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The recently published article “Is design thinking a failed experiment?” by John Coyle, resonated in my head as I revisited one of my latest projects. Last year I was collaborating in a 6 month project, as user experience designer to bring design thinking practice and service design awareness within a financial institution, for the wholesale bank teams.

As Coyle points out in his article the key item for a successful venture like this is in the mindset of our leaders.

Our corporations are misusing design thinking by looking at it as a process brought in by external resources, with specific knowledge and expertise on this subject. Instead of looking within the internal capability they have to change. By changing their own mindset, which in turn leads to an inclusive, and internal use of intelligence and resources. This implies a different perspective and skill set.

This change in the mindset is at the base of creativity. And creativity is the foundation of any project. It allows space for exploration onto new grounds to frame problems differently.

Back to my project, with each of the teams I collaborated with, I saw no support from the organisation itself. Leaders were absent and all team members were working double. They were both dedicated to developing their ideia for the next 6 months, and expected to keep up their regular work which they have been doing for most part of their professional life.

There was no setup to give these people, these creators, the room to be creative. There were no leaders standing behind them, facilitating the space and clearing up path for them to grow, and educate themselves in looking differently at the problems they identified.

The result was constant communication mismatch between designers, managers, and teams. We all had completely different expectations on the work methods and this influenced the way we co-worked.

It became a frustration for both sides when working on deliverables, and the resulting outcomes and strategies were a challenge.

I believe Coyle really nails it when he answers the question: “Why do companies get it wrong?”

“Despite this self-acknowledged deficit, where do companies put their investment into innovation? Into strategy, governance, and process. Most companies demand innovation from their leaders, and have NOTHING in their leadership development programs to teach creativity, design thinking or creative problem solving. They are solving the WRONG PROBLEM! Which brings us back to the core premise of design thinking – which is ensuring you are answering the right central question. In this case instead of “how do we institute an innovation process” in our firm, a better question might be “how do we create an innovation mindset in our leaders?”

I will stress out again:

“…where do companies put their investment into innovation? Into strategy, governance, and process. Most companies demand innovation from their leaders, and have NOTHING in their leadership development programs to teach creativity, design thinking or creative problem solving. “…how do we create an innovation mindset in our leaders?”

He then proceeds by referring to a source:

“Bruce (Nussbaum) argues much the same suggesting a new kind of intelligence quotient be developed: we had IQ, then EQ, he now suggests a “CQ” – a creative quotient of intelligence.”

This is what I have missed. A chance to talk to leaders and understand their mindset, to understand what they see as innovation and creativity. Only then is there a truthful, meaningful conversation instead of endless days filled with missing opportunities.

A better working experience and environment could be changed by starting with that question, understanding what leaders see in projects as these, and get them involved in the process, continuously.

Perhaps, instead of overwhelming teams with days of heavy loaded workshops on tools and processes, organise creative days were teams are challenged and exposed to new ways of thinking. Leaders should also be involved in these creative sessions, to give support and trust, while being continuously assessed on their CQ in order to become ambassadors of creative thinking within the organisations.

In his conclusion Coyle points out the importance of the quotient of intelligence for the success of design thinking. I agree, and the leaders who develop, implement and spread it, will become the game changers that can transform organisations as we know them.

What other ideas do you have for applying creative thinking within organisations? What are your experiences and challenges?