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Design Thinking Needed in Collaborative Workplace (from The pARTnership Movement)

Karin Copeland

Karin Copeland

Fostering and managing innovation is a continuous challenge for businesses. To meet this challenge it is critical to build a workplace culture that supports failure as an inevitability on the path to innovation. Artists and designers are taught that their best work is a result of these failures and progress can be made by revisiting old ideas from a fresh perspective.

From the iterative methodologies found in industrial and software design to the formalized critiques of a fine arts classroom, the concept of Design Thinking is a learned skill in fields that we traditionally define as creative. This way of thought is crucial to developing an innovative business sector that is both agile and collaborative.

Design Thinking has been around for decades but it has made a resurgence in recent years as swiftly changing technologies and a global marketplace force us to adapt the way we do business and adjust our corporate culture.  Business now requires creative talent to generate the innovative solutions and products of tomorrow.

This talent is often multidisciplinary, with the ability to problem-solve a diverse project set while still holding a vision of the big picture. This superstar talent is a rare commodity but, with the adoption of Design Thinking and a push toward a collaborative workplace, a company’s culture can be redesigned in such a way that it can nurture its current staff to become these superstars. 

Design Thinking teaches that finding solutions requires the ability to identify problems or patterns that others cannot see.  Moving through a project with a structure of Design Thinking leads to constant user feedback,  flexibility, collaboration, and improvisation. In a global marketplace, where customers have many choices, the products and innovations created through this process are inherently more customer focused, responsive and, as a result, more desirable.

As a graduate of the University of the Arts’ Industrial Design program I can attest to this fact that these concepts are being taught in Philadelphia’s esteemed art and design schools. They are, however, also finding their way into MBA curriculums throughout the region.

The Strategic Design MBA at Philadelphia University (PhilaU) is producing hybrid thinkers; individuals that sharpen their business acumen through the analytical tools of traditional business while developing their problem solving skills and adaptability by using the tools of a designer.

The Wharton School’s SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management also borrows ideas from the world of design through its exploration of creativity and innovation in business. The education offered by institutions like PhilaU and the SEI Center are creating a new generation of design minded business leaders, while ensuring a pipeline of innovation in the years to come.

In the real world of business, we look to IDEO and SAP for thought leadership in the area of Design Thinking. It’s not surprising that these companies are, at their heart, design firms, producing products that users interact with daily. Each company, however, is an excellent source for a cutting edge discussion of applying Design Thinking to traditional business.

At the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia (ABC), we are exploring the concepts of Design Thinking, cross disciplinary idea generation and business innovation. The very nature of our organization requires us to spend time in both the creative and the business sectors of the Philadelphia region.

We believe that our best ideas come from the conversations we have each day with this diverse group of people and, since we are at are most productive when we come together to solve a problem, we view this group as Philadelphia’s greatest innovators.

ABC’s programs and events aim to cultivate the collaborative spirit that is integral to Design Thinking. As the region’s only convener of the business, legal, technology, nonprofit arts and for-profit creative sectors, the Arts & Business Council is uniquely positioned to lead the discussion about cross industry collaboration and innovation.

(This post, originally published in Region’s Business – Philadelphia Edition on February 14, 2013, is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)

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