Design Thinking Mindset for Innovation

Design thinking is more than just a process. Methods and tools alone are not enough to drive innovation in companies and organizations. For many experts, researchers and practitioners, the key to successful innovation and transformation lies with shifting the mindset. A person’s mindset determines how they approach life: it is an expression of their values and mentality, and thus influences their behavior in different situations. That is why the team at the HPI Academy has developed the Design Thinking Mindset for Innovation, building on over 10 years of practical experience and research.

The Design Thinking Mindset for Innovation consists of six elements: 

Think & Act in a Human-Centered Way

One of the greatest strengths of design thinking is its focus on people. This means, firstly, wanting to understand human needs, behaviors, emotions and values. Secondly, it means using this understanding to inspire and shape your own work.

Individuals with a human-centered mindset are open and non-judgmental towards people with different backgrounds and perspectives. They are able to empathize with the emotions and needs of others, in order to understand why people do what they do. They feel comfortable taking on the user’s perspective on a problem, even if it does not correspond to their own experience. Finally, they actively involve users in specific phases of the design process.

Collaborate in Diverse Teams

Just as design thinkers approach their users with a real interest in their experiences, they also bring this attitude to their teamwork. They recognize the value of diverse teams when it comes to understanding complex problems and developing innovative solutions. A diverse team has a significant disruptive potential. This is brought to light when everyone contributes their personal and professional experiences, as well as their diverse competencies, whilst considering how these can overlap and complement each other.

Individuals with this mindset externalize and communicate their thoughts, thereby sharing what they know with others in the team. They strive to contribute to and grow the team’s pool of knowledge. They are open to different perspectives and opinions, meaning they can accept group decisions, even when these do not correspond to their own opinions. Finally, they show empathy towards other team members, by paying attention to their feelings and experiences.

Explore the Problem Space

Design thinkers explore problems in a holistic way to find innovative solutions. They want to understand the context of the challenge as fully as possible, which means exploring the experiences and perspectives of those affected, as well as considering systemic dynamics and regulatory frameworks. Once they have become aware of their blind spots, design thinkers select the most promising starting point to address the challenge. If, during the course of the project, new information comes up, the challenge can be “reframed” to adjust its focus and remain close to the needs of the user.

A person with a problem exploration approach embarks on their journey of discovery with openness and curiosity. They are not afraid to ask questions or explore directions that others might find unusual. They continually take every opportunity to improve, adapt or refine their understanding of the challenge, even if that means deviating from their original plan or redefining the problem to solve.

Learn Through Experimentation

Learning through experimentation involves the constant desire to learn by trying things out - in other words, moving forward in a project through action rather than discussion. In order to encourage quickly testing out new ideas, iteration is key. This means looping back to and repeating previous steps. All the while, it is important to adopt a positive attitude towards “failure” and “mistakes”, i.e. to see them as a necessary part of every learning experience.

Individuals who learn through experimentation are able to make abstract things concrete, for instance, building a prototype of a concept. They are also able to extract learnings from their experimentation, for example to derive user needs. They have the ability to think spatially and to make thoughts or ideas tangible with the help of sketches, objects or roleplays. They go through many quick iteration loops by testing, drawing conclusions and moving on - or even stopping a project altogether, if that makes more sense.

Embrace Uncertainty

Design thinkers often work on complex topics that have many variables and stakeholders and no obvious solutions. They must be able to explore these topics with as much openness as possible and to embrace the uncertainty that comes with them. Indeed, embracing uncertainty means not just tolerating challenges with unpredictable outcomes, but actively seeing them as opportunities. Tackling complex challenges with this mentality means being comfortable with the ambiguities, incomplete information and potential contradictions which they throw up, and using these constructively.

Individuals who take uncertainty for granted are courageous. They can think abductively, meaning they are capable of drawing conclusions and taking decisions on the basis of incomplete information. As such they are able to move forward in the process constructively, despite uncertainty. They accept that any results or solutions might not be final, and are therefore fine with changing their own opinion or direction.

Envision a Radically New Future

Radical envisioning refers to the mindset that is necessary for radically new ideas to emerge. This attitude is often associated with an optimistic belief in a better future and a deep conviction that you can achieve your goals despite the odds.

Individuals who are able to imagine radically new things have to be resilient. They refuse to be restricted by what is, and imagine instead what could be. Finally, they are capable of thinking beyond the redesign of a single product or service, towards designing entire interlinked systems.

Design Thinking Mindset for Innovation @ HPI Academy

Organizations can only be sustainably transformed when individual employees have internalized the elements of this mindset and the corporate culture as a whole is aligned with it. Thus, each format at the HPI Academy has a different focus point or specialization, but the Design Thinking Mindset for Innovation runs as a central thread through them all.