Rather than being a creative activity, problem-solving sessions for many businesses are nothing more than an exercise in analytics.

And far too often, these sessions happen in boardrooms, where the false consensus effect is free to take hold. In these situations, company leaders often inadvertently reject creativity and ingenuity in favor of logical models.

The unintended consequence of this is that ideas that could benefit customers and generate long-term value often fall by the wayside.

Until now, that is …

Design Thinking Grows Up

Design thinking has taken numerous leaps forward, playing a key strategic role in decision-making for companies like Apple, Whirlpool, and GE — enhancing the user experience and delivering value to all stakeholders.

Design thinking takes the approach of building ideas from the ground up, to ideate and test solutions for the best possible outcome.

And why not? Without an understanding of customer needs, most companies cease to be competitive in the marketplace.

With design thinking's coming of age, the importance of applying its principles has become extremely clear. By meeting customer needs through creative problem solving, technological possibilities, and consumer-based strategies, it's possible for any company in any industry to excel. Here's why we all need design thinking.

Design Thinkers Are Problem Solvers

Design thinking is at the crux of problem solving, albeit not in a traditionally corporate sense. When presented with a mission or a goal, designers start from the bottom up, creating solutions based on learning and iteration.

A design doesn't happen overnight; instead, much like artists, designers need time to build solutions, test them, hypothesize successful outcomes, evaluate performance, and deliver final results.

Through this process, design thinkers can provide highly efficient solutions by building and expanding on given concepts in a way traditional analytical thinkers cannot.

By contributing to organic growth via a structured framework, the use of design thinking can provide solutions to a wide range of problems and concepts. Other thinkers may be able to work in a particular problem space, but design thinking is applicable across organizations and industry verticals.

Design Thinking Leads to Innovation

As businesses mature, they can become less tolerant of risk. This isn't always a negative. In some cases, lack of change can work. However, in other cases it can lead to stagnation.

The entire process of design thinking is focused on the creation of new, different, and innovative ideas that are novel to a situation. Much like two companies cannot have the same website, logo, or mission statement, two businesses cannot operate on the same principles and expect to differentiate.

By creating solutions, ruminating on their effectiveness, trying out possibilities, and continuing to refine execution until optimized, design thinkers create new markets and blue ocean to gain competitive advantage.

Leaders Should Be Design Thinkers

Leadership comes in many flavors, and some flavors are arguably better than others. Much of leadership requires creative thinking, rapid processing of information, and the ability to start over when things don't work quite right.

Discipline isn't always a good way to address failures, and standard tactics for group guidance could potentially hold back the creative process, especially when it comes to research and development of new products.

Design thinking is a beneficial skill for leaders. Using design thinking as a key driver of organizational strategy to deconstruct business problems and gain customer insights ensures that data-driven decisions override boardroom pontification.

Cross-Functional Training Leads to Design Maturity

Despite the name, design thinking is not only for designers. While some creative experience may help, even the most ardent traditionalists can benefit from design thinking with proper guidance.

Design thinking is best learned by doing rather than by observing.

Many technology companies and consumer product focused industries have been able to implement cross-functional team training programs, instructing managers, development teams, and executives in the art of design thinking.

Applying the process to business issues in an expert-led workshop provides a risk-free environment to learn the necessary concepts and ideas. This type of training equips employees with the tools to make a tangible difference in various problem-solving scenarios.

Time for You to Embrace Design Thinking?

If you've never before put stock in design thinking, now may be the perfect opportunity to take strides forward. A few tweaks in how you approach problems as a team, structure the creative process and visualize successful outcomes can make a significant difference in how problems are approached.

Organizations that struggle to innovate have the most to gain from encouraging design maturity across departments and creating a culture that celebrates design thinking. There are many ways to make changes, but one thing is for sure: we all need design thinking to stay competitive in today's fast-moving business climate.

Title image by William Iven