The promise of combining new ways of collaboration with design thinking to come up with important innovation sounds almost too good to be true.

This was at the heart of a popular session at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference where Maren Christin Huebl from German software giant SAP gave a talk on fostering a culture of innovation with design thinking.
 

maren-in-action
photo credit: Steffen Elberg, Jyske Bank (tweet)

 

What’s the mindset of design-minded intrapreneurs?

Maren is one of the community leaders from the Design at Business community which also includes organisations like Daimler, Fidelity and Nestle. They’ve done a great job at bringing people together to collect lessons learned and share experiences towards scaling design thinking, in particular in large, complex and global organisations.

maren-speaking-power-of-design

Photo by Ib Sørensen

 

Company culture was brought up several times in the presentation and Maren kindly shared a booklet on why mindsets matter. The booklet made the point that generic mindsets described in the context of design thinking fall short of what makes successful design-minded intrapreneurs in large businesses. And it came with the missing mindsets that have driven design culture at scale. These include:

  • Shamelessly human-centered
  • Confidently iterative
  • Courageously committed
  • Respectful instigator
  • Business savvy

Read more in the highly recommended mindsets booklet (free, no registration, PDF download)

Learning from SAP’s 14 years journey in Design Thinking

During Maren’s presentation, she also shared from SAP’s vast experience in design thinking. She honestly covered ups and downs including initial frustration that design thinking could not be practiced and later how design thinking by checkbox was not working.

In recent years SAP Design has made great progress including enhancing their understanding of innovation culture and specifically redesigned leadership as shown in this slide:

sap-redesigning-leadership

The point of putting experts front and center resonated well with me. Readers of the Edelman Trust Barometer will also remember that experts are among those considered most trustworthy inside an organisation, only surpassed by peers. According to Maren, there seem to be two sides of the same coin of “putting experts front & center”:

  • fostering trust at the customer side (“trusted advisor”)
  • a higher involvement at the employee side, because they (finally) see the impact of their work, and can directly influence it

Scrum and agile methods has also played a key role in developing design thinking further at SAP. Maren highlighted how scrum has helped distribute power in her project team, create a better overview and how it has created a sense of team empowerment.

Putting ideas into action: Focus on empathy

As a final part of her session, Maren did an empathy exercise. She focused on the ideal work environment and had participants work with an empathy map.

EmpathyMap

(click for large version)

This reminded me of the famous Harvard Business Review article titled Connect, Then Lead from 2013, which made the point that warmth trumps strength.

Maren took a slightly different, yet related path, with this key question to kick off the discussion:

How does the ideal work environment look and feel like?

The Design at Business community has a created the Work hard – Play hard: The creative space book (free, no registration, PDF download). The book covers creative spaces inside corporate environments and comes with some great examples, including J. Boye members Philips, Siemens and Swisscom.

To cite from the conclusion of the book – as it relates to how creative workspaces help scale design thinking:

…the creativity that is unleashed not only allows people to build better products
and make customers happier but also to build a better company, leading to a sustainable
cycle of innovation, learning, and growth of incredible potential

Let’s continue the conversation

You can find Maren’s complete slides here:

There are many good resources on design thinking. Whether you are just embarking on the journey inside your organisation or have been a practitioner for several years, feel free to share your story below.

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