Teaching An Organization How To Be Innovation

Change By Design, Chapter 7: Design Thinking Meets the Corporation, or Teaching To Fish

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, says he gets asked this question all. the. time.: “How do I make my team/company/organization/life/dog/cat/fish more innovative?”

This guy has got to hate going to cocktail parties in Silicon Valley.

Perhaps in an effort to not have to repeat himself to everyone, Brown wrote Change By Design. Chapter 7 contains a number of good nuggets about what companies can do to enhance innovation. Warning: they aren’t extremely practical, but this is a good high-level list.


Design Thinking

It should come as no surprise that Brown advocates teaching your team the core skills of Design Thinking. The key skills include focusing on human-centered design; using the tools of observation, insight, and empathy; iterating through loops of divergent and convergent thinking; prototyping.

The guy didn’t write this book so you could not use these tools.

Avoid Market Myopia

Marketing myopia is when you think too small. It’s a term used to describe what happened with the telegraph companies considering themselves to be in the telegraph industry rather than the communications industry. It’s how companies go bye-bye.

Give your team permission to think bigger. Give them permission to imagine how their products could have a bigger influence on people. Imagine how you can give your consumer an experience, not just a product.


Innovative products comes from an innovative culture. Full stop.

Brown explains that you can’t expect innovative products to emerge from people who focus on innovation some of the time. You can’t turn on “innovation” for a week and expect results. Culture is the single biggest factor influencing your team’s output, so focus your management efforts on changing the way people think, work, and interact with one another.

(Yes this is a huge undertaking. It’s not easy. It’s really really difficult. But knowing is half the battle, and now you know…you have to focus on culture.)

Activities, Decisions, and Attitudes

To change a culture, you need alignment among your activities, decisions, and attitudes.

Activities: host workshops to talk Design Thinking, do Pilot Projects to give people small wins and exposure without betting the farm, do stuff (don’t let talking be a substitute for action ala Knowing-Doing Gap).

Decisions: Decide to commit to the culture, as a cultural shift is not something you can turn on and off like a faucet; make the tough decisions that put resources behind design thinking processes.

Attitudes: Leadership has to embrace and prioritize design thinking, giving people permission to be creative and to fail.


The chapter also has a shit-ton of anecdotes from the many companies with whom IDEO has worked. I’m not going to relay those stories here, but some of them might give you more ideas about what bringing Design Thinking to your company might look like.

And finally, a quote from Brown himself:

“Design thinking is unlikely to become an exact science, but as with the quality movement there is an opportunity to transform it from a black art into a systematically applied management approach. The trick is to do this without sucking the life out of the creative process – to balance management’s legitimate requirement for stability, efficiency, and predictability with the design thinker’s need for spontaneity, serendipity, and experimentation.”