On Catalysts and Barriers to Innovation in Latin America

“Design Thinking has become our most powerful tool for understanding latent needs in customers, uncovering problems, and reaching an understanding of the reality our clients are experiencing. It’s helped us visualize opportunity areas and conceive solutions that will generate real value to end customers.”
—Valentina Freile, Innovation Consultant at Bayteq, Ecuador

In our most recent Creative Confidence Series chat, IDEO Partner Luis Cilimingras and IDEO U Dean Suzanne Gibbs Howard discussed how technological and cultural shifts are affecting business in Latin America, and shared tips and tricks for implementing design thinking from IDEO U alums and practitioners working in the region.

At IDEO, we keep hearing from native spanish speakers who are curious about design thinking and creativity and hungry to learn more. And in our own work in Latin America, we’ve found fantastic people who are setting up innovation labs, building creativity in their teams, and working across companies. As we look to spread design thinking methods and mindsets throughout the globe, we’ve been chatting with IDEO U alums and others who have insight into making design thinking a part of innovation in Latin America.

As IDEO partner Luis Cilimingras points out, it’s a conversation that’s becoming more important as the middle class in Latin America continues to grow, and with it, the need for services for a population that’s increasingly savvy and mobile-first, and demands quality at a competitive price. For example, he says, if you wanted to call a taxi in Peru five years ago, you’d wait five minutes on the phone to order one, and another 30 for it to show up. “Today, five years later, you’re upset if you don’t get it in five minutes through the app.”

With this shift to digital services comes an opportunity to leverage design thinking and borrow from models adopted from the U.S. and Europe to create something uniquely local. But embracing empathy and a horizontal structure can be tough in a region where failure isn’t a virtue, company cultures tend to be hierarchical, and there are large social gaps between different classes. Here’s how members of the IDEO U community have embraced design thinking in Latin America.

1. Find the Right Terms

When Angel Landeros’ company shared business results, employees had to sit through dry Power Point marathons. Angel used design thinking to experiment with diverse formats, making his results more participatory and tailored to the team’s needs. By the end of the year, he found that everyone else had followed suit. One of his biggest takeaways from the process: ”People appreciated the effort and change of pace and by the end of the year everyone was trying out different ways to communicate their results in a more engaging and memorable way. It made the year-end review something to look forward to and kept everyone engaged.”

2. Design a New Space to Enable Behaviors

After taking several IDEO U courses, Valentina Freile and her team decided to make their company’s culture more innovative, starting with a redesign of their work-space. By adding moveable boards to make work visible, team spaces, and new dress codes and weekly rituals, the team has improved communication and become more agile. “Changes in our physical space have empowered co-workers to feel more confident sharing ideas on how to grow together and encouraged all to seek for constant improvement,” she says.


3. Build Evidence to Counter Resistance

When you’re working to change processes and cultures, resistance can be common. Patricia Mourthe of Brasil worked through it by collecting evidence and showing her colleagues the value of new techniques by holding prototyping workshops and gathering feedback from real users. “Our CEO learned from real customers for the first time in his three-year tenure causing a shift in strategy toward new needs,” she says. “After the workshops, our teams slowly began embracing design thinking to deliver more value. They felt more comfortable questioning assumptions.”

4. Strong Relationships are Critical

An employee at a global manufacturer based in Panama and her team designed a session at the company’s worldwide finance meeting to consider the question, “How do we bring together a global community that’s meeting for the first time and that works remotely?” Participants from all over the world began to get curious; now, they plan to bring the approach to their global CFO conference. “Initially, the projects were led by a few with deep knowledge in the methodology,” she says. “Recently we have prioritized empowering more co-leaders before developing a process, and the results have been phenomenal.”

Interested in learning the foundational methods and mindsets of design thinking and creating a shared language among your team? Find out more about our introductory Hello Design Thinking class, now available in Spanish.

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