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Design Thinking: The Danger of Driving Solo

Design Thinking requires building a diverse team so you can drive change more effectively

By Gustavo Razzetti

March 14, 2017

The Innovation Race Requires a Broader Team

Design Thinking is about to turn into a fad but definitely is not a silver bullet, as I discussed in my previous post. The reason for its wide adoption, that is a straightforward and simple method, can also become its kryptonite.

The other reason for Design Thinking’s success is the promise of empowering internal innovation teams. Or, better yet, a solution to get rid of external consultants. And this can be as harmful as thinking that learning a new process, such as Design Thinking, is enough. Betting only on your corporate innovation team can be as harmful too.

Don’t get me wrong. To move innovation forward, developing internal capabilities is critical. And I love helping unleash team’s creativity. But driving solo can limit an organization’s ability to drive real innovation.

In the past, organizations depended too much on external innovation firms, design studios or creative consultants. And that wasn’t good either. Jumping from one extreme to the other is not effective. If you want to win the innovation championship, your approach needs to be balanced. Combine internal capabilities with the mastery and broader expertise from outside help.

But first, let’s review what each side brings to the innovation race.

Benefits of Developing Internal Capabilities:

  • It builds internal creative confidence
  • Innovation becomes everyone’s game/ problem not just for the innovation team who are driving
  • It helps create a culture of problem solving and experimentation
  • The more people in the organization that practices human-centered design, the better
  • Learning new skills always helps teams stay curious and become smarter
  • Your team will have skin in the game (or race)
  • If you let consultants be in charge, they might push you in the wrong direction without any accountability if you don’t cross the finish line

Benefits of External Help:

  • It builds internal creative confidence
  • Innovation becomes everyone’s game/ problem not just for the innovation team who are driving
  • It helps create a culture of problem solving and experimentation
  • The more people in the organization that practices human-centered design, the better
  • Learning new skills always helps teams stay curious and become smarter
  • Your team will have skin in the game (or race)
  • If you let consultants be in charge, they might push you in the wrong direction without any accountability if you don’t cross the finish line


When and How to Bring External Support

We need to stop the discussion about which solution is better: internal or external teams. Focus your energy on how we to get the best of both worlds. Or, better said, the best innovation team. Learn from Ferrari, the Italian “scuderia”, with a tradition and reputation of hiring and nurturing the best minds in the field.

1. Understand where do you need help and how an external can help you. Do you need coaching or someone to push you beyond your comfort zone? Is there a particular part of the process that either your team is not that good at or where you need deeper expertise?

2. Create a model where the best of both worlds (internal and external) are working together. Avoid dividing tasks and create a process where, even though internal and external teams might own different parts, that they collaborate, communicate well and act as one.

3. Give the external advisor the space to bring out the best of your team. If you are going to limit them, don’t waste their time and your money. Have clear rules of engagement and make sure everyone understands them.

4. Amplify the perspective of those involved in the development and approval process. Tapping into external goes beyond hiring consultants. I like to help clients build teams that combine people from startups and corporations, from for profit and non-profit, outsiders and experts. Remember, the more diverse, the richer the outcome.

5. Design the right innovation team by including key roles such as leader, doer, experimenter and convention challenger. Define which roles can be played by your own team and which roles should be cover by external players. Do you need to hire from outside of your “scuderia” to keep your culture curious?

Work with an external partner who is flexible enough to adjust its role as your team and needs evolve. A partner who can make your team stronger rather than making money from crippling it.

Innovation is a sport that requires participation of the broader organization. It takes more than a process (or an innovation team) to build a culture of experimentation. Getting internal advocacy and support is as important as your idea.

The stronger your innovation team, the better. Change is messy and is not easy. It requires to develop an experimental mindset as well as build internal capabilities. And complement those with external help when needed.

My approach is to develop the right mindset, not just teaching a process. And to help build the right innovation team based on a specific challenge to:

Remember, it’s not just the driver who wins the race but the entire team.

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