4 Design Thinking Mindsets to Live by

By Courtney Watts

You’re hard pressed to have a discussion about innovation these days without mentioning design thinking and creative leadership. Sure, they may be industry buzzwords, but there’s no doubt that design-centered strategies are significantly more successful than those that are not.

For perspective: According to a 2014 assessment by the Design Management Institute, companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola and Nike have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 10 years by 228%. This is largely influenced by the fact that they are design-led companies.

Design Thinking is a methodology used to solve complex problems and to find desirable solutions. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it is solution focused. Experimenting, exploring possibilities and ideating as a team are central activities in a design thinking framework, providing a structure that is imperative for how we work together. And when we instil a certain framework for working together to solve problems, companies are more likely to succeed and flourish.

But this post isn’t really about design thinking as a framework. What about the mindsets that make us good design thinkers in the first place? What if we take away the frameworks and focus on the mindsets that enable us to be innovative, creative, strategic problem solvers and design thinkers? Here are four mindsets that can transform not only the way we approach design, but other areas of our lives as well.

1. Humility

I start with humility because it’s essential, yet increasingly rare. Because we take pride in our work, ego can easily come into play. We start to make decisions based off of opinion, our expertise in a given area, or because ‘we just know.’ After all, why test your design when you have the expertise to know already that it will work? Why do user research when you already know everything there is to know about design? And this is problematic not only in design, but in other parts of our work life.

It’s important to recognize the impact that ego can have on our ability to receive feedback, properly assess success and failure and leverage data to influence decisions. Designers and other workers alike should strive to be humble in their work, and organizations should reinforce this in their culture.

2. Candour

If humility is one side of the coin, candour is the other. Listening to others and accepting we might be wrong is crucial, but so is speaking up. Humility does not mean that our opinions don’t matter and that we shouldn’t share them. Candour is defined as our ability to be open, frank, and honest.

Former chairman and CEO of GE (and management legend), Jack Welch, has famously said that when “people are afraid to speak out” in a bureaucracy, it creates an environment that slows you down.

The onus here starts with the leadership team: It’s important to develop a culture that encourages and rewards honest feedback. Welch says: “You reinforce the behaviours that you reward. If you reward candour, you’ll get it.”

3. Empathy

Empathy is our ability to share and understand the feelings of others. Every successful design process is rooted in empathy. Human-centered design is not just about site redesigns; it’s about a maturation of design inside organizations and putting the user at the center. Empathy takes us from designing for utility and convenience, to designing for meaning and value in the context of people’s lives.

In our everyday work life, empathy helps us see hidden conflicts. It helps us influence others in our organization, anticipate the needs and concerns of customers and stakeholders, and deal with negativity. Empathy is not a trend, it’s a philosophy. It helps us find our purpose. It’s not the end, it’s the means. It helps us see the world through the eyes of others and understand their perspectives.

4. Passion

Passion in design is crucial, because it’s the foundation for why we want to create and improve things. Passion is a key ingredient for success. It gets us motivated to start and helps us persevere when the going gets tough. I’ve found in my own work and personal life that the most mundane of tasks are bearable when I’m passionate about how they contribute to the bigger picture. If you’re not passionate about the mission and vision of your company, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate.

These four ‘buckets’ need not only apply to strategic problem solving and design thinking. When humility, candour, empathy and passion are at the center of how we work as individuals and team members, our companies will flourish, and so will we.


About the author

Courtney is a Client Partner at TribalScale, helping our clients bring innovative ideas to life. After spending time early in her career in human rights and international education nonprofits, Courtney became passionate about how businesses leverage technology and innovation to make the world a better place. After getting her Master’s in International Business in Boston, she ventured into the tech and digital space (both enterprise and startup) and hasn’t looked back. Originally from the states, her work and study experience spans across the US, Latin America, Spain, India and China… and as of last year, Canada!

Connect with TribalScale on Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn!

Visit Us on Medium

You might also be interested in…