Design thinking” has swept the world. While there have been many methods for finding innovative yet practical solutions to business and social challenges – such as the “Creative Problem Solving” process of Osborn and Parnes – somehow “design thinking” has caught the world’s fancy like no other.

In part, its popularity has grown because “innovation” has been named as a top-3 strategic priority by thousands of executives over the past decade. “Being innovative” at work is no longer just for specialists – it is a necessary core competency for every person, in every job, every day.

Its popularity is also due to its unique origins and formulation at the Institute of Design at Stanford University (“the d.school”) in collaboration with the founders of the award-winning global design firm, IDEO. In the d.school’s own words, design thinking “combines creative and analytical approaches, and requires collaboration across disciplines.” It employs:

  1. A common understanding of “innovation”
  2. Innovative thinking skills
  3. A 5-step innovation process that features rapid prototyping

On the surface, these 3 elements don’t seem very unique. What makes design thinking exceptional is element #4: An emphasis on empathy.

Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another” (Merriam Webster dictionary). It’s putting yourself into another’s shoes, and being willing to see the world from their point of view. It means designing a solution that truly works for them – rather than first-and-foremost seeking a solution for your own gain or convenience.

If the origins of design thinking could be termed “version 1.0,” with its incredible uptake around the world, the question naturally arises, What’s next?

Indeed, a new “version 2.0” has emerged that expands upon and upgrades each of the 4 design thinking elements.

A common understanding of “innovation”

There are more than a dozen myths about innovation that severely limit how people engage in being innovative. One of these myths is that innovation mainly means new products or processes. Instead, consider 5 distinct domains of innovations that aim to optimize growth/revenues, process effectiveness/costs, human capital/knowledge, alignment of strategy/culture/business models, and stakeholder relationships. Research from Deloitte and others has shown that the more types of innovation being produced, the more a business outperforms the stock market growth of its peers.

Design Thinking 2.0 incorporates a focus on all these domains in an inclusive approach to engaging people across the entire organization to be innovative in their daily work.

Innovative thinking skills

Research originally formulated at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1980s revealed 4 distinct approaches to innovative thinking, called Visioning, Modifying, Experimenting, and Exploring. Each is like a language of innovative thinking: one might be a “mother tongue,” yet every person can learn to speak and be versatile with all four to enable innovative thinking and enhance group facilitation.

Design Thinking 2.0 deliberately incorporates the mindset and tools/techniques to be versatile with all four styles.

An innovation process that features rapid prototyping

Most innovation today requires cross-functional, cross-cultural collaboration, often with people outside the organization itself. And there’s an art as well as a discipline to an innovation process that fosters such collaboration. For example, a well-rounded process invokes participants’ concerns and skepticisms as well as hopes and aspirations – and taps into their inner reserves of confidence and courage – at the beginning, as part of the “raw material” for generating innovative solutions.

Design Thinking 2.0 includes tasks that bring out the art as well as the discipline in equal measure.

A central emphasis on empathy

Empathy is but one of many universal “human values,” the positive qualities of good character found across cultures and time. Other human values include: respect, keeping promises, fairness, caring, honesty, and authenticity. Research by VCI has identified 48 human values that are on the forefront of people’s minds when they are innovating. And research at HP, Google, Great Place to Work Institute, and elsewhere have shown that when such human values are considered foundational, the level of innovative collaboration can elevate a team from success to extraordinary success.

Design Thinking 2.0 expands beyond “empathy for customers” to include the wide range of human values practiced with team members, vendors, and other stakeholders. It taps into this broader fabric of human values to energize and guide innovative efforts throughout the process.

Design Thinking 2.0: a journey of self-awareness and collective insight

Design Thinking 2.0 also requires more than just upgrading the 4 elements. It involves a deep dive into understanding oneself and others. That means starting with strength-based self-assessments that provide personal and group insights into the diversity of understanding, innovative thinking, innovation process tasks, and human values.

When there’s a greater understanding and appreciation for the rich tapestry of approaches and preferences that people have for the 4 elements, then diversity becomes the ally, not the enemy, for inclusive, collaborative innovation.

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