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What Makes A Good Design Thinking Leader?


What Makes A Good Design Thinking Leader?


Some of the first things that come to people’s minds when they think of technology today are all synonyms of innovation and disruption. Most business leaders, digital experts and top-level management executives are sure to find themselves in heated debates about how imperative it is today, to evolve at the speed of thought. Otherwise, the threat of being forgotten might become a reality. In the midst of trying to create enterprises that stand out in the crowd, two words have gained recognition almost all over the world. Design Thinking. 



This methodology has long transcended the traditional boundaries of design, along with the age-old option that design is purely visual. Whether it is a trained fine art graduate, a UX designer or a business leader who has absolutely nothing to do with graphic or visual design, the approach benefits all. A Forrester research report also states that it can deliver an ROI of 85% or more for businesses. That’s huge! And while all of this may sound simple on paper, the truth of the matter is, that at the heart of design thinking, is a massive radical cultural change, which is by no means an easy transformation to drive. There’s no perfect answer for the questions that ask ‘How do I ensure a successful design thinking led strategy’, but there are definitely some questions that leaders need to ask themselves before embarking on this journey.

Is the product worth building in the first place?

One of the principles that design thinking advocates, is to think big. Most entrepreneurs take this too seriously, but often forget to give thought to the actual product design. Innovation matters, yes, but unless it aligns with the customer’s core requirements, the chances of a product taking off are slim. The first step of the design thinking process is to understand and empathize with the end-user. Put yourself in their shoes and see the difference in thought processes it brings about. What are the consumer needs that this product wants to address? What impact does it aim to drive, in the larger scheme of things? How many steps/processes will it take to achieve the end goal? Digging deep with these questions will bring you a set of concrete insights. Step 1. Tick.

Can the product go beyond its originator?

Vision is a powerful thing. The last decade, especially, has seen quite a surge in design first products and enterprises that have left their mark behind. This is true across industries. We have an Airbnb who revolutionized hospitality with photographs, a Nike who set serious standards for fashion in footwear, and an Uber who not only transformed local travel, but also the future of food delivery - all on the back of design thinking. And of course, who can forget the most admired company in the world Apple. It continues to thrive, even in the looming absence of Steve Jobs, thus answering the question asked above. Use design thinking not only to better organizational processes but envision a legacy that outlasts you.

Is creativity enough?

This one does have a clear answer, and that answer is no. As much as we harp on about thinking outside the box, it’s the ideas inside the box that is more meritorious. Creativity and innovation won’t sustain a product or service in the lack of foresight. Often, design leaders are the first to jump on the creative bandwagon but forget how hard it is to execute the promised ideas. Ideating is easy; the difficult bit starts when tactics come into the picture. The first step should always be cracking the right opportunity, even if it’s something small, and deriving the simplest solution for the problem. It’s often these simple solutions that create the largest impact. How you scale up this solution, is where you need to get innovative. That’s much more fruitful!

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Can a partner make my life easier?

Great ideas do not guarantee success. Disruptions are made of deft technological implementations backed by intelligent investments and capital spends. Without the bridge between these two, no matter how great the idea is, it’ll backfire. Leaders need to keep in mind that at the end of the day, they’re running a business, and there are bills to pay. You may be a very capable design leader, but do you understand the financial metrics of your organization? Do you know what kind of tech upliftment the enterprise needs? It’s better to have strong partner ecosystems in place because a jack of all trades can only achieve short term goals. For long term sustainability, a shared responsibility approach yields better results than one person or team trying to accomplish everything. Cross-skilled teams are no less than a boon! 

Entrepreneurial designers and business leaders need to speak the language of business if they want to remain in the game, otherwise, they’ll be swept away in no time. All in all, when looking at a design thinking led enterprise, collaboration is key.  Design leaders also need to facilitate independent teams that don’t just make cool objects but take responsibility for an environment wherein they can thrive. And while this will take time to build, the end result will most definitely be worth it!



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