oogle has pink flamingos and inflatable dinosaurs. Pixar has beach huts. Start-ups all over the world have “chill-out” lounges and ping-pong tables. Such perks are the marks of creative company cultures. However, you don’t necessarily need a beach hut or a comfy sofa to create an environment that fosters innovation.
Innovation happens when an organization supports experimentation and accepts failure as a part of life.
When people are afraid to try new things, no breakthroughs will happen. People won’t dare to develop or test ideas for fear of the consequences of failure.
New ideas require an environment where failure – and thus learning – is an acceptable step on the road to innovation.
Innovation too requires the right kind of team. Specifically, collaboration in diverse, interdisciplinary smart teams helps to unlock an organization’s creative powers.
Any project requires input from as many people as possible, including designers, engineers, marketing managers and so on. Bringing all these people together at the beginning as part of your smart team allows you to capitalize on interdisciplinary thinking.
Indeed, designers will offer different ideas, perspectives and insights than accountants or software engineers will, but their ideas are no less viable or relevant. It’s important to incorporate these ideas as soon as possible for the sake of expedience.
Smart teams will need space to work, and companies should provide a designated space for doing so. The internet as well offers tons of possibilities for teams to work together and innovate.
One such online platform is Innocentive, where any research & development team can post a challenge, to which thousands of scientists, designers and engineers can contribute solutions.
In a physical office, however, companies should simply designate a physical space in which people from different departments can come together – away from their own private desks – to get the creative juices flowing.
Much to the chagrin of parents, children always ask, “Why?” even about the simplest things.
Discovering and trying to understand the world from their own developing perspective, children are always looking for insight that will help make sense of what they’re seeing and experiencing.
Similarly, a good design thinker always asks, “Why?”
Such questioning allows us the opportunity to reframe a problem, understand its constraints and use the information to find a more innovative solution.
Instead of accepting the world “as it is” because “it has always been thus,” we should ask whether a current solution to a problem is the optimal one, or indeed whether we’re even addressing the right problem in the first place.
Before organized agriculture, humans gathered fruits and vegetables from near and far. This exhausting, sometimes fruitless task was simply the way things were done for thousands of years.
Eventually somebody asked: Why do we spend so much time wandering around for food when we know that plants grow from and also produce seeds? By asking this simple question and using it as a springboard for innovation, agriculture, and thus civilization, were born.
But good design thinkers aren’t satisfied with just having discovered a solution to a problem. Rather, they want to share their ideas in the hopes that the ideas will be built upon by other innovators.
It’s easy to get possessive about ideas. After all, we’ve put so much time and energy into them that we start to see them as parts of ourselves. Thus we try to monopolize the development of our ideas and bar others from tinkering with them.
But this is terrible for innovation! If an idea is shared freely, it will quickly improve – and that’s a situation in which everybody wins.
As the evidence for human-made global climate change continues to mount, companies and designers need to consider what they can do to help preserve a livable climate for all.
Design thinking has the potential to increase public awareness and inspire everyone to engage in a more sustainable lifestyle by effectively informing people about environmental issues.
This is not because people are intrinsically interested in environmental sustainability, however. Rather, companies need to find ways to inspire sustainable habits based on behaviors that people already exhibit or that are easily introduced.
For example, after design thinkers realized that shoppers valued style and comfort over basic energy efficiency when it came to purchasing products, the U.S. Department of Energy decided to shift its focus when promoting products to encourage Americans to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
Thus designers explored the creation of stylish yet nonetheless energy-efficient products and catchy informational tools to better attract consumers’ attention when shopping.
Design thinkers also understand that to communicate the urgency of climate change, facts alone are not enough. Thus, designers need to start thinking about how to make sustainability more accessible.
One practical way for design thinkers to find a solution is to use a deck of cards, called “Drivers of Change.” The deck is composed of cards with answers to questions like, “Can we afford a low-carbon future?” The cards get a message across with simple facts and images. In fact, the deck has been used by discussion groups to inspire developments in sustainability initiatives.
Design thinkers should look at the entire production process, examining products from the extraction of raw materials to disposal. In doing so, it’s hard not to find opportunities for environmentally friendly innovation!
A good example of this kind of design thinking is Pangea Organics, a company that produces natural body-care products. Its products employ compostable packaging that contains wildflower seeds; thus you can soak the packaging with water and toss it in your backyard, where it would grow!
Producing the kinds of innovations that change the world requires starting with the right design philosophy – one that emphasizes fluidity, brings people together and keeps its focus on the real-word applications and implications of an idea.
So try this out. Make it a rule to ask “Why?” once a day. By being intentional about second-guessing everything, from “Why is the sky blue?” to the foundational beliefs that inform your life’s perspective, you can learn to become more flexible in your problem solving and might even find some inspiration for products and services along the way.
Check out my related post: How to recruit for diversity?