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Innovation Minds sits down with Tamara Christensen, Founder of Idea Farm Co-op and Co-Founder of Mind Camp Southwest to explore how today’s Leaders can benefit from Design Thinking.

I met Tamara Christensen, as she was facilitating a design thinking class at a CPSI Creativity Conference. I recall my excitement of bringing a new tool and approach to problem solving and leadership back to my team and the process being embraced by my team members.

Design thinking had opened up a new way of both thinking and leading where all stakeholders are engaged in both problem solving and new product development.

Tamara describes design thinking as a flexible, strategic process for finding, framing and solving problems in a compassionate and caring way in an iterative process. The Key to Design Thinking: Humans are at the center of the equation. Whereas Creative Problem Solving or CPS is a foundational skill, with a process for problem solving, Design Thinking is more people and prototype driven.

How is Design Thinking Useful to Leaders?

Tamara points to her clients at Arizona State University who are on a mission to integrate design thinking principles into daily operations with empathy and understanding of leadership decisions through the lenses of all stakeholders involved (students, faculty, community).

While the artifacts of leaders might be different than architectural or interior designers, design thinking can help today’s leaders create new products and solutions where end users are at the heart of innovation:

The Basics of Design Thinking: Tools for Leaders

The Team at Idea Farm Co-op share tools and resources for today’s leaders to get started.

1) Create an Empathy Map Tamara and the team at Idea Farm Co-op like to begin work with clients by developing a Stakeholder Map that visualizes the ecosystem of humans touched by a product or service. Once these stakeholders are identified, it can be helpful to choose a few key people for whom to create an Empathy Map. Download this free collaborative tool at Idea Farm Co-op to help you see the world from a different perspective and gain deeper insight into your customers, employees and other impacted stakeholders. The result: Humans are at the front and center of both innovations and leadership decisions.

I recall Empathy Maps and Customer Personas on the desk of all Airbnb Staff while on tour of their innovative headquarters in Silicon Valley. It was refreshing to see the images, thoughts, feelings and concerns of both hosts and guests prominently displayed on Airbnb walls and desks. It felt like stakeholders were always in the room guiding Airbnb policy, new products and customer service.

2) User Research: An Iterative Process Do you visit with customers where they live and work? Do you have a regular and ongoing feedback tool in place for both customers and employees? At the rate of change in today’s user behaviors and technology, an annual customer satisfaction or employee satisfaction survey may leave you and your company in the dust.

The team at Innovation Minds has built a powerful feedback tool in its state of the art Innovation Management Portal to gauge what employees and customers care about on a year-round basis.

The use of in-person interviews, direct observations and focus groups as well as the use of online feedback tools are critical for today’s organizations to remain relevant and on point.

3) Framestorming: Here’s another free tool for Leaders from the team at Idea Farm Coop. This tool helps leaders to clarify both the real problem to be solved as well as test assumptions.

According to Tamara, the harsh reality is that sometimes leaders are certain they know what the problem to be solved is. On a deeper dive, the team often realizes that they are solving the wrong problem or the initial assumptions were incorrect. What this Framestorming tool does is prompt a meaningful conversation to ensure that your time and energy are focused on what matters most or what seems to be the root cause of current pain points.

How to Make Innovation Ordinary in Your Culture

Innovation Minds focuses on making Innovation part of the DNA of organizations. Through both technology and in-person events, we foster innovation becoming a part of the organization’s culture and every day way of thinking, doing and learning.

We asked Tamara for her Best Practices for Making Innovation a part of your organization’s DNA:

1) Model Innovation Behaviors: Tamara notes leaders perceive innovation as good, but it can often become nothing more than a buzzword. “Yes, we need innovation but we still run our meetings the same way and have the same project structures in place.” Leaders need to be able to take risks and make changes to model innovation.

One hot tip from Tamara is when training team members on creative or design thinking, select a real and relevant challenge not a simulation. Too often training sessions happen and there’s hoopla for the day but no real action. Show the real results of your team. Designers like to see their end product.

2) Celebrate Learnings that come from Failure:

We still have a very performance and business metric culture and we avoid the “F” word (Failure) at all costs. Tamara suggests reframing failure as learning that makes the organization better. In the prototyping process of design thinking, she calls prototypes “Nearlings”, where you get nearer and nearer to products and solutions through the natural iterative process of design thinking

Guess Whose Coming to Dinner?

In this series, we have been asking our Innovators whom they might invite to a Jeffersonian Dinner and what the topic might be?

Tamara would focus her Jeffersonian Dinner on “Innovation and Spirituality”. Perhaps one reason she is the co-founder of Mind-Camp Southwest coming up on March 26 – 29th in Oracle Arizona, where the focus is on the crossroads between innovation and personal development.

Just as our former President intended, the conversation would be lively and present different points of view touching on the impact of technology on our human connections. Spiritual leaders like Gandhi and Jesus Christ would weigh in with today’s innovators and thought leaders like Brene Brown and her own clients and collaborators who are making change happen.

By Rosemary.