled 9-5 then homelife becomes more enjoyable and let’s face it a happier community could only eventuate. No Sunday blues, no manic Mondays.  

80% of employees felt more engaged when their work was consistent with the core values and mission of their organization. (IBM

“Trust me I got this!” Decisiveness 

A decisive team means less time for leaders to have to guide direction. Therefore, it allows leaders to dedicate more time to connecting with the wider industry and dedicate time to thinking about the future direction and strategies of the business rather than putting out fires and reacting to day to day challenges.  

70% of employees ranked being empowered to take action at work when a problem or opportunity arose as an important element of their engagement. (SHRM

From here decide what is the biggest challenge to your business. Use empathy in your approach to break down the barriers to that challenge. Whether it be within you company or your customers.  

The design thinking approach will help you to not only address any problem that comes your way but you’ll also reap the benefits of knowing that you are contributing to a happier community and happier workforce.  

Sleep easy in knowing that when your people go home each day, they don’t dread the time they need to be back in the office and instead thrive within their home life and spread the word within their network of the positive influence of your organisation.

Make advocacy and an engaged and empowered workforce your strongest competitive advantage.  

Olivia O’Connor, Liv By Design

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