Design Thinking for Business

By Tracy MacDonald
Jun 2018
Creativity. Innovation. Problem Solving.

Each of these terms is very familiar to most people in the business world. Creativity is often left to the designers, advertising agencies and marketers. Innovation typically lives with engineers and developers. Problem-solving weaves its way through every department from Human Resources to Sales to Product Development to Customer Service. While the designers and product developers may see themselves as creative, we’re willing to bet that Human Resources, Sales and Customer Service likely don’t. We would wholeheartedly like to disagree and point to Design Thinking.

Gaining in popularity, the buzz-word has led to a myriad of options in online courses and professional training. But if you’re one of those people who sees the word design and runs for the hills because drawing a circle may as well be the equivalent to climbing the Empire State Building without ropes, it’s time to understand what Design Thinking really is an how it applies to business.

Design Thinking, in its simplest form, is problem-solving in a non-linear way. It allows for brainstorming leading to divergent paths, ideation of concepts, and the ability to change direction mid-stream. It is a vehicle for driving toward a solution and taking advantage of the opportunities for adjustment as needed in order to reach the end goal. For these reasons, it is a creative process, but not in the way we typically think of being creative. And this is why Design Thinking can apply to any department, specialty area or team in a corporate environment.


While the idea of finding a new way to solve problems may seem engaging and exciting to some, it can be perceived as a daunting task to others who are comfortable with addressing challenges the same way that they have for years. Some processes have always been followed, committees to make decisions, and the dreaded, “we’ve always done it this way.” These are challenges for anyone trying to implement change, and it can be especially difficult when the change involves a new way of problem-solving.


If you’re up for the challenge though and ready to introduce Design Thinking into your work environment, here are three things you can do to help get the process started:

First, be patient. For most people change is difficult, if it’s not self-imposed. While colleagues may not be opposed to Design Thinking, the concept will be new, and they will need time to adjust. There will be doubt and challenges. Hold your ground and your tongue.

Second, start small. While noble, attempting to convert an entire company to a new way of problem-solving is a massive undertaking. It’s best to start with a team within a department, before even going to a whole department. Once you have success with a small group, it’s easier to expand to a larger group.

Third, use familiar language. When introducing a new concept, there will likely be some new terms, but if you want to get others on board, they need to understand what you’re saying first, and then learn the new words. For example, one common word in Design Thinking is ideation- the generation of ideas. A more familiar term is brainstorming. When people understand the action, even if not the word, it will be easier for them to participate.


Trying something new can be a daunting task, but if you don’t then it’s easy to remain stuck in an environment of “more of the same” and that often leads to stagnant results. Take risks, try new things, gather colleagues and others who are willing to do the same, and then start small for a proof of concept. Design Thinking can apply to any group at any time with any challenge. It takes a leader to start something new, so be that leader and make a change to make a difference.

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