Design thinking

“We will soon see a plethora of jobs that currently do not exist,” I told millennial employees of Asia Select Inc, a human capital company, quoting one of the predictions of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the future of jobs.

These are jobs that robots cannot perform, such as garbage designers, those that find creative ways to turn the by-products of the manufacturing process into high-quality materials; or as a nostalgist, an interior designer specializing in recreating memories for retired people. Or how about as a rewilder, one who undoes environmental damage to the countryside caused by people, factories, cars, and intensive one crop farming? The list goes on— from fashion designer to wearable technology therapist.

The driver for this prognostication is the rapid progression of artificial intelligence and advances in robotics.
According to WEF, there is a strong possibility that in as few as 10 to 15 years, almost half of the occupations we know of today will be replaced by automation. Already, these technologies are ubiquitous – from self-driving cars and drones to chatbots, virtual assistants and avatars that translate.

Therefore, we will witness the rise of design jobs that are defined by creative and social intelligence, rather than analytical skills. These skill sets require synthesis, empathy, problem framing, creative problem solving, negotiation and persuasion.

But because of the self-same accelerating impact of technology on business, competition and employment, not only does design thinking play an important role in one’s future employability, but also in making the collective members of an organization more creative and innovative.

Consider what happened to Xerox. As recounted by business writer Bennett Voyles, “the American photocopy pioneer had refined an ‘x-y position indicator’ in the 1970s, but failed to turn it into a profitable idea, concentrating instead on its hit photocopiers. In the end, the company that profited from Xerox’s work was Apple Computer; Steve Jobs took the concept for the personal computer mouse he saw demonstrated at Xerox PARC, the now legendary research lab in Palo Alto, California, and challenged a small local design firm, Hovey-Kelley Design, to develop a version that would be cheaper and more reliable – and they did.”

“A decade later, one of the founders of the design firm, David M. Kelley, came up with an explanation of why Xerox and many other companies overlooked such seemingly obvious opportunities: they didn’t think like designers.”

This is true among many professionals who tackle organizational problems based on analytical processes.
Instead of employing analysis, design thinking uses synthesis – by thinking about different constraints at the same time to match people’s needs, technically feasibility and viability of a business solution. In other words, design thinking converts need into demand.

Design thinking for business consists of four key elements.

Empathize. Observe the customer’s needs and motivations instead of generating ideas that serve an individual’s or group’s interest. Keeping the customer in mind is the key.

Define the problem. Identify and define the right problem to form solutions around. Try to represent in a visual way the problem or scenario you need solutions developed around.

Create and consider many options for the newly defined problem. Come up with a variety of solutions, without judging which ones are good or bad. Multiple perspectives and teamwork are important.

Refine selected options. Once you have a few good options, they need to be nurtured and embraced by the group. Make prototype models of the most promising possibilities.

Pick the winner, execute. This is achieved by committing resources to achieve the early objectives.

Creative leaders should infuse design thinking into every level of an organization‚ product‚ or service to drive new solutions that meet customer demands or solve customer problems.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at The author is a senior executive in the information and communications technology sector. He is the chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. He is also Adjunct Faculty of the Asian Institute of Management.