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  • 5 Ways to Embrace Design Thinking | January 24, 2019 Event Recap

5 Ways to Embrace Design Thinking | January 24, 2019 Event Recap

February 04, 2019 3:58 PM | Anonymous

By Susan Camberis

Editor, Training Today

ATDChi’s 2019 kick-off event featured a hot topic in Talent Development (TD) circles today:  Design Thinking. 

Hosted by ATDChi and Lake Forest Graduate School of Management (LFGSM), the sold-out dinner & networking event was highly interactive, encouraging participants to reflect on their business challenges and engage in group problem solving using design thinking tools. 

During her presentation entitled “Design Thinking:  A Solution-Based Approach to Solving Problems,” Michelle Humes shared examples of historical figures (e.g. Thomas Edison), who used design thinking before the term had been invented.  Humes recently joined LFGSM as their new Director of Delivery and Learning Solutions from Harvard Business Publishing, where she worked on blended learning solutions. 

What is Design Thinking? 

Design Thinking is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It’s useful in tackling complex problems that are not well defined.

“The team at Stanford refers to the process this way:  ‘You can think of a design process as an oscillation between engaging with people and experimenting…In between engaging and creating, you reframe how you are thinking about the challenge and generate new ideas,” stated Humes.    

Humes used an Apple case study as a backdrop for the session and shared Stanford’s model as a useful approach for design thinking.  Stanford’s model includes five steps:  Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.  

Here are 5 actionable take-aways from the session:

1.     Start with customer-centricity.  Humes shared examples of companies that went out of business due to a lack of customer-centricity (e.g. Netflix didn’t kill Blockbuster, excessive customer late fees did).  Empathizing with your customers (or learners, in the case of TD professionals) begins with placing them at the center of your design (or instructional design).  How customer/learner-centric are your current projects?  What one step could you take today to ensure that your next project starts with customer/learner-centricity? 

2.     Define the need.  One of the tools that resonated with participants is a simple yet powerful framework for defining your               problem statement.

How might we help __________________________ (consumer/user) attain/be/do/have/realize _______________________________________________ (a critical benefit) by [INSERT YOUR IDEA]________________________________________________?

How might you use this template to better define a strategic challenge your team or business is currently facing? 

3.     Consider alignment with organizational culture.  Companies like Apple use design thinking both an organizing principle for culture and a methodology.  Apple, which in 2012 became the most valuable company in history, seeks to deeply understand customer needs and wants.  They focus on user desirability, technology possibility, and market viability.  How aligned is your current organizational culture with the five design thinking steps?  Where do you see the strongest points of alignment?  Which steps would be a stretch? 

4.     Develop the right skills.  Humes shared the critical skills needed for design thinking, including: 

  • Empathy – take a people first approach
  • Integrative thinking – the “opposite mind”
  • Optimism– one potential solution is better than existing alternatives
  • Experimentalism– ask questions
  • Collaboration– diversity of thought

If your organization is interested in experimenting with design thinking, how are you currently developing these skills?  As you reflect on your current culture and development efforts, where might you already be ahead of the game with regard to these skills? 

5.     Focus on the “What.”  Humes shared a number of helpful questions and tools that can be used throughout the design thinking process, including:    

  • What is?  (e.g.  journey mapping, brainstorming)
  • What if?  (e.g.  rapid concept development)
  • What wows?  (e.g.  rapid prototyping)
  • What works?  (e.g. customer co-creating, learning launches, MVPs = minimum viable products)

Which of these questions and/or tools could you immediately begin incorporating into your 2019 learning projects? 

If you or your team is looking for a better way to approach business challenges and generate new ideas, identify a project where you can experiment with design thinking this year and get started!

To learn more about the five-step process, here’s a link to a process guide from The Institute of Design at Stanford that outlines the “what, why, and how” of each one:

For additional tools and resources, here’s a link to a Stanford’s Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking:


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