Design Thinking: Revolutionary Organizational Concept That Suits Current Times


How many of you heard about the “revolution” in Sri Lanka.

Apparently, 1000s of every day, average Sri Lankans attended a demonstration to oust the President of the country.  This led to their taking over his Presidential Palace and several other buildings around it.  They have since occupied this building and it is being used as a Museum of Unintended Wealth and Corruption as 1000s more Sri Lankans walk through the place and literally have the opportunity to see how the other half lives.

This is a classic scene from a Frankenstein movie, when the local villagers and peasants head up to the castle of the doctor and storm it to root out the monster.
It is also exemplified, to a less extent, by a group of Amazon workers determining they want to unionize.  Largely it is the playing out of frustration, anger and resentment towards power, authority and to a lesser extent, wealth.  It is my thesis that this kind of bottom up processing, is at the root of Design Thinking and it’s application in organizational settings.

It is a reversal of values and corporate intentions.

Instead of top down processing, where all strategy and direction for a company flows from the top down, Design Thinking proposes that those who do the work and are most impacted by workforce design and ongoing Operations, should have a say in helping to improve Operations and make suggestions about innovative measures that would focus on the two key drivers in most business settings:

  1. How the innovation will help contain costs?
  2. How the innovation will increase revenue?

OF course there’s more…..

Increasing employee engagement and satisfaction

Increasing customer engagement and satisfaction.

How can Design Thinking do this?

By providing bottom up processing that is data and evidence driven without the typical filters required to get the data “to the top” of the organization where it is made by company leadership and straights.
Let the people who do the work, design the processes by which the work is done in a more
reality-based framework.  Sounds like Total Quality Management and the work of Jonathan Demming.

What was the key difference between US and Japanese auto manufacturing that resulted in higher Japanese quality?  It was the ability for almost any Japanese assembly line worker to “stop the assembly line” because of an observed defect or process issue.  At American auto companies, this was not possible.

Key outcome of Design Thinking and TQM?

Let the workers take control of their work and share in the pride of successful planning and continuous improvement together.



Here’s some background on my experience at the iDesign Institute at Stanford University, attending an Introduction to Design Thinking Workshop.

I attended the workshop in 2018.  There were about 200 participants.

Participants were somewhat diverse in terms of socio economic background, (somewhat affluent), and  educational status (college educated).  A majority of attendees were female and youthful (under 30), but in reflection the diversity of the participants was impressive.

Some interesting points:

There were no chairs in the workshop space.  Everyone stood and moved around.

There were lots of warm ups and ice breakers in which people interacted in different ways as a large group.  The goal was to increase energy and engagement and it appeared to work as there was lots of laughter, energy and physical movement.

Lecture was done in short bursts with lots of activities.  Lecture was  generally based on the power of creative imagination , appreciative inquiry and astute observation.  Many of the terms being used and Science being cited about the efficacy of Design Thinking and bottom up processing as a path to innovation appeared to be derived from Product Development methodologies previously used to great effect at IDEO, the worlds greatest product development lab situated in Palo Alto.  Much of the design for Apple products and many, many other well known products and brands have been invented,  enhanced or transformed at Ideo.  Ideo methodology is based upon concepts derived from cultural anthropology.  There is a heavy emphasis on ethnography, in Vivo observation, piloting different concepts, continuous improvement, and lo fi prototyping with frequent revisions based on user acceptance testing and other forms of direct feedback.


So, after we had been sufficiently warmed up in the workshop via singing, cheering, and greeting one another, we were divided into teams.

There were about 15 teams of between 7-10 people.  This was going to be scenario driven, project based, collaborative learning.   We were asked to imagine ourselves as process-product engineers for a company. We were placed in a simulation together seeking to solve a business problem for an imaginary company.  It was a complex problem.

There were many, many supporting faculty around to help each team.   Each team was assigned a couple of “coaches” while other more senior Design Thinking practitioners circulated around the large iDesign facility  ready to step in and assist.

NOTE:  If you decide to use Design Thinking in your organization, you are going to need to get a core group of resources trained up and certified in the Design Thinking methodology, to ensure that your people really understand the method, its phases and expected outcomes.


After about 45 minutes of group work to design our process and product based upon the requirements provided to us at the beginning of the activity, there was an exhibition.

The exhibition provided opportunities for groups to present on their solution, answer questions, and most importantly travel out across the iDesign facility to have a look at the solutions produced by other teams with the same problems.  It was a fascinating journey.



Nobody becomes a Design Thinking expert by attending one workshop.

It is the intersection of Design Thinking, AGILE /SCRUM-based project management and the philosophy of Continuous Improvement and the ongoing attempts to put those methods and values into practice that matter.  Most notably, the attitude of management towards their employees and the value that they, the employees, can bring to their operations in ways that are based on front line experience, motivated engagement and creative problem solving, and as a result of feeling as if they are “being heard” by management, an opportunity to support the organization and gain recognition and financial reward.

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