Design Thinking: From A Business Mindset To A Fundamental Skill For IT

Paul Kurchina

Design thinking has long been regarded as a mindset-driven framework that places innovators at the center of any idea: the experience of the people impacted by them. With the principles of user empathy, prototyping, and tolerance for failure, many businesses are uncovering hidden opportunities and delivering new and leading-edge products, services, and processes to help people work smarter, collaborate better, and operate faster. And as technology and business processes become more complex, design thinking is increasingly coming to the forefront of business innovation.

During the Americas’ SAP User Group (ASUG) webcast “Design Thinking: A Mindset and an Essential Skillset in the Age of Digital Transformation,” Sam Yen, chief design officer and managing director of Silicon Valley Labs at SAP, stated, “Research from the Design Management Institute confirms that design-centered organizations over the last 10 years have outperformed the marketplace. It’s difficult to grow rapidly if you don’t have that organic design DNA within your organization. Companies that don’t have it are acquiring it.”

But there’s a hitch: As businesses continue to focus on digital transformation and use technology to engage their workforce and consumers, IT is no longer viewed as an innovation partner. Rather, individual lines of business are embarking on this journey on their own. According to Forrester Research, the majority of IT investments (72%) are just there to keep the lights on while a much smaller percentage (28%) is driving business innovation.

Even though technology is playing a critical role in digital disruption as a competitive advantage, IT needs to step up and show that they are the innovation partner of the business. By shifting from information technology to innovation technology, IT teams can intensify their value to the organization in terms of breakthrough innovations.

IT and design thinking: An opportunity to shine

Although there’s a huge wave of interest and desire for acquiring talent with a skill for design thinking, few IT organizations are adept at defining design thinking and relating it to the business. Yen places design thinking in the context of the business need for scaling a culture of creativity in the organization as they look to innovate with a simple equation:

Innovation = Creativity x Execution

“You have to have new great ideas, which is the creativity side, to deliver breakthrough innovations into the marketplace,” Yen explained. “But at the same time, you have to balance it out with execution. Ideas by itself aren’t going to give you market success. If you’re really good at execution but you lack that organizational creativity, that doesn’t facilitate the overall innovation equation. You need a balance of both.”

Even though design thinking may seem to be rooted in logical, common-sense principles of finding the problem before it is solved, many businesses – as well as IT teams – are finding it difficult to implement. According to Yen, “There’s nothing common about common sense, and that is certainly true in terms of people applying design thinking in most organizations. We learn about problem-solving throughout our educational careers. If you ask a first-grade class who is creative, everyone raises their hand with a spark in their eye and excitement. But if you ask the same question to a room full of executives, that level of excitement is lost. Over time, we learn that our value is not found in being creative, but in solving problems.”

The way IT organization can make a difference with design thinking is to make sure that the business’ value is associated with creativity and use design thinking as a critical component of that innovation. “You have to show business results. You have to show by doing things a different way, you’re coming up with unexpected results that are positive and [that you] may not have been able to do if you were following a perspective of the status quo or business as usual,” advised Yen.

To demonstrate the importance of design thinking, senior leadership must sponsor and become passionate about the process and its value. Plus, resources must be available to reach a critical mass of adoption within the business.

“The organization cannot reside as a centralized, exclusive group that only delivers projects for senior executives. Even though you may do a lot of great work, design thinking won’t scale well to the rest of the business because it doesn’t serve within the same constraints in which the rest of the business operates,” noted Yen. “You build momentum by embedding design thinking in the product and service teams and deal with the same constraints that those teams deal with on a daily basis. By following a different process, bringing in new skills, and achieving unexpected results that were different, you can get the fundamental support of the organization to get that sustainable success.”

Sam Yen explains how design thinking can unleash your employees’ capacity for innovation, creative thinking, and digital evolution in this webcast replay and presentation, Design Thinking: A Mindset and an Essential Skillset in the Age of Digital Transformation, hosted by ASUG.

Image: ©Kantver |


Paul Kurchina

About Paul Kurchina

Paul Kurchina is a community builder and evangelist with the Americas’ SAP Users Group (ASUG), responsible for developing a change management program for ASUG members.