Design Thinking for Better Business Simulations

By Dianne Miller and Emily Ricci - April 14, 2017

Design thinking is a hot topic in the world of learning and talent development. As it continues to gain popularity, many top leadership programs are jumping on the bandwagon and proclaiming that they employ design thinking in their learning, development, and business simulations.

But simply declaring yourself a “design thinker” or leading teams through rote blue-sky activities is not true design thinking. At its heart, design thinking is a scientific method for solving complex problems—not just a fun way to brainstorm. It confronts the ways in which teams view and break down business challenges and, maybe more important, how they articulate the challenge itself.

The Regis Company adopts the core principles of design thinking to solve some of our clients’ most pressing business challenges and leadership training objectives. We believe learning and development training organizations are inherently good at solving problems. It’s central to what the best leadership training programs do every day.

A few years ago, we noticed real challenges arising when our clients had problems that were deeper or more complex than what was visible on the surface. Our clients would approach us with statements like:

  •  “Our leaders need to be able to think more strategically about the business.”
  •  “We need to innovate more effectively to remain competitive in the marketplace.”
  •  “We need our people to be better critical thinkers and problem solvers.”

In each case, we knew the solution wasn’t as simple as having an expert stand up in front of an executive leadership training classroom and say, “You need to think more strategically,” or providing a slick new tool that would better enable performance. While these are both laudable and not uncommon approaches, they address only the top layer of a given business challenge. Over time, we found that when stakeholders were unwilling to dig beneath the surface, it led to a type of “Groundhog Day” situation in which a quick fix helped temporarily, but the same issues kept occurring.

Through our deep experience creating effective leadership training solutions, we’ve come to believe that committing to four rules of design thinking allows us to sidestep some of these challenges, providing a better approach to business transformation.

  1. Create empathy for many users. Understand the experience that participants have as they encounter and address the challenge at hand on a purely human level.
  2. Divergence before convergence. Resist the urge to reach a quick consensus - it will be worth the wait.
  3. Focus on the problem, not the solution. The root cause isn’t always what initially presents itself, and reaching the true root cause of the business challenge enables a truly transformational solution.
  4. Co-create to ensure a shared vision. The best solutions often come from unexpected participants, so welcome as many perspectives to the process as is possible.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll expand on each of these rules individually, providing insight on how to incorporate design thinking for truly effective leadership training.

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