The Intersection of Design Thinking and 21st Century Approaches to Innovation

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Conference Proceeding

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Given the pressing demands for innovation in today’s competitive environment, it is not surprising that the past 15 years have witnessed the development and dissemination of many approaches which show promise in providing guidance for systemic innovation. These frameworks cover a wide span, ranging from the development of creative ideas for new products and services, through the establishment of entrepreneurial firms, to the development of new growth platforms in firms whose core business has matured. The guidance provided by these diverse approaches not only address methods and tools used to generate innovative ideas, but also the development of business models to enact and sustain those innovations in the marketplace. This paper examines several recent contributions to innovative practice, including design thinking (Kelley, 2001, Brown, 2008, 2009), effectuation (Sarasvathy, 2001; 2003), business model generation and lean startups (Ostewalder and Pigneur, 2010; Blank and Dorf, 2012; Ries, 2011; Maurya, 2012), open innovation (Chesbrough, 2003; 2006, 2011) as well as the recent work of Clayton Christensen and colleagues (2003, 2005, 2007; 2009, 2011). These approaches promote an experimental, iterative process in which founders observe and interact with potential customers and sources of technology and ideas outside of the firm before locking into a specific path and precise product specifications. Understanding of opportunities is built through the expansion of social networks and through ongoing testing and modification of hypotheses relating to the product, the customers and the structure of the business itself. Using design thinking as a reference point, this paper points out common themes integrating these new approaches, contrasting them with more traditional approaches to the development of new products and services. Four key integrating themes can be seen as (1) Learning through Experimentation, (2) Developing Social Networks, (3) Fostering Deep Customer Understanding, and (4) Generating Ongoing Feedback. This paper discusses how these themes are manifested throughout the various models, and how they combine to provide needed counterpoints to traditional approaches of strategy and management of risk surrounding the innovation process. The key themes presented here are seen as particularly critical in coping with uncertainty and developing new sources of value.

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