We would like to a announce a new book “Exceptional Leadership” edited by Rob Elkington that features a chapter from Fred Krawchuk, one of our co-founders. Fred’s chapter shares 2 Wolves Consulting’s approach on how we partner with clients to tackle their toughest challenges.
Design Thinking: How to Thrive in a VUCA World
Introduction. John Kotter observes, “The world is now changing at a rate at which basic systems, structures, and cultures built over the past century cannot keep up with the demands being placed on them.” Today´s business leaders face a global environment that is marked by increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions. Technological disruptions, socio-cultural friction, and political turmoil generate risk and opportunity for business leaders. New competitors, shifts in economic conditions, artificial intelligence, and changing customer needs also contribute to the transformation of the business landscape.
How can leaders manage the unprecedented challenges they face in a turbulent environment? Design thinking offers a proven way to navigate in a VUCA environment. I used this approach to help craft initiatives and lead projects while serving as a military officer in the extreme VUCA conditions of Iraq and Afghanistan. This chapter will focus on what I learned from applying design thinking to our operations, as well as on insights from businesses that have also successfully integrated design thinking. I will use the framework “inspire, ideate, and implement” to describe how I utilized design thinking and what I learned from the process. I will finish the chapter with key factors for successfully employing a design methodology to VUCA problems.
Summary. Design thinking empowers organizations to successfully tackle VUCA challenges. Inspiration allows designers to frame relevant problems that senior executives and customers care about. With the pressing challenge in hand, designers immerse themselves in the socio-cultural context of a problem in order to empathize with a client’s concerns. They frame the problem and deeply reflect on the causes of the challenge or opportunity at hand. Designers synthesize input from a variety of diverse sources and meet with experts who can give meaning to their collection of observations and data. With this comprehensive picture in hand, design teams brainstorm new possibilities as they move into ideation. Taking their ideas out for a test run, they iterate the most promising ways to move into action. They execute their vision by conducting pilot projects, adapting along the way to what works best and what needs improvement. Designers share their stories from this process inside and outside their organizations to generate momentum and organizational learning.
Conclusion. This design process, although powerful, cannot thrive by itself. You need people in your organization who are interested, willing and able to manage a design thinking process. Training, recruiting, and hiring people with the appropriate design-related skills and attributes is key. One way to help get the right people on your team is to ensure you have C-suite champions for your design approach. Change is difficult, so you need the support from influential leaders, with the power and resources to help institutionalize a design thinking approach. With key leaders on board, designers look for the most optimal ways to mesh organizational culture, systems and processes with design thinking principles.
Traditional business approaches cannot keep up with the pace of accelerated change and fast-moving markets in which they compete. High-performance companies such as Samsung, IDEO, PepsiCo, Procter and Gamble, and select U.S military units have directly experienced that design thinking, when applied in a holistic manner, empowers leaders to successfully tackle VUCA challenges. Like any other business competency, a design thinking methodology needs to be skillfully built and managed. At the individual level, it requires a designer’s toolkit, an innovative mindset, and training in collaborative problem-solving skills. At the organizational level, leaders must actively align cultural norms, systems, and processes to enable a project-based, creative, and iterative approach to tackle the challenges they face. Leaders with a design mindset, aligned with a collaborative organizational culture and congruent support systems, can generate an innovative enterprise that is primed to thrive in a VUCA world.
The book can be ordered from your favorite bookstore or purchased online: