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Drive growth with design thinking

What two factors do Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM and Procter & Gamble all have in common? Since integrating design thinking into their operations, they have all consistently outperformed other S&P 500 firms by more than 200 percent.   

Design thinking is break-the-frame problem-solving process with applications in broad variety of sectors to help organizations address complex, human-centered problems and better serve their end-users. To ensure a fresh approach and avoid silo mentality, design thinking democratizes the innovation process by harnessing the talents and perspectives of cross-functional teams. Aligned around a share sense of purpose, they work together to explore user-centered solutions that meet both customer and corporate interests.

“Design has become too important to be left to the designers”.

Tim Brown, Executive Chair at IDEO

Design thinking helps promote innovation and user-centric solutions

According to Prof. Joaquim Vilà of IESE’s Department of Strategic Management agrees, firms that continue to rely on traditional approaches will find it increasingly difficult to maintain competitive advantage in today’s context of uncertainty and evolving consumer expectations 

 In their rush to solve problems as quickly as possible, business leaders often bring underlying assumptions, inbred biases and skewed perceptions along with them,” he explains. “Design thinking helps break down these barriers.”  

Comprised by three main phases – ideation, inspiration and implementation – design thinking allows companies to find solutions that are both technically feasible and financially viable. In the initial stages, Prof. Vilà recommends firms have faith in the process and use alternative benchmarks to measure its success, as well as the following six guidelines to ensure its effective integration. 

6 insights to successfully integrate design thinking  

1. Innovate with customer feedback

Engage customers in the development process from the start. Their insights will help you define the right problem and reduce preconceptions about how they utilize and benefit from your product.

2. Build a cross-functional team

Break down departmental silos by assigning a multidisciplinary team to the project. Their unique areas of expertise and vantage points will lead to new discoveries on underserved customer needs and possible user-centric solutions. 

3. Integrate prototyping and testing

Show customers prototypes to get immediate feedback on what works and where it falls short.

4. Appoint a design-thinking ambassador

Appoint a high-visibility leader to train, align and motivate team members on the design thinking approach. This person should ideally hold a cross-functional role and have support from top management.   

5. Deliver solutions as you go

When implementing design thinking for the first time, start smart small and grow as you go. This means focusing on a concrete challenge which can feasibly be resolved in the short and medium term. 

6. Follow the established process

Since people are naturally change-resistant, it’s important to closely follow the distinct phases of design thinking until they are sufficiently internalized themOnce they are competent in the process, team members can adapt it to their needs and preferences. 


If you’re looking for new approaches to boost organizational growth, learn more about IESE’s “Design Thinking: From Strategic Transformation to Business Impact” program. Delivered in a flexible blended learning format, the program explores problem-solving strategies applicable to a broad range of business challenges and contexts.

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