When Strategy & Creativity Collide
Complex problems in the workplace often require creative solutions. Design thinking seeks to turn those problems into opportunities.
By Elon Glucklich
"What I took from this was: The extensive work by DORIS had created confidence and a calming effect about the move and the transitions that will be taking place ... It is clearly having a positive impact, not only on those of us making decisions, but those who just want to be heard."
- JENNIFER POPE BAKER, Executive Director, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana at Central Indiana Community Foundation
ENGAGING THE WORKPLACE
A practice used by powerhouse companies like Google, Nike and countless small businesses, Design Thinking does more than identify and solve pressing issues. It engages an entire workplace in a fact-finding mission to identify efficiency barriers, pinpoint solutions and put the best ideas into action. In the process, it nurtures creativity and collaboration throughout an organization, from the work floor to the CEO’s office.
Since its founding in 2012, DORIS Research has taken the concept and boiled it down to an eight-step guide, highlighting the importance of creativity, collaboration and a willingness to fail in business planning.
A nonprofit in Indianapolis, where DORIS Research began, had faced a daunting challenge: How to consolidate 35 employees at several locations under one roof? Six weeks of guided “Design Thinking” provided a blueprint for a cohesive new workspace and brought their staff closer together in the process.
“It’s a challenge having different employees in different locations for years, doing different jobs,” says DORIS Research Operations Partner Elise Lockwood.
“How do you make your workplace feel cohesive and make everyone feel like their needs are being met?”
The ideas behind Design Thinking have existed for decades: Employees throughout an organization come together to define problems and find creative solutions to attract new customers, design a better product or improve their workspace.
“We have tangible and intangible outcomes of the [Design Thinking] process,” Lockwood says. “The tangible is your data, the final prototypes. And the intangible is that people going through the process are invested in the outcome.”
Lockwood, who in 2017 opened the Northwest office for DORIS Research in Eugene, refers to the research firm’s strategy for businesses as “data-centered creativity.” Currently, they are helping numerous companies in Lane County work through the process and achieve favorable results.
It starts with employees, from the top to bottom of an organization, taking part in one-on-one conversations, discussing how they approach their jobs or their workspace, challenges they’re facing and what could be improved.
Those discussions are then expanded into a group setting, where workers across the organization ask questions and hone opportunities to move in new directions.
DORIS Research’s role is to collect data, Lockwood says. In the case of Design Thinking, data refers to the piles of input collected from employees.
“If you do Design Thinking well, you can’t predict what the outcome is going to be,” she says. “Design Thinking is really effective because it challenges your assumptions, and it’s people-centered. You might learn something that totally changes how you view a situation.”
Using that data, challenges are defined, and ideas are generated and tested. It could be a retailer trying new strategies to sell to a younger audience or an agency looking for the best way to redesign its office space and encourage collaboration.
LETTING GO OF FEAR
Involving everyone with a stake in the process is key to Design Thinking, she says. Just as important at this stage is letting go of a fear of bad ideas.
“It’s important for stuff to fail at that stage, because then we know with very little time, money or resources invested, what are good or bad ideas.”
“From a business standpoint, allowing people to have those creative moments and those moments of failure that are supportive—that makes people care about what you’re doing, because they did it. They were a part of it. It’s one thing to tell people you shouldn’t be afraid of failure and another to create an environment and a process that’s supportive of it.”
Once ideas are prototyped and thoroughly tested, their successes and failures can be focused into an organization’s action plan.
A CASE STUDY
Lockwood recently worked with a large manufacturer with a local presence, looking to renovate its corporate office and attached factory space. During the multi-year process, she met with each person in the organization, who contributed ideas for a better workspace.
The result was a series of prototypes and eventually blueprints and floor plans, based on input from top managers to factory floor workers, which served as the company’s action plan.
At each step, she says, workers across the organization engaged in creative cooperation to make their company a more efficient and collaborative place to work.
“I think there’s this misconception that creative people are always artists. The thing I like about Design Thinking is that it gives people this structure to be creative and fail without letting anyone down—and while learning. So, I do think creativity is important, because it keeps you mobile and agile. And, it keeps you connected to the people you’re working with or working for,” she says.
“If you aren’t constantly engaging with other people, asking for their thoughts and getting people to wildly imagine what the future could be, how are you pushing yourself to be innovative? How do you know that what you’re doing is solving a problem?”
Since its founding in 2012, DORIS Research has worked with more than 50 organizations in a wide range of industries, from corporate businesses to higher education. Using Design Thinking to solve complex workplace challenges, DORIS empowers people to understand themselves and their relationship to the spaces in which they work.
To learn more about Design Thinking and DORIS Research, visit dorisresearch.com
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