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Design thinking sparks innovation

Design thinking provides an attractive route for identifying new opportunities to get ahead in innovation. HEC Paris Professor Sihem Jouini is particularly interested in what design thinking can bring to the table in increasingly competitive arenas and how companies can take advantage of this approach.

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What is design thinking?

Design thinking is both a method and a mindset that provides firms with creative ways to understand innovation and identify new opportunities. It can also be a means of organizing innovation processes within companies.

Firms can encounter ‘wicked problems’, those highly complex challenges where there is not much data, or too much ‘big data’ and a strong element of uncertainty. They are left with open-ended questions that traditional problem solving methods fail to answer. Understanding the pain points for users is crucial in design thinking. We don’t start with the technology available but with the problem. We develop a deep understanding of these problems, generate concepts to address them, and experiment prototypes to create solutions that fit user needs
“Design thinking provides a user driven route to innovation. We learn from customers, articulate and test assumptions and convert this into validated knowledge. When it comes to innovation, this makes design thinking both a method and a way of being. - Sihem Jouini


Design thinking is a method of approaching innovation when new or open-ended problems are encountered, not when the outcomes required are specified. These could be related to well-being in the workplace, or a new retail or travel experience and could be a product, service, or process within a firm. Here, the industry needs to seek out new ways to interact with the environment and find new opportunities. Design thinkers go into the field, analyze the experience and find ways to enhance that experience.

It can take time to open-up the field and understand the problems that you need to solve as well as the opportunities. It is important to identify what you don’t know, rather than what you know, which often means a change of mindset in the way we work towards innovation.

For design thinking to be effective, everybody needs to be on board. The process requires specific skills and techniques, so you need to have the right people in place and to train them. Multidisciplinary teams of designers, marketing people, engineers, etc., need to be brought together in one place to come to terms with user needs, implement experimentation, and share a common mindset. This mindset must also be shared by top management as their support is essential for the success of this type of initiative.
Based on a discussion with Sihem Jouini, Orange Chair Holder, and Associate Professor of Innovation Management at HEC Paris.