Insights into Innovation & Knowledge Management

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Design Thinking for Knowledge Management!

December 8th, 2013 by Naguib · 2 Comments

Design thinking is a process of integrative thinking, a process rooted in the ability to examine and exploit opposing ideas and constraints to create solutions- Tim Brown, IDEO.

According to Brown, designthinking has 3 main attributes: it is

1.  human centered

2.  collaborative and participatory; and

3.  driven by experimentation

The process begins with a single query: “What is the question that we are trying to answer?”

Design thinking can be used to develop the knowledge management program in an organization, mostly because any KM system heavily deals with human. A human-centered knowledge management program will most likely to succeed. Many KM programs fail as it fails to understand the human need, their perspective of ‘change’, their inner motivation as well as their aspirations to grow. If a KM program can interpret those human behaviors and incorporate those in its program- it is sure to succeed.

Some of the following approach of design thinking can be adapted while developing the KM program:

i. Put people at the center of your problem solving- try solving the problem that people face instead of the problem that an organization might face. The solving peoples’ problem will eventually address the challenge organization is facing as a whole. People centric problem solving will allow a deeper understanding of the issues and bring answers to the questions necessary for any successful change management initiative. The KM program must touch the everyday challenge of the people, not the organization.

ii. Invite collaboration and participation with visual communications- Visual communications help to “document, reinforce, and focus group members on a shared project or idea and encourage participation.”

At Root Inc., a strategic execution enterprise serving Global 2000 companies, business consultants are paired with visual artists to study and synthesize critical challenges into Strategic Learning Map modules and Watercooler Culture Assessment sketches. These visual tools boost clients’ engagement in the problem-solving process and bring actionable strategies and solutions to life.

While developing the KM plans, engage staff visually- capture their ideas, conversation, stories and concern on walls/flipcharts/bulletin boards and invite others to view and add notes to it. At the end of the initial KM program development process, a visual display on the expectations from the staff as well as new ‘ways of doing things’ would bring better understanding from the staff.

iii. Embrace experimentation and failure- Everyone knows the story about the Post-it Note—a “failure” resulting in a blockbuster business and, with more than 4,000 unique products, one of the most well-known and beloved brands in the world.

While developing the KM program, the following 5-step design thinking process can be used:



1. Observe-  Try to solve a real problem that people/organization is facing. Identification of the problem is the key.  In design thinking observation takes center stage. Observation can distinguish what people really do as opposed to what you are told that they do.

Key: Get out of the cubicle and involving yourself in the process, product experience to understand what really is happening on the ground.

2. Understand- Undertake analysis of the problems that was identified during the 1st step of observation. Look for patterns and draw conclusion.

3. Ideate-  Generate as many ideas as possible- have multiple options. Different  perspectives and teamwork are crucial to develop a proper program. Have  many focus groups, brainstorming exercise with various departments/stakeholders.  Design thinking suggests that better answers happen when 5 people work on a problem for a day, than one person for five days.

4. Experiment- Develop a prototype- a sample solution for a specific problem and try using the solution to observe results.  Experimentation is crucial in design thinking as it helps the solution to grow and optimize the expectations to meet demand.

Unlike critical thinking, which is a process of analysis and is associated with the ‘breaking down’ of ideas, design thinking is a creative process based around the ‘building up’ of ideas. There are no judgments in design thinking.

In most of the KM programs, people just draft some ideas, follow a few best practices and suggest the solution. Using design thinking approach, the solutions will not be proposed before any prototype experimentation.

5. Execute- Once the prototype solution is tested, it is the time to implement full fledged program. One has to continuously observe the program implementation and its results/impact. If there is any discrepancy in the results with its underlying objectives, follow the same 5-step process to design the most suited KM programs for the organization and its people.

Tags: KM Tips

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sam Burrough // Jan 11, 2014 at 3:52 am

    An interesting article, KM seems like a great area to apply a design thinking mindset. There is one issue with the post above:
    “There are no judgments in design thinking”
    That’s simply not true. During brainstorming, judgment is deferred not removed. Design thinking talks about Ideation which has two parts - divergent brain storming, then convergent selection and evaluation.
    Design thinking is about harnessing creative and analytical thinking, not one or the other.

  • 2 Naguib // Jan 12, 2014 at 8:02 am

    I think the ‘no judgments in DT’ mainly talks about the ideation process where a person has to be more open and with less criticism. But to arrive in a solution, the team definitely need to argue and find the best answer.

    By the way, why not you share with us your experience with DT. A good story will enrich our readers.

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