6 Tips for Bringing Design Thinking to Your Workplace

“The trick is how do you prove this different way of thinking without offending the existing population?”
—David Kelley, founder of IDEO & the Stanford

Design thinking is no longer a risky new way of working—it’s now regarded by many as a reliable practice for coming up with innovative ideas. And as the practice evolves, it continues to add value to businesses in new ways. But culture and tradition can be difficult to change, even with good evidence. It’s not uncommon for people to struggle a bit with how to bring the mindsets and methods of design thinking into their office and get their team and their boss on board with a new way of working.

In a recent episode of our Creative Confidence Series webcast, David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Stanford, shared his tips for bringing design thinking into your workplace.

Start small

“If you want to be successful, first be successful.” This piece of advice is David’s way of saying that leadership is unlikely to buy into a new idea without some initial evidence that it will work. Find a way to use the design thinking method to result in success on a smaller project with less risk, like planning your company holiday party.

Double deliver

Whatever project you’re working on, do double delivery. “Do it the way you’re supposed to,” David says, “but also try design thinking.” You’ll be able to meet your leader’s expectations for the type of work they wanted done and also show the value of design thinking. This is a good way to begin building stories of success and proof points.

Show the upside without offending

It’s hard to change social norms or behavior in any situation. The trick is finding a way to prove the value in a different way of thinking without offending the current way of doing things. David encountered this challenge when starting the at Stanford. His approach to teaching design thinking was radically different, so he made sure to not take resources away from existing programs or threaten established faculty.

Find ways to make your comments additive, not negative. Figure out what companies your leadership admires and share articles highlighting their use of design thinking.


“If you want to be successful, first be successful.”
David Kelley


Find the non-obvious need

So often people go directly to problem-solving and searching for a solution. When a problem feels huge or hopeless, try searching for a non-obvious need instead. Ask questions, experiment, and look for the hidden benefits of a situation until you uncover a true need. That’s when you can begin to work toward a solution.

Speak to the benefits

To earn buy-in from your team or company, you have to be able to speak to the value of design thinking. Get comfortable with speaking about it and why it’s needed—because today’s problems are extremely complex. David defines design thinking as “a methodology and a mindset that allows you to routinely innovate in a way that’s meaningful to the people you're trying to serve.” 

Use it to inspire 

For people who aren’t in traditionally creative roles, design thinking may not be as valuable for the creative problem-solving process as it is for the way it connects you back to the people you’re working to help. When you ask an engineer, for example, why they do what they do, eventually it comes back to the people. “Somewhere along the line there’s a higher purpose,” David says. The opportunity for your team to connect with real customers and see how their work is directly benefiting people is the best kind of inspiration.

For more tips from David Kelley on advancing your design thinking practice, look for the next episode of our podcast, where he’ll share his thoughts on the Stanford’s core abilities of design thinkers and answer your questions on design thinking in the workplace.

Interested in deepening your design thinking practice and increasing the impact you have at work? Check out our Advanced Design Thinking Certificate program.

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