The rise of increasingly complex business systems and technology mean that today's companies need a creative workforce more than ever. To foster that creativity, many companies have turned to designers—not only to create new products and services, but also to improve their business processes and foster more innovative, happy and successful employees.
It's an approach called "design thinking," and it's paying off. Each year, the Design Management Institute conducts an assessment of top design-led companies like Apple, IBM and Coca-Cola. For 2015, DMI's assessment found that these companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 211 percent.
To learn more about design thinking, we spoke with Linda Naiman, founder of the Vancouver-based consulting firm Creativity at Work. Naiman has helped introduce design thinking to organizations like the US Navy, GE and Intel. Here, she explains the concept of design thinking, why leaders should bring it into the workplace and how it applies to their talent management strategy.
What is design thinking?
Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions. A design mindset is not problem-focused—it's solution focused and action oriented. It's a co-creative, iterative process that focuses on human values and needs through a process of questioning assumptions, collaborating, focused brainstorming and building prototypes to test ideas and get feedback.
Design thinkers first try to understand the unmet needs of customers or end users before coming up with ideas to address them. The goal is to create solutions that are not only technically feasible and financially viable, but also desirable to those end users.
Linda Naiman's Framework for Design Thinking
Why are companies adopting this methodology?
If you look at some of the top companies that use design—Apple, Coca Cola, IBM—they've outperformed in the marketplace by reinventing their core business processes to focus on their customers' needs. Design-led companies put people first, not technology.
"Design led companies put people first, not technology."
Design thinking minimizes the uncertainty and risk of innovation by engaging customers or users through a series of prototypes to learn, test and refine concepts; it relies on customer insights gained from real-world experiments, not just historical data or market research. This way of thinking helps these companies improve their success rates and innovation.
How do you work with companies to introduce or implement design thinking?
Typically, I work with executives and their teams. They come to me looking for new ways to innovate. Maybe they're in a slump and they want to kick start creativity in group. Through workshops, I help them learn methodologies to reframe, to ask better questions and collaborate better. Rather than devising specific strategies for them, I teach them the thinking skills they need to devise those strategies for themselves.
How can leaders apply design thinking to talent management?
The best leaders have empathy for their teams. If you're in charge of a team, you need to think about what their needs are. What barriers do you need to remove to enable them to do their best work? How can you ensure diversity of thought in your team? How can you empower your team to take action? How do you create the conditions for your people to do great work?
"Innovation is not just about products and services. It can be intangible as well, like business processes or changes to a company's culture."
Innovation is not just [about] products and services. It can be intangible as well, like business processes or changes to a company's culture. So, a manager and team educated in design thinking may collaborate to look at their processes and find better ways to get the job done. Once they generate ideas for solutions, they build a prototype and test it to see if their idea works.
What impact can design thinking have on a company's culture?
If a company adopts this methodology, the culture will change on its own thanks to the values inherent to design thinking. These values include empathy, collaboration, experimentation, exploring ambiguity, a commitment to building on each other's ideas and the idea of prototyping (which is a core element of design thinking). You must quickly mock up new ideas and test them in order to get feedback. And that means creating a safe space where people don't have to worry about being a failure—failure is part of the process. Designing the way you work will help people do things more efficiently and give them more time to do more fulfilling work.
