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Re-emergence of Design Thinking in a Mutated Form?

In speaking at the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s first Ministerial Forum on April 5th 2018, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that good Design thinking was a key reason for Singapore’s successful journey in the past, and it will be critical in the country's future transformation.  Since the 1960’s, the application of Design Thinking seems to have evolved and emerged in a mutated form.  In its early days, Design Thinking was widely used in the manufacture of products.  


“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Tim Brown, the CEO of Design and Consultancy firm, IDEO.


Disruptive forces like innovative technologies, creative business models and social diversities spawn many complex and unpredictable situations these days.  Business leaders are increasingly finding it challenging to satisfy the insatiable needs of diverse stakeholders.  Both rapid revolutionary and gradual evolutionary changes form the undercurrents of powerful dynamic tensions in business management.  We have come a very long way since "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black"  famously said by Henry Ford in 1909 with reference to his Model “T” automobile.  Obviously, we are now living in a totally different world  from the 1900’s.  The business world of today has progressed exponentially from that of mass production, mass customization to one that creates an individualized experience.  Design Thinking is a methodology tool for creating a positive individual experience and not just creating a tangible product.  The framework advocated by Capelle is known as ADEPT which stands for:

  • Ask in order to develop empathy for our customer
  • Define the design challenge based on customer insights
  • Explore options for meeting customer needs
  • Prototype a new experience, product or service
  • Test our prototypes to learn from our customers’ feedback


(click on image to enlarge) 


However, effective implementation of Design Thinking has to consider the following implications:

  • Costs: Creating unique Individual Experience often requires time, resources and technology to make it happen.  Careful evaluation is needed to ensure that it is weighed against costs involved.  
  • Technology: Investment in technology as an enabler can be expensive both in terms of upfront as well as system maintenance.
  • Adaptability and Empowerment: For the service industry which calls for human judgement and intensive face-to-face customer interaction,   recruiting and training staff members could be an insurmountable challenge.
  • Dynamism and Scalability: In a disruptive world, situation variables tend to change both in terms of magnitude and gravity.  Justification of change projects often has to be based on shorter payback period.
  • Heartware and culture support:  Many innovative change initiatives fail because of ineffective organizational development efforts.  Once an innovative human-centric solution is developed, changing and building people’s mindset and competencies could be a hinder force that needs to be overcome.