Where Design Thinking Went Wrong – And How to Fix It

Where Design Thinking Went Wrong – And How to Fix It

Has Design Thinking become outdated? With a growing concern about the ethical and environmental status of businesses and the use of technology in innovation, it’s high time to give sustainability its rightful place in the innovation process. This matter was, among other things, covered during the seminar Snapshot Breakfast: Innovation for Good on the 4th Oct in Stockholm; catch up by watching it on-demand.

Over the years, the focus of innovation has evolved from being engineering-driven to design-driven, from product-centric to customer experience-centric. Design Thinking (the concept first appeared in the book Creative Engineering from 1959) has played, and still does play, a major role in this development. Its human-centered approach to innovation, which starts from a deep understanding of the needs of the people you are designing for, and then converges that insight with the opportunities of technology and the demands for business success, has seen a massive surge in popularity in the last 10–15 years.

Design thinking has been one of the best frameworks for innovation and improving customer experiences, and has as such contributed to growth for both established businesses and startups. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a natural part of Cognizant’s offering

Figure 1: Design Thinking framework

A New Era of Innovation Needs a New Perspective
We live in an era when the cost of innovation and technology is falling, fast. At the same time the innovators toolbox is rapidly expanding to include powerful technologies such as cloud computing, AI, ML, Analytics, Drones, AR, VR, genome sequencing, genome editing, and more.

Figure 2: Cost of innovation is falling. ex genome sequencing cost

This has led to significant speed of innovation. AI has gone from a human programmed Deep Blue beating chess champion Kasparov in 1997 to Google’s machine learning AI AlphaZero beating the champion chess program Stockfish 8 after having taught itself to play in under 4 hours. At the same time, it is now over 2 decades since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned at the Roslin Institute in Scotland from an adult cell. Today, cloning is a commercial offering and it costs $25.000 to clone a pet cat, and prices are continuing to decline. What innovations and capabilities will we have in another decade or two, and do we unconditionally want them without having asked the question; Should we do it?

At the same time, we also live in an era of unprecedented human challenges. Climate change, the sixth mass extinction of species, and prosperity reversal can seem insurmountable, making the average innovation challenge look petty. 

The low cost to innovate with powerful digital technologies, we believe will change society, business and humankind forever. We also believe that by focusing that innovative power to unleash digital for human benefit, we have an opportunity to make that change a very positive one. Failure to do so could potentially be catastrophic.

It is in this context that the Design Thinking framework start to look outdated. With a focus on using technology to satisfy customer needs and business targets, it runs the risk of innovating for short-term gains with no remorse. One could argue that Viability should consider both the short- and long-term implications on the business. I don’t think that gives enough focus and clarity. There is a need to add a new 4th perspective to the Design Thinking framework, Sustainability.

Figure 3. Circular Innovation

New focus on ESG
I’m not the only one who believes that extra perspective will be beneficial both to mankind and business; sustainability is both a necessity and a differentiator according to Harvard Business Review. In response to a world market characterized by growing threats such as climate change, an unsettling geopolitical reality and the overall accelerated rate of change, ESG (Environmental, social and governance) is now considered a business building approach with real business benefits. 

To investors, ESG criteria also offers a way to assess an organization’s resilience, adaptability, long-term sustainability and capacity for growth. That why ESG investing is already reshaping global markets

Cognizant’s Sustainable Innovation Approach
Circular Innovation builds on the human-centric approach to innovation used in Design Thinking, adding future mapping and a circular economy lens to ensure sustainability is properly considered. We combine that iterative ways of working to accelerate our client’s journey from strategy to outcome at scale, while continuously adapting to new learnings, allowing them to play the long game while harvesting short-term gains.

Figure 4. Cognizant innovation model

This approach is applicability to all innovation, small or large. We act in a complex context, where innovations are spread at the speed of the light – the work within even a small development team can affect a large part of the society and humanity. What if all innovators would put humankind at the center of any innovation, and similar to the Hippocratic Oath in medicine, decree; First do no harm. 

Curious to learn more? Start by watching the Snapshot Breakfast: Innovation for Good seminar on-demand. Besides from my Design Thinking presentation, you’ll get to listen to Telia, Epiroc and Biotera on how 5G, smart bacteria, sensors, automation, and IoT can enable sustainable innovation.

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