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Ten Dad-Friendly Workplaces
When we talk about the quest to "have it all," it's almost always in reference to working women trying to balance a stressful 9-to-5 with the equally difficult demands of family. To be sure, women face distinct challenges in the workplace and high expectations at home. But this Father's Day, let's not forget that dads are increasingly juggling work and home life, too. Single fatherhood is becoming more common in the US—a 2013 Pew report found that a record 8 percent of families with children were headed by a single dad—and 60 percent of households with children are dual-income as of 2014, putting added pressure on both working parents. While policies in the US do not mandate paid family leave of any kind—unlike parent-topia Sweden, which offers 16 months of paid parental leave and three months specifically for paternity leave—many companies are now thinking about how they can help their workers be "Employee of the Year," without sacrificing their "Dad of the Year" trophy. Here are ten excellent companies for working dads, based on a new report from parenting resource website Fatherly. 1. Google Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Mountain View, CA Number Of Employees: 53,600 Paid Paternity Leave: 7 weeks (12 weeks for primary caregiver) Industry: Tech Dad-friendly Policy Highlight: When you work with Google, your family is part of the family—really. If an employee passes away, the company provides his/her spouse with 50 percent of their salary for 10 years and immediately vested stock options, and children receive $1,000 a month until they turn 19 (or 23 if they're a student). 2. Facebook Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Menlo Park, CA Number Of Employees: 10,082 Paid Paternity Leave: 17 weeks Industry: Tech Policy Highlight: Procreating pays off. Facebook gives new parents a $4,000 "new child benefit," along with subsidized day care. Not to mention the $20,000 worth of supplemental insurance coverage for fertility and family planning treatments. 3. Bank of America Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Charlotte, NC Number Of Employees: 220,000 Paid Parental Leave: 12 weeks Industry: Finance Policy Highlight: Bank of America's twelve weeks of paid paternity leave is on par with countries likeIceland. Not too shabby. And, if you can handle the pay break, the company also allows for an additional 14 weeks of unpaid leave. 4. Patagonia Photo: Shutterstock Headquarters: Ventura, CA Number Of Employees: 2,000 Paid Paternity Leave: 8 weeks Industry: Retail Policy Highlight: Working parents don't have to stray far from their kids as Patagonia provides on-site child care for kids up to nine years old. The famously laid-back company will also provide afternoon transportation from local schools back to the office babysitter. 5. State Street Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Boston, MA Number Of Employees: 29,530 Paid Paternity Leave: 4 weeks Industry: Finance Policy Highlight: Flexible work arrangements are a must for the busy working dad (or mom). State Street's program helps take the stress out of setting up some work-from-home time by requiring their managers to approach their employees about flexible work options. 6. Genentech Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: San Francisco, CA Number Of Employees: 14,000 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Biotech Policy Highlight: Along with dedicated paid paternity time, Genentech also offers a sabbatical program for long-term employees. Every six years, you earn six months of time off—perfect for a long summer trip with the kids. 7. LinkedIn Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Mountain View, CA Number Of Employees: 6,800 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Tech Policy Highlight: LinkedIn likes to encourage employees to think outside their cubicle and, in addition to "special projects" time once a month, you will get a $5,000 stipend for job-related education expenses. Maybe "Childcare 101" would qualify? 8. Arnold & Porter LLP Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Washington D.C. Number Of Employees: 1,284 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks (18 for primary caregiver) Industry: Legal Policy Highlights: If your spouse or partner is gainfully employed and you'd like to trade some of those work hours for family time, Arnold and Porter allows employees working at least 25 hours to qualify for benefits. The firm even has an expert panel on hand to help their lawyers make the switch to part-time. 9. Roche Diagnostics Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Indianapolis, IN (North American HQ) Number Of Employees: 4,500 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Healthcare Policy Highlight: Roche employees have plenty of opportunities to teach Junior essential life lessons like how to swing a bat or grow a juicy tomato. The company spends $35,000 annually on sponsored extracurriculars like community sports leagues, and also offers an on-site employee produce garden. 10. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: New York, NY Number Of Employees: 41,000 (U.S.) Paid Parental Leave: 6 weeks (plus an additional 2 weeks if have or adopt more than one kid) Industry: Professional Services Policy Highlight: Another company that values ad-hoc work schedules, PwC allows employees work-from-home options as well as ""Flex Days." So if you can cram 40 hours of work into less than five days and clear your schedule, you could end up with more frequent three-day weekends and more time with the kids. Photo: Shutterstock