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Design Thinking is Like Open-Source for Change Management

Design Thinking is Like Open-Source for Change Management

What if change management was no longer the dreaded and painstaking process that it has been in the past. What if employees and management alike were excitedly open for change like open-source communities embrace the latest software development. In September 2015, Harvard Business Review wrote in an article titled "Design Thinking Comes of Age," which started:

"There's a shift underway in large organizations, one that puts design much closer to the center of the enterprise. But the shift isn't about aesthetics. It's about applying the principles of design to the way people work."

And Gartner Research recently confirmed this shift in reporting design thinking is on the rise in the C-Suite - up 174% in the last three years. Interestingly, design thinking is at the top of the ten soft skills that have seen the most growth.

But its value is even more important than landing the top spot. Design thinking is the only skill on the list that can affect the remaining nine skills. While its status as a super skill is debatable, its impact on a business's bottom line is not. I have written that I believe Leading by Design is the Future of Leadership. Here are a couple of the 15 mind-blowing stats about design thinking according to by Adobe.

  1. Design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P Index by 219% over ten years. (Source: Design Management Institute)

  2. 71% of companies report creating ten times the number of assets today than just a few years ago. (Source: Adobe)

However, C-Suite and teams dedicated to innovation and CX is just scratching the surface of the potential design thinking can have on an organization. Imagine an organization that unleashes the creative (innovative) potential of every employee. Hard to fathom? Not for Gianni Giacomelli, Chief Innovation Officer at Genpact, Head of Innovation Design at MIT Collective Intelligence Design Lab.

Accomplishing more, faster, and with greater inspiration.

In Giacomelli's talk titled The Future of Work in the December 2019 Minds & Tech event, he discussed a conversation with his CEO about the impact of AI on the workforce. Genpact an organization of 90,000 at the time, was grappling because AI could reduce their workforce to 10,000. Rightly so, the CEO was concerned about the friction such an event would cause and also understood a tremendous waste of talent and creative potential. In his talk, he discusses the impact of training - upskilling and reskilling - on the future workforce today.

Even though AI seems like a distant future for some enterprises, the global pandemic's impact has magnified the need for speed in adapting to change. Regardless of when the wave of change from AI hits your enterprise, the tools for creatively problem-solving (the focus of Design Thinking) cannot wait. The pandemic has illustrated the need to keep up and the deadly cost of not—namely, business failure. Prompted by this reality, what would it look like if your enterprise adopted design thinking not only in all the outputs (products, services) and but the inputs? In the context of a design thinking vision question - "How might we...?" As a consultant, I asked myself "How might I help leaders better understand design thinking's positive impact on change initiatives inside their enterprise?" And then inspiration hit.

It's Like Open-source for Software

Open-source has been around since 1998 and has achieved some fantastic results. In summary, the copyright holders of open-source software grant users the right to use, study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. In a nutshell, software development takes place in a collaborative public manner. The Software Company has a vision for what they want to deliver and the wisdom to know how very little they know compared to its users' knowledge and life experience. In granting the users the freedom to make changes that work best for them, they maximize their company's usability, sustainability, and profitability.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. -Socrates

Therein lies the power of Design Thinking for enterprise leadership and any change initiative they endeavor to move forward. Design Thinking is the tool for tapping the unlimited creative potential and wisdom of the users. In this case, users are employees. Using design thinking in your internal change initiatives gives open access to users to bring their knowledge, experience, and creativity abilities to bear on the problems at hand. And similar to the advantages of Open-source, Design Thinking for Change Management has a long list of benefits.

Benefits of Designing Thinking for Change Initiatives

1 - Superior performance.

Because of design thinking's inclusivity, like open-source, there are more eyes on what's happening—translating into increased accountability, reliability, and superior performance. Because a company-wide community supports the change initiative - rather than a select committee - outputs are embraced, and excitement for the project builds that energizes the change. This positive energy is the opposite of the fear-induced resistance that historical change management methods encounter typically. Success doesn't stop at company profitability but includes growing a robust community of employees.

2 - The power of the crowd.

Many hands make light work. Like open-source, the collective talent of individuals working together delivers more ideas, quicker development, execution, and troubleshooting with an ecosystem's effectiveness. Think hierarchical bottle-necks and resistance to change gone. As hierarchical structures fade into the background, what emerges is a robust community.

3 -Community.

Designing Thinking applied to leadership, which I've coined, "leading by design, " creates a flourishing community, bound by a common goal to improve and contribute to the enterprise's success. Community united around solving problems, introducing new concepts and capabilities faster, better, and more effectively. When employees' creative potential flourishes, they feel they're more than butts in a chair or hours on the clock. There is a feeling of appreciation, inclusivity, and freedom of expression. A feeling of being involved in a purpose greater than themselves. This community approach to idea generation, selection, and problem-solving bring greater transparency at all levels.

4 - Transparency.

In the beginning, one of the main concerns with the open-source code was security. What was discovered is that it is often more secure because it is much more thoroughly reviewed, vetted, and patched more diligently by the community. Design thinking accomplishes this same transparency with increased trust, accountability, and improved management-employee relationships. However, trust grows on two fronts - through openness and also through a more authentic merit-based approach.

5 - Merit-based.

With open-source code, the sole motivation is to make the best, most useful product possible, unlike Corporations with proprietary code, which puts profits foremost, which is not always ideal. It proves the fallacy that an enterprise cannot achieve both profits and the best product. When we open ourselves to the possibility of finding the merits for all parties, profits improve, not suffer. Likewise, we need only look at the 50-70% stats of failed change initiatives to see the correlation. How many change initiatives failed because they were scrapped because of profits or ran into the brick wall of employee resistance because it didn't address their needs?

Besides, seeing the merits of all sides and the impact on profitability, merit-based pay is also enhanced. Unlocking the creative potential with design thinking and the resulting open-source environment transcends favoritism and bias of traditional merit-based systems. Pay incentives' focus is no longer solely on tasks completed, but on the creative talent's viability. And when employees bring the best of their ideas, experience, and skills, more magic happens.

6 - Elevated employee experience.

When employees can express themselves fully, feel appreciated for their ideas, they can see firsthand the value their contribution brings to the organization, which elevates the employee experience. This elevated experience of thriving employees brings greater engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Productivity - doing more of the work that matters, not just more work.

All of the above benefits result in faster and more cost-efficient change initiatives. And just as open-source is becoming the norm in many large enterprises, design thinking will become the new norm for change initiatives. The enterprise will bring the strength of its most incredible resource (the creative talent of its employees) to bear on the internal innovation at hand, whether required from a pandemic, AI, or whatever our evolving world brings.

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