Design thinking has long back ceased to be an esoteric concept. It is now the lifeblood of all the businesses cutting across scale and specialisations. It not only offers simple, ingenious and insightful solutions to knotty issues of business, leadership and governance, but also plays a cardinal role in orchestrating positive attitudinal changes in the society.
So, what are the imperatives of design thinking in this era of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) and today’s fast-paced ecosystem? Design thinking includes the ability to multi-sense, to see patterns which are not so obvious to others, and the ability to create something which can potentially change the very behaviours of people and, in a sense, create the future. Design thinking, with its underlying prescience, can also imagine the future needs and patterns, and plan accordingly.
Design thinking—thinks and designs! Playing with the words a tad, it thinks (foresees the future and the inherent challenges) and designs ways to address the same to desired effects. Let’s take the example of the mobile world. Nokia (the leader) has been disrupted by Apple, which itself is now threatened by Samsung. The players have to design ways to maintain an edge over others in the space.
Design thinking finds extensive application in governance and society. For example, government subsidies (making them reach directly to the people, thus weeding out irregularities in between) and financial inclusion are human-centred approaches that have the roots in design thinking to sort out the problems of a particular segment.
With globalisation, how can design thinking help in mitigating business challenges? Design thinking is a tool that can configure new business models and patterns, improve customer experiences, and trigger decisive game-changing moves in business, society, governance or any orbit for that matter. Design thinking can work through challenges and mitigate threats. It can enable a person to immerse into a context and gain unique insights which could result in potential solutions. The developing world is somewhat different from the developed world. Hence, many of the solutions developed in the developed world may not fit in naturally in the Indian context.
Companies such as McDonald’s, Dell and others have had to customise their business models and products & services to fit into the Indian context. However, Indian companies have the advantage that the outcome of their design thinking would usually lead to what one may call as frugal innovations. These, in turn, bring down the cost of products and solutions designed based on these. Such products can not only have a large market within developing economies such as Africa, but also in some of the Latin American countries. Equally, if such products match the quality and functionality of products in the developed world, they would certainly give foreign products a run for their money.
The same applies to spheres outside the business world. Living amidst an unprecedented number of antitheses, design thinking can offer a solution to a variety of issues. Initiatives such as smart cities, renewable energy, skill development, Make-in-India, Swachh Bharat and many more can draw heavily from designers’ approach.
Business schools have a major role to play in developing design thinking. Most graduates who join business schools have generally gone through a conventional educational pedagogy and framework which perhaps deprives them of their ability to innovate. Business schools should aim to create an environment which is liberating, allowing students flexibility to explore, sensitising them to real-world challenges, and give them the confidence to experiment, fail early, fail often, but bounce back and improve.
The number of live projects a business student participates and works on has grown exponentially. Many of these have been brilliantly completed, earning them corporate support. For example, at Welingkar, when students work on a live project, they study the entire landscape along with all the stakeholders. Core specialisations are not constraints as they work across domains towards solutions. In fact, there have been a number of occasions when the students have worked on solutions that have been globally appreciated and acknowledged. Exposure to such collaborations, with an eclectic team, new geographies and ecosystems, and a broad spectrum of issues helps immensely. Also, interacting with people from different fields and learning from their pursuits of excellence fills them with creativity and thus design thinking. It makes them multidimensional.
The author is group director, WeSchool