Jeanne Liedtka on the "Moses Myth" of Innovation

Solving Problems with Design Thinking

Today we continue our week-long feature of Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett and published by Columbia Business School Publishing. (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

In a September 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek article Jeanne Liedtka contests the “The Moses Myth” which suggests that “innovation is the miracle that results when a special person raises his or her hands to the heavens and the Red Sea parts, or the iPod (AAPL) is born.” Liedtka claims that companies should not wait for such a miracle man to make the innovation possible and that all managers can be inculcated with the right guidance to produce such “miracles” and bring forth innovation in their companies.

This is where Liedtka jumps into the concept of design thinking, “Design thinking gives us the ability to do just that in the form of a reliable set of processes and tools. Though it sounds mysterious, design thinking is just another approach to problem solving, an especially effective one if your goal is innovation.”

She supports this central idea by presenting a few examples of how design thinking supports innovation, as well as providing solutions to their business needs and problems:

IBM (IBM) reframed the challenge of transforming its trade show booths from traditional Las Vegas-style glitz—one-way monologues by which companies hawk their wares at attendees—to an environment that promotes a dialogue with potential clients. To accomplish this, the company garnered insights from conversations with a diverse set of outside experts (from Montessori’s founder to neuroscientists) and then tested the new concepts at a financial services show. The result: much deeper customer engagement leading to significantly more “hot leads” and higher revenue generation.

Suncorp (SUN:AU), one of Australia’s largest financial services companies, was able to speed up the post-merger integration of two very different cultures in the insurance industry. They did this by using the metaphor of a thriving city, inviting employees to design their own neighborhoods within it. Sounds wacky? Yes, but the exercise produced a more than 60 percent increase in employees’ understanding and ownership of the new strategy.

Liedtka concludes by suggesting that such an approach can make a remarkable difference in the way we do business, especially since it deals with the specific sets of tools and concepts that designers frequently use but is not very well-known as a means of innovation by business managers: “These tools emphasize attention to developing deep user-driven insights as the basis for envisioning new possibilities, engaging a broader group of stakeholders in co-creation, and then prototyping hypothesized solutions and testing these in small-scale experiments.”

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