How Design Thinking and Resilience impact Organisational Transformations

How Design Thinking and Resilience impact Organisational Transformations

Organisational Success Podcast

Anything that gives an organisation the edge during a transformation, particularly a digital transformation is to be welcomed. In this podcast Melanie Marshall and David look at some recent research about the links between design thinking, organisational resilience and transformation. 


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Podcasts in this digital transformation series

  1. What is digital transformation? 
  2. The trust for transformation model 
  3. Success factors for digital transformation
  4. The experience of a transformation consultant working with digital transformations in organisations
  5. Transformational Leadership, Uncertainty and Digital Transformation
  6. Design Thinking and Company Resilience Support Organisations During Transformations – This podcast
  7. A Roadmap for Facilitating Successful Digital Transformation

Melanie Marshall

Melanie is a transformation and organisational change consultant and author of the book Trust: The foundation for Healthy Organisations and Teams. Melanie is based in Australia and spent 10 years in the Royal Australian Airforce and has a degree in Psychology from the University of Canberra. She co-hosts this mini series of seven podcasts with David.

Design Thinking and Transformation


DT 6 Design Thinking and Company Resilience Support Organisations During Transformations

[00:00:00] David: Welcome back, and as part of this series, I’m here with Melanie Marshall. And we’re looking at, issues around digital transformation, and we’ve decided to have a look at some individual research briefings. And as I’ve mentioned in previous podcasts, a research briefing is kind of a synopsis of a paper, but includes other papers as well and we kind of bring them together into something that’s useful. In this briefing, we’re looking at a research briefing that’s titled ” design thinking and company resilience, supports organisations during transformation”, and that’s based on a paper and I’ll put the full reference in the notes called ” transformation and design thinking, perspectives on sustainable change, company resilience and democratic leadership in SMEs. It’s another long one, I’ve missed that bit off. So, let’s just do a quick overview of what the paper was saying. So the paperwork is a 20 22 paper. So, it’s a reasonably new from when we recorded those, it was looking [00:01:00] at the impact of digitalisation, sustainability, and other leadership style, democratic leadership, and design on company resilience. And what the research found was that all four factors, that’s digitisation, sustainability, democratic leadership, and design thinking have an impact and a smaller organisations ability to facilitate change, has an impact. These business transformations tend to be motivated by a need for innovative ideas and methods to survive market changes, a need to reorganise the organisation’s infrastructure when leadership changes from one generation to the next, with different mindsets and skills and a need to enhance sustainability practices to preserve the environment. So what are your thoughts about this one, Melanie? 

[00:01:44] Melanie: Oh, I like this briefing. It really sings to me because any time you’ve got something like design thinking that pops up, it’s the new sexy as far as I’m concerned. And it’s because it really is, you know, digitalisation, we covered that in a [00:02:00] previous podcast, sustainability, I think people get it in the sense that what we do today has to last and have a good positive impact, that is something that we can all stick with and work with, and then the democratic leadership, I think we’ll talk a little bit about that one, a bit more, but certainly design thinking is about disrupting outdated work practices and co-designing more effective ones, and that notion of positive disruption is something that it takes a more radical open approach, it really leverages that sense and that need for an honest evaluation of what the status quo, and it also tends to cultivate more unconventional and futuristic sort of strategies that anticipate those potential challenges that might come over time. So hence why it’s so useful to think in terms of not only what are the problems that we’re trying to solve now, but also what are the potential future problems with the trends that we’re saying, with the changing environment that we’ve got, with some of the [00:03:00]uncertainty, how can we anticipate those sorts of things? And looking at things from multiple lenses across multiple disciplines, and then coming back to that adaptive leadership that is open and able to change, not just at the top, but at all levels in the organisation. I think that ability to be adaptive is really key. So, yeah, so for me, I really liked this brief because it really sort of pulled it together nicely around the types of things that you want to be thinking about in order to transform, because we’ve already covered the fact that transformation is it is uncertain. It is something that you haven’t have yet to achieve. That needs to be, you got to shake up what you’re doing now to get… 

[00:03:42] David: Yeah, which design thinking allows.. I kind of liked that idea of, so one of the things that a number of studies have found is that, there’s quite a link between design thinking and resilience and largely that’s because it kind of enables a, or it produces a deeper [00:04:00] level of exploration of solutions, you know, rather than what tends to happen in organisations is, you know, the first idea that comes out and the first solution is the one that wins and they all go with, whereas design thinking, you kind of explore the range of solutions that you’ve got, and then you start kind of feeling your way forward with a series of iterations. And also one of the other concerns of design thinking is kind of the end user, the customer as it were and what their experience is as we’re going through these iterations, and it’s quite closely connected to the agile project management movement, which is about a series of sprints iterations test to get on the end user, seeing what’s happening, getting the feedback and then going again, just thinking if that as a process for digital transformation, I think is really useful. 

[00:04:48] Melanie: Hm Hm. And design thinking incorporates systems thinking because you’re forcing yourself to look at multiple possibilities, but also multiple dependencies and [00:05:00]multiple integration points across an end to end service. So when you’re thinking about design, you’re not thinking about, you know, what is the product you’re actually thinking about? What’s the product, what’s the service? How are people going to experience this? How are employees going to deliver this? And how will it provide value? Not just now, but in future, and I think that’s a really important way to look at transformation because if you’re not prepared to do that type of thinking, well, then don’t call it a transformation project or program because it’s probably just an upgrade to what you already have. 

