How to improve productivity with design thinking

Your new approach to greater productivity (part 5/5)

Image credit: | T.Dallas

Image credit: | T.Dallas

Design thinking is all the rage.  From IBM to AirBnB, to reaching the cover of Harvard Business Review last year, companies are embracing a design-based way of thinking. Design thinking is here to stay and it can improve your productivity. This 5-part series will help you understand and apply design thinking personally and in your organisation.

So how can you implement design thinking into your context?

To become a design thinking leader, you must develop the right stance, tools, experiences and team.

This will not be a seamless journey. I failed several times before starting Coachify and I have failed several times since. I am reminded of Michael Jordan, who said: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Here are the four elements of success.

  1. Stance

Our stance, or mindset, can be changed. Anyone’s can. At Coachify we are redefining productivity by including intangible elements within the analytics.  We are recruiting our people to co-create solutions. This has required cultural and mindset shifts to a broader set of aims and approaches, such as those in my triple dual focus framework.

  • Learn from failure: When something goes wrong or falls apart, we can choose to see this as an opportunity to explore why and learn not just how to fix it, but how to make it better.
  • Be Open-Minded: When we come across a problem, most of us want to come up with the solution straight away.  Allowing ourselves, and those around us, to explore all the possible solutions – however outlandish – can ultimately produce something we never would have thought of otherwise.
  • For CEOs or business unit leaders, the distinctions between reliability and validity are at the heart of the cultural and innovation dilemma. The challenge is how to manage what Roger Martin calls the irresolvable tension between operating within the current knowledge stage and moving through the knowledge funnel. This is difficult because the two ends of the spectrums are inherently incompatible.

How will you shift your stance to incorporate both ends of the spectrum? I am convinced that this is something you can all do.

  1. Tools

Tools are the models that you use to understand your world and organize your thinking. For example:

  • Get expert at asking excellent questions to open up a broader context, and cause reflection
  • Develop your personal knowledge system consciously and explicitly.

In developing tools, it is crucial to get variety to stimulate creativity. What tools do you need to pick up?

  1. Experiences

Experiences are what build and develop your skills and sensitivities over time. Strengthen this muscle in two ways:

What is your best next step to build your skill as a design thinker?

  1. Team

To help your team take ownership of design thinking you need the following roles among others:

  • The explorer, who has an inspiring vision and sets the course for a new direction.
  • The gardener, who sets the conditions for creativity to thrive, such as providing inspiration when energy is low.
  • The coach, who helps others stay present and engaged, navigate ambiguity, learn from mistakes, and ask the right questions.

Where is your team strongest? Which role does it need?

Encourage your team to pay attention, because in design thinking observation is key. So often we approach the same problem in the same way, based on all our previous assumptions, and wonder why nothing changes. However if we can really take a look at a problem from a different perspective, we might just see what we’ve been missing. Remember that teams are those who help you get there. You don’t need all the skills as a leader, but generally across your team you do.


The key is owning this yourselves.

In the early 20th century, the former U.S. Postmaster General John Wanamaker wrote, “One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.”

This 5-part series has contained much insight and many tips. Whatever emerging commitments you are making in your own mind, well done. But here’s a tip – don’t try and do it all at once. As John Wanamaker reminds us in the quote above, great things are possible, but only if you take one step after another.

What next?

What are your best hopes for your own productivity after reading this?

What will be different in your life if these hopes are achieved?

What is already in place that will contribute to these hopes becoming a reality?

Share your comments here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “How to improve productivity with design thinking

  1. Hi Nick, this is a most helpful blog even if the bulk of it is beyond my reach. But I like the questions at the end and am trying to work my way through them. If my best hopes are achieved I guess time will be a beneficiary and I have already enlisted help to develop along these lines. do hope I haven’t misinterpreted your blog by this comment.

    • Thanks for your comment Bryan. You have interpreted the blog very well, especially because you are working through the application questions. May you reach your best hopes and gain time!
      Roger (on behalf of Nick).