Skip to main content

What do I mean by Design Thinking for Business Leaders? Let’s break that down. What is Design Thinking? According to Wikipedia:

Design thinking is a method for the practical, creative resolution of problems using the strategies designers use during the process of designing. Design thinking has also been developed as an approach to resolve issues outside of professional design practice, such as in business and social contexts.

I add the “Business Leader” qualifier because many people who run businesses believe Design Thinking is for Software Developers or Product Managers or Interior Decorators and not for them.

Design Thinking for CEOs or anyone is a way of thinking. It’s constantly asking, “Why am I doing it this way?” It’s constantly asking, “Is there a better way?” Everyone benefits from design thinking.

As an example, something as simple as a water fountain. Water fountains have changed very little in the last 100 years. Yet culture and habits have changed. The emerging emphasis on health (drinking more water) and enviornmental protection have changed human habits so that many of us walk around with water bottles.

So back to our story. Today’s cultural emphasis on the healthy need to drink more water, and to save the environment by carrying reusable water bottles changed how people use water fountains. Elkay, a water fountain manufacturer founded in 1920, didn’t just stop designing after they introduced their first product. They noticed more people are carrying more water bottles which might put them out of business. Instead of waiting to be blockbustered (Like the internet killed Blockbuster), they introduced the combination water fountain/bottle filler. That’s design thinking! That’s an obvious example.

But let’s look at a less obvious version where design thinking would make a big difference in your company. Let’s look at a real opportunity of Design Thinking for CEOs.

Let’s imagine you run a fast-growing company. You started 10 years ago with one product. Over the years, you’ve organically added 3 products and acquired a company that added 2 more products. With each addition, you just bolted on the change.

This is like a young couple that builds a house that suits the needs of the two of them at that time. They think they’ll eventually move. But life as it often dows, interfered with plans. They have a baby, they add a bedroom. They have another baby, they add another bedroom and a bathroom. They have another baby and they add another bedroom. The mother-in-law moves in and they add a mother-in-law suite, a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette.

Twenty years after building the house, this couple is living in a home that is a kludge. It doesn’t make much sense. Their youngest child has to walk through a kitchen and the middle child’s bedroom to use the toilet. Causing many middle-of-the-night rows. The mother-in-law is not spry and walks with a cane. Yet her suite is upstairs forcing her to battle the stairs multiple times a day.

This house has evolved and is not how you would design any home for the current situation.

In my ThinkTank a Peer Advisory Group, the CEO members often are reminded about Design Thinking for CEOs. I remember a time when one of the CEOs came to the group with what he framed as a sales management issue. The CEO thought his problem was how to assign quotas across three separate product lines. After a few rounds of questioning, everyone in the room had an aha moment. This wasn’t a sales issue, this was an evolved business issue. The company had grown by bolting on products. It was time to re-design the company to suit its current business needs.

Design thinking is the enemy of, “but we’ve always done it that way.” Design thinking is the partner of progress and business survival.

My challenge for you? What are you doing right now that you are only doing because you always did it that way? What should you stop doing right now? How would you redesign your company if you were going to put yourself out of business? How can you do it better?

Want to join a group of Washington area people who run businesses who will challenge your thinking?  Want to be prodded to look at what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it? Want a group of caring peers to help you do it better? That’s the advantage of being part of a strong peer advisory group. That’s the advantage of being challenged by a business coach. Want to know what that feels like? Press that little green button and sign up for a 1-hour, complimentary, no-obligation, online coaching session. Let’s talk!

Leave a Reply