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Executive Education

Manuel Sosa
Manuel Sosa

The Power of Integrating Design and Business

Programme Director of the Innovation by Design programme

September 2016

Programme Director Manuel Sosa on the concept behind INSEAD’s new Innovation by Design programme.

How do you define design and design thinking?

Design is much more than design thinking. It’s a discipline that uncovers explicit and latent customer needs, then generates and visualises solutions to address them. What’s more, it does so in an iterative way, finding out what’s not only novel, but also desirable, useful, (technically) feasible, and (economically) viable.

So I see design thinking as a problem-solving approach inspired by these methods. And note that some of those methods are drawn from research in engineering design, creativity management and lean startup practice.

Our new programme teaches participants how to integrate design and business disciplines. Of course, we teach design thinking methods, but we also teach how to work with designers and how to prepare an organisation to exploit the value that design can bring them.

What do organisations stand to gain from making design a priority when it comes to strategy?

Design allows organisations to explore ideal future states, as well as generate options that they can strategise around. It does this by keeping the end user or the customer in mind, first and foremost.

On the one hand, thinking like a designer helps uncover what truly matters to customers and prospects. At the same time, acting like a designer gives insights into translating such insights into real possibilities by visualising what products or services those customers want and need.

Strategy is all about developing a vision for your organisation. So an approach like design thinking can help business leaders develop and expand their vision.

What are the competitive advantages to be gained from design?

Design allows organisations to uncover and create sources of differentiation. That’s a valuable competitive advantage, because it means you’re able to truly innovate and set trends, rather than just imitate and be a follower.

How can design thinking help create offerings that connect and resonate with customers?

In many ways, design thinking is an outward looking process. To build empathy with users, a design-centric organisation empowers employees to observe behaviour and draw conclusions about what their customers want and need.

At the same time, it is an inward looking process. Organisations that leverage it will have strategic conversations that address how a business decision or market trajectory will positively influence users’ experiences. This involves an alternative way of looking at their core values and technical capabilities.

By aligning these processes, organisations can create authentic and meaningful offerings that resonate with customers.

Why do firms fail to harness the power of design? What can we do about it?

Often, organisations don’t understand what design can bring to the table. Design is seen more as an afterthought – something that’s applied to make a product more beautiful, instead of an integral discipline that must be fully integrated and valued in the firm.

However, every established enterprise that has moved from products to services, from hardware to software, or from physical to digital products must increasingly focus on user experience. Any organisation that plans to globalise its business must rethink their processes to adjust to different cultural contexts. And every organisation that chooses to compete on innovation rather than efficiency must be able to define problems creatively and experiment its way to solutions.

To keep up, traditional firms need to recognise that they need to transform themselves, adapting their processes, skills sets, and culture to make design a cornerstone of their creative organisation.