How to apply design thinking at a right time for your business – Unleash

How to apply design thinking at a right time for your business

In this article, we speak to Virginia Morris, Founder & Managing Partner of Bamboo Difference, on the overlaps of design thinking, inclusive leadership and what the future of work entails for leaders.

The answer lies in co-learning, stepping into empathy and having deep dialogues through a human-centred lens.

It is with this mindset that Virginia started Bamboo Difference – a boutique consultancy that sits at the intersection of leadership, design, technology and humanity.

2020 has given a phenomenal opportunity to leaders to get the traction that they were looking for earlier. The pace of digitisation, remote working and enabling people to do things outside the traditional structure are at unbelievable levels compared to even 12 months ago.

“This is why we typically set the scene around VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) and how much everything is changing and in flux. What is needed most today is a combination of disruptive mindsets and methods that enable agility – including teaching design thinking approaches.”

For Virginia, design thinking is not just a one-stop-solution. There’s often a lot of storytelling, pitching and sponsorship of experiments that need to happen at stages throughout the process.

In fact, there is potential danger in applying design thinking in isolation as some organisations have big expectations of what it will deliver for them and often times, it doesn’t deliver what they expect it to.

Two crucial moments when leaders should really be applying design thinking are:

  1. When you get stuck: Having a mindset of ‘looking out the window’ at different ways of doing things, not just at competition in the same sector but in completely different spaces.
  2. When you want to get in front of customers: Design thinking enables you to look at the jobs to be done, or get to the insights – enabling us to go deeper (and broader) on what the real issues are and the most valued impact points.

It’s best to look at where design thinking fits within a variety of methodologies and determine which is the better one to use in a specific circumstance for a specific group of people with a specific challenge.

Especially when we talk of organisational culture change.

In a culture that is risk averse, hierarchical and conservative, design thinking or any kind of disruptive method is going to struggle to be able to deliver.

“Design thinking will not give you the answer for behavioural shifts, but instead has to be combined with other supportive processes.”

When you’re often hit by a wall of ‘Yes, but’ or ‘The Great Unknown’, here are 2-3 tips for leaders to start applying Design thinking in their work to enable culture change:

  1. Talk to diverse people: Have dialogues with more diverse people – and be responsible for creating an environment that enables design thinking and disruptive methodologies to not only flourish but be accepted as well.
  2. Step out of silo mentality into a collaborative mindset: Often we are faced with ‘it’s not my job’ mindset – That kind of mentality will close any form of experimentation and is really an obstruction to agility needed in the future of work.
  3. Support ALL ideas (no matter who raises them): Fostering inclusivity as a leader is not only about gaining diverse perspectives, but making people feel comfortable to raise ideas and concerns that foster constructive tensions.

Virginia Morris assisting leaders map out their sustainable team purpose during a strategy session
Virginia Morris assisting leaders map out their sustainable team purpose during a strategy session

It’s understandable that themes like organisational culture, psychological safety, diversity and inclusion are nuanced and more challenging to come to robust solutions.

“Organisational structure is the climate that sits around any method or process that you’re using. If the climate is blame-avoiding or not nurturing of difference then no amount of creative methods will likely help.”

Enter, the Future of Work – which will demand radical transparency and networks of people working together as opposed to rigid structures.

“Design thinking paves a way of learning by doing, instead of just ideating and thinking. By having empathy and deep dialogues, we can get a sense of what people are really looking for. The future of work will force us to consider how we take care of our whole selves – the physical, spiritual and mental well-being of people too.”

In conclusion, all of these things collectively will inform our habits in hiring policies, performance management, and assessing talent potential – pushing us to take a lens of human-centredness and giving us a range of diverse solutions.

We will no longer have the luxury of predictability. “ What a great opportunity that offers us all!”

Virginia is an accomplished leadership strategist, entrepreneur, executive coach and facilitator working with executives and senior teams globally. She is a result and human-centered leader with 25 years direct Asia Pacific experience in strategic management across multiple industries. She works at the intersection of leadership, Future of Work, technology & design.
Virginia is an accomplished leadership strategist, entrepreneur, executive coach and facilitator working with executives and senior teams globally. She is a result and human-centered leader with 25 years direct Asia Pacific experience in strategic management across multiple industries. She works at the intersection of leadership, Future of Work, technology & design.