Digital Strategy & Innovation

Exploring the Value of the Design Thinking

by Claudio Dell’Era, Stefano Magistretti and Roberto Verganti, Osservatorio Design Thinking for Business

During the first research year the detailed analysis of over 40 organizations providing advisory services based on the Design Thinking paradigm allow us to map 4 different and particular kinds of Design Thinking. More specifically, 47 case studies about organizations providing advisory services based on the Design Thinking paradigm demonstrate that it can assume different forms and interpretations according to the nature of the companies involved (service provider and client), the specific challenges, and the objectives of the innovation project.

Creative Problem Solving: Solving wicked problems adopting both analytical and intuitive thinking

The data collected on the diffusion of the Creative Problem Solving approach in the 47 organizations providing advisory services based on the Design Thinking paradigm clearly show that it is significantly adopted in all four categories (81%): 38 out of 47 organizations adopt the Creative Problem Solving approach. Undoubtedly this kind of Design Thinking is the dominant paradigm in the Design Studios category, to the point that 94% adopt the Creative Problem Solving approach.

Sprint Execution: Delivering and testing viable products in order to learn from customers

Almost half the 47 organizations providing advisory services based on the Design Thinking paradigm adopt the Sprint Execution approach (49%). Undoubtedly, this kind of Design Thinking is the dominant paradigm in the Digital Agency category to the point that all adopt the Sprint Execution approach (100%). It is also particularly diffused among Strategic Consultants (46%) and Technology Developers (45%), while about 1/3 of Design Studios adopt the Sprint Execution approach.

Creative Confidence: Engaging people to make them more confident with creative processes;

In comparison to Sprint Execution and especially Creative Problem Solving, the Creative Confidence approach is less diffused (34%), probably because it is still in an embryonic phase. This kind of Design Thinking is rapidly spreading around leveraging specific features that have always connoted the Design Thinking paradigm: human-centeredness and deep empathy. These are even more relevant in projects that aim at changing the organizational culture and mentality. Furthermore, they are becoming fundamental in supporting intrapreneurship to the point that the Strategic Consultants category seems most interested in its adoption (54%).

Innovation of Meaning: Envisioning new directions that aim at proposing meaningful experiences to people.

Similarly to the Creative Confidence approach, the Innovation of Meaning approach is diffused in a limited way (34%, see Table 2.8), probably because it is still in an embryonic phase. At the same time, this kind of Design Thinking is rapidly spreading due to the digital transformation and the consequent abundance of ideas. Both Design Studios and Strategic Consultants show higher percentages of diffusion: respectively 41% and 46%.

4 Kinds of Design Thinking

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The comparison of the 4 kinds of Design Thinking provides interesting evidence along five dimensions: principles, practices, diffusion, relevance, and domains. The 47 organizations providing advisory services based on the Design Thinking paradigm highlight different behaviors in adopting the four kinds of Design Thinking. On average, each service provider proposes services based on 1.96 of the 4 approaches; only 3 service providers manage all 4 kinds of Design Thinking (6.4%), while 14 service providers concentrate their offering on a single approach (29.8%). The Creative Problem Solving approach is the most diffused: 38 out of 47 service providers adopt this kind of Design Thinking (81%), while the Creative Confidence and the Innovation of Meaning approaches are the least adopted: 16 out of 47 service providers adopt these kinds of Design Thinking (34% each). Similarly, the relevance of each kind of Design Thinking shows different evidence across the approaches. 22 service providers concentrate their offering on the Creative Problem Solving approach (47%). Focusing on the 38 organizations that adopt this kind of Design Thinking, on average, they obtain 65.5% of annual revenues providing advisory services based on the Creative Problem Solving approach. The Sprint Execution approach is adopted by 6 service providers as a core approach (13%); the 23 service adopters that also base their offering on this kind of Design Thinking on average obtain 47.6% of annual revenues through applying the Sprint Execution approach. The Creative Confidence and Innovation of Meaning approaches show similar evidence in terms of relevance. Only 4 service providers apply these as core approaches (9%). Focusing on the 16 organizations that adopt these kinds of Design Thinking, on average, they obtain respectively 35.0% and 34.7% of annual revenues providing advisory services based on the Creative Confidence and Innovation of Meaning approaches.

The domains addressed adopting the 4 kinds of Design thinking provide interesting evidence: while the Creative Problem Solving and Sprint Execution approaches show a polarized position, the Creative Confidence and Innovation of Meaning approaches are adopted to face different challenges. More specifically, the first two approaches clearly address the Solution (product, service, communication, retail, experience) domain. The largest portion of annual revenues obtained through adopting the Creative Problem Solving and the Sprint Execution approaches concerns the Solution domain: respectively 72.7% and 85.6%. Vice versa, the Direction and People domains have a marginal role. The average distribution of annual revenues obtained by the 16 service providers that adopt the Creative Confidence approach across the domains shows a relatively distributed position, even if the focus on People (54.3%) is clearly recognizable. The average distribution of annual revenues obtained by the other 16 service providers that adopt the Innovation of Meaning approach across the domains shows a similar distribution: in this case, the largest portion of annual revenues obtained through adopting the Innovation of Meaning approach concerns the Direction domain (41.7%). The last two kinds of Design Thinking seem to be effective in different domains showing higher flexibility.

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