Design thinking is challenging because it involves something more fundamental than managing change: It involves discovering what change is needed. Rick Mitchell has reviewed the following paper for R&D Today.
The Right Way to Lead Design Thinking: How to help project teams overcome the inevitable inefficiencies, uncertainties and emotional flare-ups. Christian Bason and Robert.D. Austin.
R&D staff usually expect to be rational and objective, so Design Thinking methods, such as empathising with users and conducting experiments knowing many will fail, often seem disturbingly subjective and personal.
Employees can be shocked and dismayed by unexpected or negative findings and feel like they are spinning their wheels. Their anxieties may derail the project. Leaders – without being heavy-handed – need to help teams make time and space for new ideas to emerge, accept failure and maintain an overall sense of purpose.
This paper by Bason and Austin focuses on the role of the leader in such projects and is a result of studies of nearly two dozen companies.
The authors conclude: “Leaders who commission design-thinking projects must be coaches, inspiring their teams, hand-holding where necessary but drawing back when the team hits its stride”
They identified 3 key practices that help:
- Encouraging Empathy with customers experiences. This can turn employees dismay at discovering inadequacies in what they were proposing into a positive search for something better. This is illustrated by 4 case examples.
- Encouraging Divergence and Navigating Ambiguity. Leaders must give staff the space and time to explore diverse approaches and not converge too quickly on a solution. This often involves being more “hands-off” than usual. This is illustrated by 4 case examples;
- Rehearsing new futures. It is important to test proposals with customers giving them as full an experience as possible. Prototypes or videos of imagined new arrangements are more insightful than hypothetical discussions. (4 cases).”
See also Design Thinking HBR June 2008 and Design Thinking comes of age HBR Sept 2015.
Read the paper: The Right Way to Lead Design Thinking: How to help project teams overcome the inevitable Inefficiencies, Uncertainties and Emotional flare-ups. Christian Bason and Robert .D. Austin. Harvard Business Review March-April 2019 pp 82-91
Reviewed by Rick Mitchell.
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