Design Thinking: Let’s Move from Thinking to Doing


“ A living business needs to be able to shift its weight when the ground moves beneath it. – Mark Curtis

The rapid changes in our world today trumps up significant concerns to our existence and survival. How can we maintain our relevance in the face of threats from technological solutions such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning? What should our disposition be to attitudes – which should we imbibe and which must be eliminated? In the avalanche of information and learning all around, how do we know the most important skills to learn? Moreover, beyond learning, how can we systematically move from knowing to doing?

Design Thinking is one of the social innovation tools with the potential to solve complex problems and create innovative solutions. However, a worrisome observation that I noticed in my interaction with different executives from a wide range of sectors in Nigeria is the lack of knowledge and appreciation of this important tool. Perhaps this explains why Design Thinking concept is still relatively new in developing nation like Nigeria. For innovation ideas to thrive and new knowledge acquired, leaders must be seen to be utterly committed and show the way to their subordinates.  Lack of commitment to new knowledge and the appreciation of the same among leaders remains a significant reason why institution get disrupted or perform below their potentials.

Design thinking stands out in the teaching of Innovation or Strategy, it is experiential and social. It is a learning-by-doing-concept that organisations and societies can employ to break through the glass ceiling. When it comes to thinking possibilities in a broad range of challenges that confront individuals and organisations, Design Thinking deconstructs limits. Design thinking always brings human-centeredness to play by bringing empathy to the heart of our interactions with different stakeholders. For Design Thinking, it is not sufficient to learn; one must have the knack to bring the knowledge to practice. This is a major challenge and the reason why the intellectual sagacity of leader notwithstanding bringing that knowledge into tangible solutions remain a mirage.

The Good News: Rise in the Awareness

I had a session with a group of healthcare executives on healthcare operations management, and in that meeting, we discovered an array of complex challenges in the Nigeria health sector. As an Innovation and Strategy consultant and a Design Thinking Trainer, I decided to task them so we could adopt a design thinking methodology; therefore, I asked what their opinion was. I was shocked that none of them in that room had an idea of what the Design Thinking is all about.

I have equally interacted with a series of learning and development managers who have a faint idea of the Design Thinking process. However, they are convinced that Design Thinking is an exclusive preserve of the tech designers!

It is not an entirely negative story I must tell; some clients are fully aware of the benefits of Design Thinking and who are showing keen interests to get it popularised in their organisation. It is good news for it can be said, without mincing words that the awareness of Design Thinking is on the rise though as expected this is more on the side of the multinational corporations that operate in this part of the world. The reason is simple; strong appreciation for innovative and transformational knowledge, I do hope that the domestic companies and the public institutions will stop looking on to embrace a tool that holds strong potential to generate transformational ideas and create innovative solutions.

The Bad News: Non-implementation

What do I term the bad news? Spending scarce resource to train employees on Design Thinking just for the sake of it without a concrete action plan to use it to solve real problems or generate new products or service models. Most organisations that have spent resources on training the employees are yet to put Design Thinking to practice and use.  When it comes to Design Thinking, there must not be a disconnect between the Thinking (Head) and The Doing (Hand). Design thinking will only work when there is a strong connection between the Head, the Heart and the Hand. My fear for organisations that have undergone the training is that if they failed to take concrete steps, then, Design Thinking may end up as just a buzz word. In discussing with a client in the Financial Sector, I noticed the strong desire to move beyond the knowledge; however, when interacting with one of the executives, I discovered that there is a fear of failure to implement design Thinking couple with budget constraint because of lack of commitment from the top management staff.  It is a piece of sad news for organisations to place a strong emphasis on knowledge acquisition without the same focus on knowledge application. If Bill Gates had stayed at the knowledge terminal, we would probably not have Microsoft today, neither would we have the I-triplets: iPads, iPods, and iPhones From Apple through Steve Jobs. What about the massive e-commerce industry pioneered by Jeff Bezos of Amazon? Alternatively, the Social media revolutionary platform like Facebook led by Mark Zuckerberg? Knowledge is not enough; a quick example is Kodak who had the knowledge of the digital camera yet it was Sony that brought the knowledge to reality, thus disrupting Kodak.

Design Thinking: Turning Ideas into Reality

Turning ideas into real-world solution either in products or service could be daunting. When you review the process of getting the right insight, service and products simplification and the eventual execution of the tested interactions, there is legitimate need of determination, courage, support and special skills such as negotiation skill to get the support of different stakeholders. Design thinking will solve the most conspicuous challenge of Learning and Development, provided  the management is not carried away by just  knowledge  acquisition but are ready to ensure that the fund expended in acquiring that knowledge is measured by the subsequent real-life issues that were solved through the production of different innovative products or in the rolling out of innovative services.

A  serious mind shift is required for the successful implementation of Design Thinking; there has to be a culture shift that enables both the subordinates and supervisors to voice or air their views without any fear of intimidation.  A culture of a Class System and Silo mentality at work make the implementation of the design thinking difficult: except the culture of individual superiority and hero worship is altered the minds of leaders may not be prepared to embrace design thinking. Design thinking needs openness and empathy to work, when we are driven by the needs of those who use our product and services and the vision to help the customers get the job done then our passion will be ignited to adopt this human-centred approach in solving the challenges.

Olukunle A. Iyanda PhD, FCA, SNFLI.
Managing Partner DesignThinkers Group, Nigeria
Human-Centric Design Led Innovation Consultant.