How Design Thinking Can Make You a Better Leader

This is a summary of Tom Kelley's keynote speech at Constellation's Connected Enterprise 2012, Beyond Innovaton: Design Thinking. Register for this year's Connected Enterprise for more inspirational keynotes: REGISTER

We're all familiar with design thinking whether we know it or not. As citizens of  the 21st century, we have all touched, seen, purchased a product created via the design thinking process. Design thinking is a method of production that employs design principles to turn out products that are notoriously intuitive, attractive, functional, and ergonomic. Apple products, for example, are a product of design thinking. 

Great. So design thinking turns out amazingly functional products. But can the same principles responsible for great products also produce great leaders? 

According to Tom Kelley, co-founder of IDEO design consultancy, yes, they can.

Applying design thinking to leadership

Creativity, according to Kelley, is a trait essential to success in any industry. In 2012, a survey of chief executives revealed creativity to be the most important trait of leaders today--and everyone possess it. While everyone possesses creativity, only 25% of survey respondents feel they have reached their creative potential. This means the business world is sitting on a creativity reserve of 75% of the whole! Enter design thinking. Design thinking enables leaders to unlock creative confidence to become more effective leaders. Leaders with creative confidence possess, both, the ability to conjure new ideas and the courage to test those new ideas. When a leader unlocks their creative confidence, the effect is contagious--teams led by creatively confident leaders are empowered to be creatively confident themselves. The infectious nature of design thinking transforms teams into agile, open, and innovative groups - thereby making their leader a great one. 

Cultivating creative confidence in 3 easy steps

Creative confidence is the ability to conceive creative ideas coupled with the confidence to act upon those ideas. Here are Kelley's three steps to cultivating and instilling creative confidence. 

1. Always start with empathy. A classic design thinking practice. Approach every situation with empathy for context to ensure you're on the path to solving the right problem. Tom suggests you focus on analyzing the behavior of an individual rather than a group. 

2. Take time to daydream. Ever heard of the shower theory? Your most striking moments of genius can come to you when you're completely relaxed and disconnected. Tom keeps a whiteboard marker in his shower so he can capture ideas during these moments. He suggests taking five minutes every day to daydream. 

3. Defer judgement - of others and self. As a leader, hone your encouragement and constructive criticism skills. The last thing you want is to discourage your team from bringing you new ideas. If an idea seems half baked, "master the art of squinting" - squint to uncover the bones of a good concept, and allow your team to flesh out the rest of the idea. Encourage where encouragement is merited--you'll see more ideas. 

Now go forth. Create, ideate, encourage, and lead--innovatively. 

Watch Tom Kelley's full keynote address at Constellation's Connected Enterprise 2012

Tom Kelley - Connected Enterprise 2012 from Constellation Research on Vimeo.