Last week, we had a great talk by Lulu Mickelson from The Rockefeller Foundation sharing with us how to be a designer "under cover" - that is, with out the title. And yesterday, we continued our series of conversations around design thinking in organizations with a lively and insightful dialogue with Ward Bullard from Verizon and Michael Glatts from Pfizer on how to be a design thinker inside a traditional organization.
"Design outside the box" but "which box?" you might ask. This is up to interpretation. However, when brainstorming a title of this panel, Karine and I thought of "Outside of the box of innovation consultancies". But one could argue that there is no "design thinking box" (despite some attempts to put design thinking in a box or a recipe book), and that it's all about situated interpretation and enactment. Reflecting on the conversation during the panel, this seems a good option.
Why this panel?
As companies are looking for new ways to continuously innovate and stay ahead of completion, they look at different methods and try to figure out what can lead them to find truly valuable ideas. Design thinking is one of them, and one which has had a lot of traction in the last few years.
From the 2004 Business Weeks cover on The Power of Design (with Dave Kelley and Tim Brown from IDEO), to the Harvard Business Review article on Design Thinking by Tim Brown, IDEO CEO and the special issue in Fall 2015 on Design Thinking in Harvard Business Review, design thinking is all over the place (at risk to become a fad, some would argue).
Design thinking is often (always?) associated with innovation and design consultancies such as IDEO, Frog Design and Continuum Design to cite a few. Yet, how can it be embraced in more traditional organizations? Is it possible? Does it need to be adapted? Is it only a method or does it require a more radical change in your organizational culture? All these questions have come up during our OpenIDEO NYC meetups over the last year or so. These are also questions that come up from my conversations with students in my design thinking classes as well as from my research on organization culture, service design and innovation philosophy.
All of these led Karine and I to organize this panel with two design thinkers who have been using design thinking in their respective organizations.
A bit of background from our speakers:
Ward Bullard is Head of Product, Venues, at Verizon, where he focuses on developing new solutions for stadiums, arenas, universities and locations that meet the needs of fans, visitors and operators alike. He is also an instructor at Stanford d.school. Prior to joining Verizon, Ward worked at SAP, Google, Mertado (acquired by Groupon) and Harrah’s Entertainment in product, business and marketing leadership roles.
Ward encountered design thinking while working on a partnership project between Google (where he was at the time) and SAP. His team by engaging with the customers was able to refocus the original project (realizing that for fans what happened before going in the stadium mattered) and develop a product in 90 days.
Michael Glatts leads a dynamic Global Congress team at Pfizer. His team is responsible for planning and executing more than 400 major conferences and symposiums around the world. He leads with a vision for innovation and creativity, and leverages Design Thinking to continuously find new and creative ways for Pfizer to promote its leading portfolio of products and medicines.
Michael had been with Pfizer for 25 years and 3 years ago was introduced to design thinking and realized that "this is what I've been doing my whole life". Design thinking provided him a tool to engage others better in his journey of innovation and change.
Ward and Michael, truthful to design thinking, wanted to know their "users". So we started the panel by each participant introducing themselves and telling us why they came to the panel. We were 30+ people and a diverse groups of students and professionals, from multiple fields: design strategy, management consulting, education, public health, architecture, consumer psychology, software, financial services, journalism, etc. Reasons to attend were multiple but everyone was interested in one way or another in finding ways to either implement it in their current organization, or to know how to use design thinking in future jobs.
- Start with "small juicy challenges" (Michael) to show quick wins: show results and develop case studies. You need to convince other people in the organization and you will only if you can show results / benefits and then explain the process you used. This will help you build your credibility.
- You can train all top executives, all new hires, all middle managers, but this often has minor success. It's only when you engage the customers (for example in Ward's case at SAP, when the people who will really use the system) in the process that this will work.
- Use opportunities and don't ask for permission (ask for forgiveness if needed). Michael told a story of a time when he decided to take on a meeting room with his team to work on a project. After a couple of days, they took out the table and chairs and painted the walls to turn them into a white board. Nothing in the organization said anything and his team felt empowered.
- No company wants to develop a bad product that no one wants. Explain the power of moving the users' feedback upfront to develop products that help solve real users' problems and real unmet needs. It does help you generate revenues while solving your customers' problems: the best of both worlds!
-What are they looking for when they look for design thinkers on their team?
Ward: resilience as this is an iterative process, where you will meet a lot of road blocks.
Michael: passion for improv, "yes and", collaboration and ability to really listen (empathy).
- How do you get buy in? That was a tough question and one that is at the core of any change effort in organizations. A few points to keep in mind: start by trying to understand what might be the concerns of people you try to convince; get some people along (it's hard to do it alone); Get some success stories to share; Show people how you might be able to help them solve their problems.
- How qualitative data can overcome the tendency of many managers to believe in quantitative data? Tell great stories and bring anecdotes to life; take the data and humanize it: show the face of the customers.
- A culture / mindset or a methodology / set of tools?
Both Ward and Michael stressed that design thinking was more than the post-it notes on the wall and that it was about changing the culture and this is why it's so difficult to implement successfully in traditional corporations. Carly Coope,r who worked with Ward at SAP and is now working for Infosys, shared her perspective on this. To change behaviors, you can change the people and the environment. You can train a person by making them attend a design thinking workshop, but they rarely won't remember much (except maybe the post it notes) or will have a hard time putting it into action when back in the office, back in their team. The second option is to change the environment is to take out the cubicles and create design thinking rooms, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. And most of the time, even if your managers say that they want you to be innovative, to do things differently, it's not really the case. Therefore to bring a design thinking mindset is really about changing the culture of the organization: You need to work on the deep structures and the quick wins (Michael referred to P&G transformation; You might also read about Samsung's journey).
-Where do the design thinkers sit?
There are a few models but at the end it always depends on your organization culture. 1. strategic initiative team; shared services; multi-disciplinary teams. The last model seems the more powerful organizational model but you need to figure out how to evaluate the performance of people in these teams, and allow them to grow.
All in all a lot of rich and insightful conversations with an underlying message: understand your context (organizational culture, users' needs and fears, and customers' problems and unmet needs); start small and iterate and show quick wins; be resilient and ready to experiment and fail.