Design Thinking’s Guru On Leadership

Bruce Nussbaum is ready to get off the design thinking ship, but one of its original captains is still strong at the helm. I’m talking about David Kelley, described in this recent interview with Fast Company as the principal guru of design thinking. In this interview Kelley doesn’t comment on Nussbaum’s decision to move on to something new that he calls “creative intelligence”, but focuses on how design thinking applies to leadership. To motivate employees and enable them to achieve workplace success, a good leader can improve by applying some basic design thinking processes.

Here are a few of Kelley’s insights into “leadership by design”:

* The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing–building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help. Once you understand what they really value, it’s easy because you can mostly give it to them.

* The way I would measure leadership is this: of the people that are working with me, how many wake up in the morning thinking that the company is theirs?

* I’m trying to get people to remain confident in their creative ability. In order for them to have that kind of creativity, you have to be very transparent. Understand them and involve them in the decisions being made. Even if the decision goes the wrong way, they still were there and saw how we decided to do this and so they’re behind it.

* I don’t think people do anything out of fear very well. So I think the only choice is to have them intrinsically motivated.

This is a worthwhile read because I previously haven’t thought much about the IDEO approach to design thinking as a touchstone for better leadership. But I like the ideas that Kelley shares. What is more important than having empathy for those we work with everyday? How, as a leader, can I achiever greater transparency? How can I encourage creativity and innovation within the organization? As always, Kelley gives us something to think about beyond the traditional perceptions of design.

IDEO Expands Its Sphere Of Influence

He may not be as well known as IDEO CEO Tim Brown, but If any one person truly represents what IDEO is about that might be David Kelley, one of the principal leaders of the world famous design firm. You might know Kelley from The Deep Dive or his TED talk. He is an enthusiastic believer in the power of design thinking to transform people, products and organizations. Fast Company profiled Kelley in a January, 2009 issue. If you haven’t seen The Deep Dive video you can get a sense of what some of the themes are in this interview. It is mostly about Kelley’s recent battle with cancer, but I found the article enjoyable because it gave me some new insights into the IDEO organization and its origins. I learned that it was Kelley, in a meeting with Tim Brown, who suggested that IDEO should stop calling what IDEO does design and instead start calling it design thinking. That meant shifting their paradigm from “designing a new chair or car” to being “expert at a methodology”.

Kelley points out that what makes IDEO different from traditional management consulting firms is their design thinking process – understanding, observation, brainstorming, prototyping. He recalls the story of a client who just wanted IDEO to skip right to the brainstorming. But Kelley maintains that the big ideas – where the real value of what IDEO does – is in the first two parts of the process. If you want to work with IDEO you need to go through the entire process with them. As Kelley tells his design students:

You’re sitting here today because we moved from thinking of ourselves as designers to thinking of ourselves as design thinkers. What we, as design thinkers, have, is this creative confidence that, when given a difficult problem, we have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before

The article contains examples that demonstrate how IDEO has moved from a firm that uses design thinking to improve products and services, to one that is truly having an influence on the future of business. This article profiles major companies such as Procter & Gamble and Kaiser Permanente that have hired IDEO to help them transform into design thinking organizations. IDEO’s methods are also being taught at major design and MBA programs around the world, such as the Stanford Design School and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. In this way IDEO is expanding its sphere of influence far beyond their Palo Alto headquarters. Will IDEO’s sphere of influence expand all the way to libraries? I would certainly hope so. But Kelley points out that “design thinging represents a serious challenge to the status quo at traditional companies”. The decision thinking process, I believe, can make libraries better – but first we need to be open to its possibilities.