CEOs like Indra Nooyi, Brian Chesky, and Carl Bass are taking an unconventional approach to doing business -- using design leadership. I predict many more will soon follow suit. In this post, I will explore why senior executives are adopting this approach, and how your company can begin the crucial shift towards a design-centric culture. 

In early April, Cooper launched our first fully-online training course in partnership with Udemy: Cooper Crash Course: Design Thinking in 3 Steps. A week since launch, hundreds of people have already signed-up, which is a testament to the interest in Design Thinking as a compelling approach to product development and innovation.

The Design Thinking Process

We created this online course because we hear over and over that CEOs and executives are seeking accessible ways to understand and deploy Design Thinking within their organizations. They want methods that bridge the gap between the theory of Design Thinking and its practical application to solving business problems. Our course provides exactly that: a straightforward, repeatable roadmap for a design-driven process that individuals and teams can use to create more human-centric (and, therefore, more effective) products and services. We present the process in three phases: Understand, Envision, and Prototype, and provide step-by-step guidance and supporting advice that will help non-designers, realize value from the experience.

The Cooper course provides the methodology, but executives must lead the charge towards a more user-centric culture. It’s important for leaders to understand the specific methods or activities involved in Design Thinking - and even more so for them to know when and how to challenge their teams to engage in design processes. Many companies have undertaken large-scale, top-to-bottom efforts to transform themselves into design-centric organizations. These are substantial efforts from a resourcing perspective; and, for many, this kind of transformation is impractical. The good news is that Design Thinking, as a philosophy and approach to product creation, is eminently scalable; it can be applied at the team or product level just as easily as at the highest levels of the organization. Why not test it? 

Senior leaders can begin to instigate and encourage innovation at the grassroots by challenging their teams to alter their thinking around product development. Managers who orient the feedback and guidance they provide their teams according to design principles and strategies have taken the first step towards highlighting a new cultural value. The three phases of Design Thinking outlined in our course provide a basis for doing this - the phases can be framed as queries, used in conversations or planning sessions with team members, in the following ways:

Understand 

“What have you done to build a deep understanding of our customer? Do you understand their fundamental goals, behaviors, and motivations? How?” 

“How will you keep these goals in mind during the product development process?”

Envision

“How did you generate ideas to respond to our customer’s goals?” 

“In this process, did you include a diverse group of stakeholders - including technical, marketing, sales, customer service or other departments who may bring unique and valuable perspectives to the discussion?” 

Prototype 

“How might we try out your team’s best ideas to determine if we’re on the right track, before investing a lot in development or deployment?”


Applied consistently, these questions will shift your team’s thinking. Eventually, they will become accustomed to fielding these questions from you (and from each other) and will begin to recognize that Design Thinking (even if you don’t use that specific term) has become an organizational value that shapes how you approach business challenges. Congratulations on taking this important step!