Once thought of as a nebulous, murky approach to solving a problem, business leaders have embraced design thinking as a creative way to innovate services and products. Relieved that a needle-less vaccine exists? Just breezed through airport security? That’s design thinking on the job. Today, enterprise leaders are realizing an even more tantalizing payoff: A 2003 study by the Danish Design Center showed that increasing design-related employee training boosted a company’s revenue an average of 40 percent more than those not using design thinking.

Organizations are discovering how design thinking can streamline distribution and increase customer loyalty, among other strategic priorities. Kaiser Permanente increased the quality of patient care by re-examining how nurses manage shift changes, and Kraft has used it to reinvent its supply chain management.

“Now, you have gigantic organizations trying to determine not only how to create breakthroughs with design thinking, but how to design their organization using design thinking,” says Jeremy Utley, director of executive education at Stanford’s d.school. “They are looking at things like, how are our teams configured? How do we celebrate successes and acknowledge failure? It’s a whole new DNA.”

The d.school uses a six-step methodology to help organizations and leaders replicate design thinking in any setting:

    1.  Understand. Research the problem’s background.
    2.  Observe. Watch how the affected stakeholders interact and react to a situation.
    3.  Define. Combine insight with a needs-focused approach to create suggestions.  
    4. Ideate. Participants must suspend judgment and brainstorm ideas. From the silly to the savvy, no idea is off-limits during this phase; a single session may generate hundreds of ideas.
    5.  Prototype. Convey ideas quickly with a sketch, flow chart, or physical model.
    6.  Test. Modify solutions based upon user reaction and experimentation.
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