Turning to Design Thinking for New Ways to Create Innovation and Growth

Participating in a two-day master class on Design Thinking (DT), taught by Innovation Consultant Gijs van Wulfen and Design Professor Katja Tschimmel, marked the starting point of my studies in the 2014 SID MBA group at Laurea UAS and also served as a great reminder of why earlier this year, I felt the need to study again and catch up on the latest trends in Service Innovation and Design. I have built my career in an industry where a very traditional business mind-set of measuring success based solely on monthly financial reports and company rather than customer driven standards seems to dominate.

Comparing the designers’ approach to a traditional business approach and highlighting the differences seems to be a common way to illustrate what DT is about. According to Dr. Katja Tschimmel, the traditional business approach is often looking for “correct” answers through rational and analytical methods, whereas the DT approach is more open to being emotional, empathizing with the customer and using visual tools to communicate ideas. In their book titled “Designing for Growth: a design thinking toolkit for managers”, Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie note that the traditional business a approach and the DT approach are so fundamentally different yet so complementary that they can form a match made in heaven – or hell. When comparing the two approaches, Liedtka and Ogilvie point out many of the same differences as Tschimmel does, noting that design assumes human experience as its key decision driver.

In my opinion, the legendary IDEO shopping cart video is in many ways a great example of how designers think and how their methods and ways of working differ from the traditional business approach (click on the link below for the video):


There are many ways to go about your innovation efforts, and many concrete process models as well as various tools have been developed in order to make it easier to grasp the DT concept. Undoubtedly, each of the models and tools has its uses, but for me DT is about something bigger than any individual tool – it’s about switching one’s whole mind-set to embrace multidisciplinary project teams and to think empathically from the customers’ point of view as well as involving the customers in the innovation process to create something meaningful for them. It’s also about not being afraid of failing on the first try or coming across as unprofessional in front of your colleagues and superiors, because the whole process is iterative in nature and exploring even the craziest ideas is the way to go.


Picture 1: My team during the Design Thinking workshop discussing all sorts of crazy ideas we have posted on the wall earlier. As you can see from the look on my face, this is not only very productive but also great fun 🙂

DT and how it can be applied to yield innovation and growth seems to be gaining a lot of momentum currently. I personally feel, that being a relatively young discipline, DT is only now starting to become clear to its practitioners and the numerous parties that could benefit from it. As per Katja Tschimmel, DT has existed in its current form only since 2005. No wonder that I found the whole concept somewhat confusing when first exposed to it sometime around 2009. In reality, all the pieces were probably already there, but it took some time for it all to come together in a nice comprehensible package that is now being marketed – and perhaps rightfully so – as the new big thing.

To end this blog post, I wish to point out that I would never consider myself a pure designer, but I’m definitely going to dig a little deeper into the DT approach to see if it can help me bring something fresh to the table in a stagnating industry. It doesn’t even have to be the next iPhone of my industry – as Gijs van Wulfen pointed out, innovation isn’t necessarily something that’s new to the whole world, but it can also be something that’s new to a particular market or company.


Liedtka, J., Ogilvie, T. 2011. Designing for Growth: a design thinking toolkit for managers. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tschimmel, K. 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona. ISBN 978-952-265-243-0.

Photo credit: Jaakko Porokuokka

Written by Jaakko Kähäri, SID MBA student

2 thoughts on “Turning to Design Thinking for New Ways to Create Innovation and Growth

  1. I like the way how you presented DT in comparison to the traditional approach. DT indeed is not just an approach or a toolkit but a whole shift in one’s way of thinking and looking at the problem to solve.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Nidhi! I also think that comparing DT to the traditional business approach is a nice way to introduce the concept. Maybe its not smart to get too hung up on the differences in the long run, but for someone with no actual design background (such as myself) it really clarifies things.

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