Unlock Innovation Using Design Thinking – Part 2

April 10, 2024
By iQ Staff

In an ever-changing business world and the age of AI, the key to growing an organization’s competitive advantage will be innovation and the willingness to adapt. Design thinking offers a path forward, emphasizing a human-centric iterative approach and mindset.

We sat down with Ian Kitajima, a vanguard of design thinking from the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR), to uncover how this approach can foster a culture of empathy and creativity and meet the complex challenges business leaders face today. Learn more about the design thinking process in part one of our interview.


How does design thinking help in understanding and meeting the needs of clients or stakeholders?

Design thinking is fundamentally about empathy, which allows us to deeply understand the needs, desires and challenges of clients or stakeholders. By engaging in this process, we're able to uncover not just what people say they need but what they actually need. This approach leads to solutions that address the real problems and challenges, and are more innovative, user-centered and effective. It’s about looking beyond the obvious to find the root cause of issues, which ensures that the solutions we devise are genuinely impactful.


What practical advice can you offer business leaders and communicators who want to apply design thinking concepts?

Start small and focus on cultivating a mindset of openness and curiosity within your team. Create a safe place to learn. Encourage experimentation and the understanding that failure is part of the learning process. To minimize risk, apply design thinking methods to internal projects to experience firsthand how these principles can impact outcomes. Communication is key, so ensure that insights and learnings are shared across the organization to foster a collective understanding of the value of design thinking.


How can I teach design thinking to others within my organization?

Since design thinking is not only a way of looking at complex business decisions, but also an outlook on life, the theory needs to be applied in practice. Those who want to share this design thinking with their teams can try the following:

  1. Begin by showing examples of design thinking, who is using it and how it can be applied to solve problems. The best way to learn design thinking is to do it.
  2. Encourage curiosity, open-mindedness and the suspension of judgment by asking questions that allow you to discover versus validate your assumptions.
  3. Encourage generating many ideas to increase the chances of finding innovative solutions.
  4. Encourage creating prototypes — everything from a hand drawing to a low-budget prop — to visualize ideas and collect feedback without investing significant resources.
  5. Test prototypes with real users, gathering feedback and refining based on insights.
  6. Design thinking is an inherently collaborative process. Encourage teamwork and the sharing of diverse perspectives.
  7. Encourage a culture that values experimentation, accepts failure as a learning opportunity, and celebrates creative solutions.


Ian Kitajima hosted a design thinking workshop for iQ 360 in 2023.


How can design thinking be applied in non-technical fields such as business strategy or public relations?

In non-technical fields, design thinking helps in reframing challenges, leading to innovative strategies and solutions because the process and mindset can help teams see the unseen. For business strategy, it can uncover unique market insights or new business models. In public relations, it can guide the creation of campaigns that tap a latent need or insight that is discovered by meeting with extreme users. For example, if I was designing a wetsuit, an extreme user would be a Navy SEAL. We would learn from this individual by observing what they do, not only what they say. By focusing on human-centered design, professionals in these fields can develop more effective and empathetic approaches to creating value and staying ahead of their competition.


What is the most valuable lesson you've learned from practicing design thinking as a business leader?

We are all born creative but lose this quality over time. The more experience and education we have, the less we use our creativity. Having led hundreds of workshops for the last 14 years for thousands of students, teachers and executives of the biggest companies in the world, we have consistently seen teams of elementary school children generate five times more ideas than teams of CEOs, school principals and “adults.” Yes, the kids’ ideas are crazy and outlandish, but in the pile of craziness, we always find the seedlings of fresh and inspiring thinking that have the potential to disrupt the status quo. Isn’t that what is missing in our organizations today?


Visit designthinkinghawaii.org to learn more and join the conversation.