Among the many business buzzwords that has rocked the corporate world, the one that has captured our imagination collectively since early 1990s is Design Thinking. So is it just a trendy concept, an overused buzzword, or a complex theory? When we cut through the jargon, simplify it, and relate it in a business environment, Design thinking is fundamentally a systematic problem-solving approach, which helps us in uncovering powerful solutions. Essentially, it is about defining a problem that needs to be solved and analyzing it from multiple perspectives, getting in-depth understanding of the audience needs, generating several possible ideas, refining a few selected ideas to arrive at solutions and implementing the most viable solution(s).
Today design thinking has become an important protocol that helps businesses in driving strategy, operational excellence, innovation and culture change. Design thinking is not just about processes and tools, but it is about people. It is about value creation and value addition for people. The core idea behind design thinking is that if we want to create value through a product, service or process, we need to have an in-depth understanding of the needs and feelings of the people who will use it. This user-centered or human-centered philosophy drives design thinking. Since HR and related functions are created specifically to serve people, these principles can be applied to create employee-centric solutions that will reduce workplace complexities.
Design Thinking in Learning and Development
One area of Talent Development where design thinking is being implemented is Learning and Development. So far, systems thinking and instructional design technique ADDIE has been widely used to design Learning and Development programmes. Today, we have online courses, webinars, podcasts and mobile learning with DIY toolkits that give employees more control over the way they learn. But the million-dollar question is, are they learning at the right pace, retaining and applying it in the workplace? It is in this context that design thinking becomes a great catalyst in transforming the Learning space. Since design thinking places a great value on empathy for the user, applying these principles will help L&D professionals to create outcome-based learning modules that can enhance the learning experience of the employee. Experiential Learning programs should begin with a deep understanding of learners, context of their work and the challenges faced by them. Learning programmes that are designed in this manner tend to be much more engaging and will help in longer retention of knowledge and skill.
Design Thinking in Diversity and Inclusion Training
Application of design thinking is very relevant in Diversity and Inclusion Training. As most of us know, diversity and inclusion is all about creating an enabling environment where people can bring their authentic selves to work and feel valued, involved, connected and respected. At AVTAR Group, we have been using design thinking as part of our diversity and inclusion training programmes. As D&I practitioners, we consider multiple factors while developing a training course and we ensure that we truly keep our audience in mind. Different components of a training program, such as course content and any activity that may be a part of the course are developed and curated based on our awareness of the background and skills of learners.
While the most popular Design thinking process involves 5 steps (Empathize–Define–Ideate– Prototype–Test), we have been using 4 step design thinking process devised by The Design Council, UK. The design thinking process is divided into four phases here –Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver.
Apart from using design thinking to develop in-house training courses, we have also used design thinking as a learning methodology in our classroom training sessions on various topics related to diversity and inclusion. The essence of design thinking is to put learners into situations that make them think and help them in arriving at solutions to the challenges they face. It helps learners to analyze and resolve any work-related challenge in a new, insightful and stimulating manner.
Design thinking can be effectively used in any classroom session that involves developing an outcome or an action plan. We have engaged learners with interactive techniques and design thinking tools for recognizing unconscious biases, identifying common goals and bringing together productive ideas.
The Discover stage can be used to get a deeper understanding of the participants’ problems and requirements.
In the Define stage participants redefine the problem statement using insights gained from the discussion.
Consequently, in the Develop stage, they brainstorm about the challenges faced by them. They discuss concepts, solutions and debate the validity of their ideas.
Lastly, in the Deliver stage, learners select a solution that is the best-received, the most interesting and the most likely to be implemented. At this stage, participants design a prototype or three-dimensional representation of their solution and receive both positive and negative feedback, ideas for improvement and open questions. This entire experience leads to learners developing a shared vision by making productive use of their diverse backgrounds. Moreover, teachable moments get transformed to moments of true realization and learning. While used as a classroom learning methodology, design thinking process requires careful facilitation with clear rules, especially with regard to time management. A thorough follow-up by internal team (L&D or D&I) is very important to summarize and thoroughly implement the results.
Through its central idea of human-centered approach, design thinking has the ability to redesign our workplaces. When used in an imaginative way, design thinking can be applied to solve any challenge and drive the growth of an inclusive workplace culture that supports and empowers all employees.