Can Design Thinking Succeed in Your Organization?

Here is an excerpt from an article by and for the MIT Sloan Management Review. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Credit:  Sam Falconer/

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Many leaders become discouraged when design thinking doesn’t get the results they expect. They can improve the odds of success by assessing the readiness of their organizations and preparing their teams for a different problem-solving process.

Design thinking offers a way to explore uncharted territory, uncover options, and solve complex business problems. But as much as leaders need new approaches to create competitive advantage, inspire innovation, and discover new paths for growth, they often don’t get the results they expect.1

Participants in design thinking exercises frequently neither understand the process nor have the skills needed to practice it successfully. In such cases, it’s no wonder that they become disenchanted or think they have failed.2

To get the benefits of design thinking, leaders need to know when to apply it, and they have to prepare both their employees and managers to do so. Our research has identified the characteristics that make an organization “design thinking-ready” as well as a strategic approach to adopting it.

Why Use Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a discipline that emerged in the last half century or so from studies of innovation processes, problem-solving, and creativity. It takes an iterative, experimental approach to problem-solving that involves gaining a deep understanding of customer needs; defining a problem area; ideating new solutions; and then prototyping, testing, and refining them.

Many organizations that turn to design thinking have innovation in mind.3 Some look to it to devise new business models, products, or services. Others use it to identify pain points in the user experience and tweak their existing offerings. An organization might, for example, create digital experiences to improve access and ease of use for customers.

Among its many advantages, design thinking is well positioned to mitigate the sources of cognitive bias that prevent people from accurately describing what they want, and to help people visualize previously unimagined solutions to problems. It promotes empathy with customers, as well as reflection and learning.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.


1. R. Martin, “The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage” (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press, 2009); T. Brown and B. Katz, “Change by Design, Revised and Updated: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation” (New York: Harper Business, 2019); and J. Liedtka and T. Ogilvie, “Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).

2. M. Kupp, J. Anderson, and J. Reckhenrich, “Why Design Thinking in Business Needs a Rethink,” MIT Sloan Management Review 59, no. 1 (fall 2017): 42; and B. Nussbaum, “Design Thinking Is a Failed Experiment. So What’s Next?” Fast Company, April 5, 2011,

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