Why Design Thinking May be the Missing Link for Your Business

Dec 28, 2017
9 Min Read
Thomas Lockwood Interview

Thomas Lockwood Interview


Have you ever considered why you need water to mop a floor?

If so, you may have thought that the water doesn’t really help clean the floor – it just turns the dirt into mud. Mud that then must be cleaned from the mop.

That’s exactly what a small research design team realized when Proctor and Gamble directed them to explore how, when and why people mop their kitchen floors.

Not only did mopping floors with water mean more time was actually spent cleaning the mop than cleaning the floor – but better mops required even more mud cleaning from the implement.

That’s when the research team questioned P&G engineers: Isn’t there something better to clean up the dirt? Their answer: dry cleaning cloths that use electrostatic forces to pick up dust – no water necessary.

The Swiffer was born. The disposable pads and the tool to hold them have made the company billions of dollars.

“It was solving the right problem – a problem that P&G didn’t even know existed,” says Thomas Lockwood, who has a PhD in design management. The Swiffer development is one of the stories he explores with Edgar Pike in “Innovation By Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas and Deliver Meaningful Solutions.

Solving the right problem, Lockwood explains, is the first tenet to design thinking. So is a deep understanding of the user through observation, fieldwork and research. (The P&G team initially went to people’s homes and watched them mop, timing the process and compiling results.)


Solve the right problems with design thinking

Design thinking, the authors write, makes it easier to reach the desired outcome faster and in a much more focused way because it’s not based on guesses or pursuing an answer to the wrong problem.

The second tenet of design thinking is collaboration. “This should be across the board,” Lockwood says. “Everyone, everywhere in an organization. You don’t want to stymie people. People naturally want to contribute and be engaged. You want to create an environment where their ideas can bubble up.”

The third tenet, he says, it to accelerate learning through hands-on experimenting, visualization and creating quick prototypes so that organizations can get usable feedback as fast as possible. The fourth tenet: integrating business model innovation during the design thinking process, rather than adding it later or using it to curb the formation of creative ideas.

Unfortunately, not all companies have truly grasped these tenets and as a result are suffering through some costly and time-consuming mistakes, he says.

Lockwood shares the example of a large insurance company that wanted to be more relevant for young customers. So, it staffed an innovation lab with 150 employees. But at the end of four years, the company came to the conclusion that no meaningful data or innovations had resulted. The group was disbanded.

But at the same time, another department within the company had built an application that allows customers to take a photo of their accident and then send it to the company as a way to file a claim.

“It works fantastic,” Lockwood says. “And there’s no large data that was associated with it at all.”

Instead, workers defined a problem and then found a solution that was based on their customer’s needs, he says.


What does it mean to be "truly innovative?"

So how do companies drive innovation without wasting time and resources? The authors studied companies that have been successful in design thinking and came up with a list of attributes that they say are qualities of the “truly innovative.” Those attributes are:

  1. Design thinking at scale. The authors say that when they began studying design thinking organizations, they didn’t expect the scale to which some of the companies and organizations were applying it. Sometimes design thinking is adopted strategically as a function, or it may be driven from the top down or as a way to solve a specific problem.
  2. The pull factor. Lockwood says that because people want to engage and be part of the innovation and design-thinking process, an emotional momentum occurs that is different from companies that try traditional “engagement” strategies. “This isn’t the emotion that you might see as the result of sales or persuasion,” Lockwood explains. “It’s not just showing enthusiasm by saying, ‘I like it!’ It’s more like, “By George, this the right thing to do! The passion comes from pursuing the right answer.”
  3. The right problems. It’s not just about creating new ideas – these organizations are committed to identifying and focusing on what is important and how they can solve the problem. “They understand that there’s nothing like a good challenge to motivate innovation. It turns the dare of risk taking into fun, energizes pursuit and fulfillment of a purpose,” the authors write.
  4. Cultural awareness. Design thinking can’t thrive without the right kind of culture and support from senior leadership.
  5. Curious confrontation. Converting disagreement into “fuel” for creativity and discussion works only if individual egos are put aside and employees stay “curious to solve the problem and put the user first,” Lockwood says. “You have to always be looking at the customer and thinking about what’s in it for them.”
  6. Co-creation. “Everyone has an innate need to be creative and be listened to,” Lockwood says. Organizations that support inclusiveness and cross-collaboration produce better outcomes.
  7. Open spaces. It’s also important that creative efforts have spaces that support open expression.
  8. Whole communication. Great storytellers make a difference when it comes to communicating in highly creative ways, as do those who are masters of visual information.
  9. Aligned leadership. The support from leadership shows a demonstrated commitment to the process and they “offer strategic support whether they’re an outgoing leader and communicator or a quiet engineer,” they write.
  10. Members are more engaged and open to possibilities in how they think and act when there is a shared sense of purpose and ideals.


“The true power of design thinking is that it engages the collective imagination and offers the ability to explore the underlying motivation that leads to human motivation,” the authors conclude.



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