Design Thinking for Business Innovation

I participated recently to a web course by Darden School of Business at Virginia University. Professor Jeanne Liedtka led us students to a four-week journey into the world of service design and innovation. The course included short video lectures by professor Liedtka and her colleagues (e.g. Daniel Pink and Jeremy Alexis). Several business examples were used to highlight the issues at hand. I really enjoyed having a recap to SD practices I have learnt at Laurea. I want to share my insights during the course by describing service designer’s mindset and Liedtka’s SD process. At the end I describe some qualities for a dream team.






Broaden your mindset

The starting point was to break the Moses myth of innovation being a miracle that takes special gifts – and instead make it a process for problem solving. Organizations make it sometimes a bit hard to innovate as they love big ideas, are obsessed with analyses and the managers might get trapped in growth gridlock. However, as data on the future does not exist, we need to encourage physics of innovation by having a prepared mind. That means broadening mindset by

  • Reflection in order to recognize fixed mindset
  • Learning something new every day
  • Asking questions more than giving answers (coaching approach)
  • Stretching current capabilities each week (e.g. job rotation)
  • Aiming for becoming growth oriented.


A four phase SD process

An easy to relate to SD process was discussed during the course. The same process has also been introduced in Liedtka’s and Ogilvie’s book “Designing for Growth”:

1. What is? The aim is to get insights from the customers about the status as is. Deep exploration into the lives and problems of customers is needed before generating solutions. Look at what the customers are trying to accomplish, not what they say they want. Stay in the question, don’t rush; try to understand first. Journey mapping and value chain analysis are good tools during this first phase.

2. What if? What if anything was possible to make the future differ from today? The aim is to find unarticulated customer needs, to search for higher ground. It is important to be possibility-driven and options-focused. It is wise to have multiple irons on the fire, i.e. to produce a portfolio of new ideas. Brainstorming sessions help to think out of the box; the expectation is not to get it right the first time but instead expect to iterate for success.

3. What wows? Assumptions produced during “What if” are based on guesses and need to be tested. Drill down to the essence by testing and evaluating the initial business concepts. As the aim is to fail fast to succeed sooner, we sometimes need to leave things unfinished. That is one of the hardest things for a manager but also one of the most important.

4. What works? This is the phase when customer co-creation takes place: feedback from customers is essential in order to move towards a sustainable offering: customers want it, we can do it and the economics can sustain it. The purpose is to solve customer pains and thus learn, improve and remove barriers.


Liedtkas process

The dream team

Human nature looks for confirmation to own ideas; my cognitive blindness is different than yours. In order to avoid being biased, small multi-functional team including a skeptic is a good starting point. Always ask what we do know, what we don’t know and how do we learn what we need to know.

People are waiting for to be invited to be part of works in progress, to feel the sense of discovery, to feel the purpose. Involvement has the sense of ownership. Engagement, alignment and curation remove frictions and speed up actions whereas inertia, politics and confusion slow the process down. The highest payoff is in how people work together to implement the possibilities they see.



Maarit Lepistö, SID2014 student



Web course by Darden School of Business (Feb – Mar 2015)

Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie: Designing for Growth (2011)

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