designI’ve been working recently in an organisation where the new CEO is speaking a lot about the importance of Design Thinking.

Design thinking is a human-centered, prototype-driven process for innovation that can be applied to product, service, and business design (Cohen, 2014)

My exposure to design thinking is through User Experience (UX) teams on projects where customer centricity is key and independent reading


It’s even been said before that if all organisations adopted design thinking there would be no need for change management. I’m sympathetic to this view – but skeptical of how long it would be before I would be running out of work.

I’d actually argue that design thinking represents best practice change management. I think we have moved a long way from the earlier view that change management was all about implementing top down planned change. Best practice change management increasingly recognises that organisations are complex systems and we do our best work when we create semi structures and leave room for emergent change.

In their book “Design thinking: understand, improve, apply. Understanding innovation” Christoph Meinel and Larry Leifer propose four rules to design thinking.

  •  The human rule – all design activity is ultimately social in nature
  • The ambiguity rule – design thinkers must preserve ambiguity
  • The re-design rule – all design is re-design
  • The tangibility rule – making ideas tangible always facilitates communication

All of these rules that are congruent with good organisational change management. Admittedly, the desire to preserve ambiguity is not often without a fight. But this is the need to create semi-structures – enough control to protect the organisation from damage, and enough flexibility to allow the serendipitous discovery and emergent ideas.

Some of the key tools in design thinking are:

  • Understanding your audiences thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions
  • Co-creating outcomes with that audience
  • Creating early versions or prototypes and testing for fit / relevance / acceptability
  • Root cause analysis, five whys, mindmapping

Again, all of these tools should be part of the change manager’s tool kit. If you don’t know the humans at the centre of the changes you are introducing, you will falter. The changes will have much better adoption if the audience or recipients of change have been involved in the creation of them. Testing is a key phase of the change processes and we build in time to make amendments (or prototypes) if the solution is not working. And we often describe a lot of our efforts as “lifting up rocks to see what’s under them”. This activity could also be described as root cause analysis. Good change management occurs with diligent discovery.

Now having said this, I make no claim to be an expert in design thinking. I’ve worked with design thinking practitioners, I’ve attended a couple of conferences, read a book or two. What would be really cool is to find a design thinking practitioner who wants to write a post on how good change management if really just design thinking… think about it, if all companies had great change capability you wouldn’t need design thinking…



Dr Jen Frahm – Author of Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change.

Leave a Reply