Exchange to be the change – A recap of DTX New York City

Discussion Forum Conference Highlights Exchange to be the change – A recap of DTX New York City
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Design Network Manager

This article was written by: Laura Pickel, Alex ScullyMaren Christin Mueller & Ann-Sofie Ruf

In January 2016, 45 design thinkers gathered at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City for the second edition of DTX. The two-day event aimed to bring the two worlds of academia and practice together to share experiences and to jointly work on improving the ways Design Thinking is explored, managed, and taught.

From the world of practice, the group consisted of design leads, practitioners, and managers of innovation teams from various companies, such as Kaiser Permanente, Procter & Gamble, Siemens, IBM, FedEx, and SAP. From the world of academia were researchers from Boston University, Stanford, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, and many more.


Better together – Christi Zuber, Kaiser Permanente

DTX was started when Ingo Rauth (Chalmers University of Technology), Christi Zuber (Director Innovation Consultancy, Kaiser Permanente) and Jeanne Liedtka (Professor, Darden School at the University of Virginia) were visiting a conference and realized that a place was missing at which Design Thinking practitioners and scholars could learn from each other exchanging best practices as well as research insights. The first meeting was held in Oakland at Kaiser Permanente and co-organized by a team from Kaiser Permanente headed by Christi Zuber, Lisa Carlgren (Ph.D.) and Ingo Rauth (Ph.D.), two researchers from Chalmers University of Technology.

As a result, the DTX Community was established to serve as a platform to discuss the most relevant topics with regards to Design Thinking and its implementation with several organizational thought-leaders. DTX offers practitioners the opportunity to gather and build on insights from academia, and to share Design Thinking best practices. To best satisfy practitioners’ appetite for research, the agenda featured presentations, discussions, and workshops that presented approaches on how to build on academic findings and practically apply them in business settings. This combination fostered open mindedness and created an environment in which everyone’s ideas, successes, and challenges were shared and heard.

Based on the interest of the participants, the three key topics explored throughout the 2-days were “Scale, Change, and Measure”. The researchers and practitioners co-collaborated around these three critical elements of bringing Design Thinking into large-scale organizations.

There’s a need to share– Ingo Rauth, Chalmers University of Technology

In a “Pecha Kucha” session, researchers were given five minutes each to present useful frameworks to help practitioners  find structure for complex topics, such as defining capabilities for innovation. Practitioner representatives illustrated examples of how Design Thinking has been applied and integrated into the organizational structure of their companies.

For example, Christi Zuber identified some transitions companies experience when shifting “from novice to expert” design thinking implementation: Organizations novice in Design Thinking teach the method, while organizations that are advanced in applying Design Thinking teach their employees creative confidence. Similarly, the focus on skills and techniques shifts to a focus on mindsets and organizational dynamics.

In his study “Parts without a whole” Jan Schmiedgen (Visiting Research Fellow, Hasso Plattner Institute Potsdam) asked: “What are you Design Thinking about?” In his findings, he explores the areas of application for Design Thinking in organizations and he presented some of these during his five minute presentation.

Ingo Rauth, Lisa Carlgren and Maria Elmquist’s research broke down Design Thinking into its core elements, such as user focus, problem framing, visualization, experimentation, and diversity. His research proposes that if you consider each of these elements in terms of their mindsets/principles, practices, and techniques, the framework allows to strategize about design thinking in relation to organizational change.

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Another useful framework Bettina Maisch (Portfolio Manager, Industrial Design Thinking, Siemens Corporate Technology) pointed out to is the Customer Centricity Score, an indicator empirically developed by Swisscom, which measures the level of customer centricity within organizations.

Soon Yu (Muse – Global Vice President of Innovation, VF Corporation), presented the analogy of “moving the corporate elephant” which shows that a strategy template is not sufficient for driving change, but that you have to direct the leader, motivate the organization and shape the path (e.g. by placing small “crumbs” on the way that keep the elephant moving).

During a “Challenges and Hacking Session”, where practitioners took the lead in sharing content, participants were invited to present case studies about how they overcome challenges in customer projects. For example, both the IBM Design and SAP UX teams recently published tools for non-designers that are helping practitioners to apply user-centric methods to their development lifecycle, depending on the question they want to focus on. Several companies in attendance have their own versions of “Method Cards” – all very similar, but most are only shared internally. When we saw this at DTX, we asked ourselves: “What if we create a common one, something like an industry standard everyone can build on?”

What’s the next big thing?

Based on the shared research and the lived experiences of the practitioners who attended DTX, it was clear by the end of the 2-day session that the “next big thing” in the development of Design Thinking cultures and practices in business settings is to affect organizational change by applying Design Thinking sustainably and managing the change, rather than enforcing it. Ultimately, it’s about changing behaviors if companies want Design Thinking practices and mindsets to spread throughout the organization, and not just within silo-ed teams. Scaling Design Thinking as a mindset is more complex than scaling Design Thinking as an idea.

Whereas Design Thinking is often treated as a buzzword, DTX is dedicated to make Design Thinking more than a buzzword. The true value of DTX goes beyond networking, and lies in encouraging diverse professionals to exchange ups and downs, successes and failures, about the process of establishing Design Thinking at organizations – not determined by competition, but led by the principle of sharing and caring. It seems like there’s a new movement starting: Practitioners from large enterprises and researchers are connecting to drive the discussion of Design and Innovation further together. Something very similar has been happening in Europe for four years now, and SAP is in the middle of that discussion. And we recognize that we want more: we don’t only want to discuss things (that’s good!). We want to create real assets: books, frameworks, tools – whatever helps us live the change by design we want to see in our companies. We want to help build the capabilities we believe our companies need to succeed. Now and in the future. Let’s work on this together!

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