Guide: Practice innovation with design thinking

Understand the context

Core to design thinking is the belief that ideas can come from anywhere and anyone can innovate. The generation of ideas is an important part of the innovation process, and while different descriptions of the overall innovation process exist, researchers Jill E. Perry-Smith and Pier Vittorio Mannucci usefully break it down into four phases:

  1. Generate ideas: This phase is all about quantity, not quality. The more ideas you have, the better. It’s not about coming up with the perfect solution — instead, think about your problem from all angles and try to think of several possible solutions. The more perspectives you have, the better, as new ideas tend to arise when you combine information that hasn’t been combined before.
  2. Prototype and experiment: Once you have your long list of ideas, you need a systematic way to narrow down your list. The challenge is that it’s very hard to tell a good idea from a great one. Prototyping, or building an early-stage version of your idea and testing it out on a small group, can be a great way to see what actually works. Learn from failures and iterate. Emotional support and constructive feedback are important at this stage to keep the process moving forward and to improve upon the original idea.
  3. Champion: Even if you have a great idea, you need support and resources to scale it up. Innovators need to persuade decision makers that they have the ability to successfully implement an idea, and it helps to have data from early experiments to back up that claim.
  4. Implement: At this point, the idea is turned into something tangible, like a finished product or a service. But success isn’t measured by production alone; a successful innovation needs to have impact. It needs to be adopted within the organization.

Design thinking helps individuals build the skills they need to effectively generate ideas and test them out — the first two stages of the innovation process. By encouraging your teams to learn about design thinking, you’ll reinforce innovative values in your culture, give people a common language to talk about innovation, and make innovation something that’s accessible to everyone.

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