Design Thinking is currently enjoying a surge in popularity and not without good reason. Processes for creation and innovation are worth their salt and are indeed integral to Digital Transformation. Having said that, one is not a substitute for the other. Here is my take on Design Thinking and where it fits with Digital Transformation.

Business School must come before Design School.

In my opinion, most enter the room of Design Thinking assuming they’re bringing the right diagnosed challenge to the table to be fixed.

In most circumstances, innovating around a new product or service is not addressing the base challenges an organisation faces. It’s a distraction, an artistic solution to what is not necessarily the business problem. This is where Digital Transformation differs.

I believe that strategic Leadership needs to precede and inform the business teams and it’s almost always lacking. Direction is usually historically based rather than future focused. It’s guided by gut rather than empirical evidence. When it comes to the principles of Digital Transformation, however, I believe that

Strategy is where we create competitive advantage
People and a culture of innovation sustains it
Technology and communications are the means by which it is delivered.

Most organisations assume their current business model is fit for the digital age, that they can create a lofty vision and call it a strategy. They feel no need to do deep thinking in a structured, measured way to define the actual business challenge. Those participating in Design Thinking rarely have the opportunity to redirect the strategic direction of the business. Moreover the leadership of an organisation often mistake trends like Design Thinking and Agile development as strategy planning processes. They are not.

Diagnosis must precede design.

An organisation must first define where the opportunity to create competitive advantage lies before it innovates. Where is the white space? Is there too much competition? Can we displace a competitor? Are there enough customers? Do we have enough leadership resource to deliver? Do we have the capability to create a new market? These questions can and must be answered first using a data driven transformation framework.

In most successful digital businesses that I have encountered, they have simply assumed that technology will provide the right solution. Technology doesn’t drive or define the conversation. “You think it, and we’ll make it” is the call of the day. The missing element is the thinking – Leadership in the digital age.