[00:05:36] David: Yeah. So it’s more of an iteration, a single iteration rather than a series of iterations that then leads to some form of like true transformation and, yeah, and I think that’s really important. I also, like, I think one of the things that came out of this for me was this idea about how people are using what you’re developing, whether it’s a product or a service, and quite [00:06:00]often the users are using it in a different way than you in…

[00:06:03] Melanie: Usually they have different use cases, have got better I do say they quite often stretch it, you know, like you think that it will be for this, but then all of a sudden it’s also being used for this and this. And yeah, it can be really fascinating when you give things to the hands of people.

[00:06:18] David: Yeah, and that becomes transformational. So yeah, probably one of the more famous ones is, I don’t know whether you know about this, about slack, you know, the communication program, slack. Well, that was actually created by a games designer because he needed to be able to communicate with team of programmers and get them to communicate with each other. So he developed that, the game didn’t go anywhere and then suddenly realised that other people were asking for his, what was the prototype that became slack, it now is a multi-billion dollar product. And that’s kind of, it wasn’t intended to be a design thinking iteration. When you actually look at the way that Slack’s developed over the years from the very early days to now, it is actually pretty, as I say, even [00:07:00] though it didn’t start out like this, it’s developed pretty closely to the whole idea of design thinking. I do think that organisations thinking about transformations within their organisations will be very wise to start considering this…

[00:07:14] Melanie: Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be hard. It is really an iterative approach. One thing, and I know this briefing also talks about democrats leadership. The other thing that this briefing really covered off on was the importance of continuously updating leadership styles. So, you may have somebody in the team who is very, very good at being able to do that iterative thinking. You may have somebody else in the team who would be better to be leading on point around. Well, how are these sorts of things going to be sustainable? Because you really have to have a balanced view as well. You don’t want to be going so hell bent down the design thinking path that what you develop isn’t actually sensical. It’s not something that it’s going to be able to be sustainable, or it could be so left [00:08:00] of field that the people don’t want to use it, and it was just a good internal idea at the time that seemed to be lots of fun. So I think, the notion of being able to update your leadership style, but also you mentioned earlier that, there are transformational leaders also recognise when there’s an element in them that is missing, and then there will then defer to other people within the team as part of it where you’re going to be, you’re going to be a great lead for this. So that notion of democracy as well, amongst teams that are going through transformation, I think is also really important because means that different people can play to their strengths. 

[00:08:36] David: And I think it’s worth a note here about democratic leadership. So the whole idea of democratic leadership is to kind of get away from that kind of top down process of leadership and that the kinds of structures that exist in a lot of organisations and it’s closely aligned to shared leadership. And it really is about employing or valuing employees contributions during decision-making processes, [00:09:00] but also a more democratic feedback process that includes the end user, the customer and the employees, and quite often quite a lot of models of either just do one or the other there, they get the feedback from the customers and don’t listen to the employees or they are listening to the employees, not listening to the customers and democratic leadership is about, both and it’s about, I suppose, what they’re interested in is a kind of higher employee engagement in decision-making, knowledge sharing, collaboration, and really open communication between and that’s kind of the focus of democratic leaders, which when you think about it from a digital transformation point and the point that we made in the last podcast about digital transformation to a certain degree are kind of leaps in the dark, because you’re not quite sure where you’re going and you’re certainly not quite sure where the technology’s going to take you, you know, the mixture between design thinking, this iterative process, listening and getting feedback and [00:10:00]democratic leadership, you can start to see where the synergies are.

[00:10:03] Melanie: The other thing that this briefing mentioned was leadership 4.0 and industry 4.0. And at first I’m like, oh gosh, here we go, here’s another label far out, like how many more do we need? But you know, when I read a little bit further up, understood okay, 4.0 is that where those rapid changes in AI and automation transform the way that organisations function. So I thought that was a really useful definition for me because no doubt that’s going to be another label that gets starts getting bandied about out in the world and I’m going to be scratching my head going, oh, okay, I need to look up a dictionary to figure out what that one is again, because yeah, but it was good to have.

[00:10:44] David: Yeah. So industry 4.0 really is about increasing things like automation and artificial intelligence and not just employing artificial intelligence to make decisions and do things, but where artificial intelligence and machines [00:11:00] robotics and things are also designing things, and so it’s both levels and includes a whole series of things like the internet of things, where everything’s connected and we’ve got big data, we’ve got the ability to be able to scrape huge amounts of data and those kinds of things, which has brought about a completely new way of thinking about industry. Yeah. 

[00:11:20] Melanie: And as long as we can make meaning of the data and as long as those technologies are integrated and they’re functional, I’m all for it.

[00:11:29] David: Yes. Yep. Brilliant. Okay. Thanks Melanie. So, this podcast was based on our research briefing, which is in titled ” Design thinking and company resilience, supports organisations during transformations and particularly digital transformation”. And that’s based on a paper called “transformation and design thinking, perspectives on sustainable change, company resilience and democratic leadership in SMEs, and that was in the Journal leadership education [00:12:00]personality and interdiscipline journal from this year 2022. 

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page