The role of digital transformation
Kester’s specific project with SAP was rooted in digital transformation, or the process of using digital technologies to create new business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and customer needs. The webinar panel viewed the role of technology as vital in the innovation process.
“Design thinking and digital transformation make excellent bedfellows,” said Didier Bonnet, Professor of Strategy and Digital Transformation at IMD. He advised participants to think of technology as a way to overcome traditional operational constraints in their organizations when it comes to fostering innovation.
“Technology has already allowed us to communicate in different ways and tear down geographical borders, to an extent,” said Bonnet. “In a similar vein, digital technology should be seen as a creative tool to bust constraints when trying to crack complex problems and extend the sphere of possible solutions. This way of thinking about technology makes a difference between success and failure.”
The importance of personal experience
Successfully applying design-thinking methodology to business takes a combination of technology and people. Indeed, all the speakers agreed that autoethnography, an approach to research that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience, was enormously important to innovation.
Patrick Reinmoeller, Professor of Strategy and Innovation at IMD, underlined the importance of bringing together the data with people for innovation to flourish. “How we work together is extremely important in pushing organizations to transcend boundaries to innovation,” he explained. He cited strategy as one corporate function where human-centered approaches could have a transformational impact.
“The revolution that design thinking has brought about is that in strategy we are now at a point where we don’t start with thinking, but we start with observing and taking things in as they really are. And then we start trying stuff out, not assuming we have hit the nail on its head. Finally, we reflect on the process and see how we can further improve it the next time around.”
Despite the immense possibilities that design thinking heralds for strategy and many other business functions, organizations face a number of key challenges which they will need to overcome to reap the full benefits of innovation.
One major barrier to design thinking is education, or the lack thereof. Liedtka summarized the panel’s viewpoint when she said, “There’s a basic skill deficit. We aren’t particularly good, for instance, at doing hypothesis testing and experimentation – we don’t teach it well, or do it, and organizations don’t encourage it. And we don’t have those conversations about bringing diverse perspectives in the room, acknowledging that diversity, and working with it in a productive way.”
Furthermore, she said, organizations were suffering from a fear of failure — “the only thing harder to do in an organization than starting a new idea is to kill one that’s already going” — in addition to our false notions of efficiency.
“We want to decide things quickly to get it out in the market, because that looks more efficient to us, but we may fail. Design thinking asks for an upfront investment in terms of what is required. We need to slow down at the beginning so that we can speed up at the end.”