Transforming cultures: Traditional to collaborative shift with design thinking

Design Thinking is not plain old design that makes things look good. It transcends the physical boundaries of design, and applies the principles of design to the way people work.

Anupam Kulkarni May 08th 2019

In a world where evolution happens at the speed of thought, the only thing that remains constant, is change. As clichéd as it may sound, it’s true. Enterprises are increasingly moving towards digital first cultures as technology disruptions continue to impact industries in real time. This entails a massive shift in day to day functioning as well, and cultural shifts are not easy to manage. They’re almost tectonic. 

A lot will have to change. IT and software development is moving away from complexity, to simple, intuitive processes that the user can interact with. Multi-faceted problems are being broken down one step at a time to avoid clunky solutions. Divergent thinking, open business cultures and a positive loss of control are encouraged, and for all of this to streamline and fit together, the biggest shift has to start with the mindset. It can’t be the other way round. 

If you’re wondering how this is possible, I only have two words for you: Design Thinking. And no, it’s not plain old design that makes things look good. This approach transcends the physical boundaries of design, and applies the principles of design to the way people work. Emotional resonance is prioritised over utility, and with a focus on empathetic, user centric experiences, the iterative nature of design truly stands apart. But with this approach, you’re either in or you’re out. You can’t remain in the middle, implementing some processes and ignoring the others. For design thinking to work, it must be all immersive. And this is why business leaders implementing this need to be extremely cautious. 

To start with, they’ve got to move beyond the self and focus more on the team. Intangible aspects like humility and integrity play a large role in the overall course of development as organisations strive to foster collaborative cultures and move away from the archaic. Leaders must welcome ambiguity, not turn away from risks. Often, traditional cultures are averse to failure. Design thinking, though, embraces failure as a learning, to enhance innovation. No idea is too small, no thought is too far-fetched and no problem is unsolvable. Experimentation and customisation is the key. 

Sounds good on paper, right? The actual implementation is a tad bit tougher. When you choose to operate in an environment of ambiguity, uncertainty is bound to creep in at some point in time. Businesses often get used to predictability, cookie cutter functioning and steady revenues. Resetting those expectations and the ability to see challenges as opportunities is disruptive, and even though disruption pays off in the longer run, it’s not fun at the start. Group-think perceptions, blindly following processes, ego clashes and misdiagnosing problems are only a few hurdles that leaders might face. Not to mention the ever evolving needs of the customers, which means the constant need to stay two steps ahead. It’s not easy. So why do it?

Let’s talk through examples. After years of being in a slump, PepsiCo is finally getting it right again. Right from conceptualisation to what’s on the shelf to after sales experiences, design has a voice in almost every decision that the company takes. They’ve implemented design thinking across every step of the supply chain! Recently, they launched a vending machine, which looks no less than a gigantic iPad. It reads user data through preferences, analyses that data in real time, and suggests new combinations to the consumer based on earlier preferences. What a fantastic way to drive consumer engagement. The last step of the design thinking process is prototype, and Pepsi prototypes differently for different audiences. They test, prove and launch in China and Japan, while USA needs more organised process. Remember when I said experimenting and customising is key?

This wouldn’t have happened if Indira Nooyi hadn’t chosen to break through the traditional clutter. Driving design thinking organisation wide is impossible without a leadership who believes in it. Leaders need to be the best facilitators around, even if they aren’t directly involved with execution. They need to be able to get an insider’s look at customer preferences, their likes and dislikes and points of delight, to suggest improvements and ideas that stand out. An investment in customer journeys will definitely translate to long term loyalty. Delegating tasks in a manner that plays upon the strengths of each team member will also enable creativity. It’s important for business leaders to cross skill teams and leave them at the deep end of the pool every once in a while. Only then can team synergy be maintained. 

Operating in a decentralized environment does not work in a volatile global landscape. The need for collaborative cultures is now more real than ever, and Design thinking is your best bet at creating relationships that matter. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and this is no different. This change will not happen overnight, and if it does, you can be sure that it won’t last. Long term strategies are always better than short term profits. And long term strategies, are always built on purpose. Purpose is what drives successful transformations, and with the design thinking approach, businesses have a real shot at driving humane revolutions. In a world that’s constantly evolving at the speed of thought, it’s this change that will sustain.  

The author, Anupam Kulkarni is the co-founder of iauro Systems.

Disclaimer: This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the contributing authors and not of IDG Media and its editor(s).