StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article | Design Thinking | Design Thinking: A Guide to Creative Problem Solving for Everyone

Design Thinking: A Guide to Creative Problem Solving for Everyone

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article | Design Thinking | Design Thinking: A Guide to Creative Problem Solving for EveryoneApplication of design thinking to help solve myriad problems that are not typically associated with design is illuminated in a new book through vignettes drawn from such diverse realms as politics and society, business, health and science, law, and writing. Design Thinking: A Guide to Creative Problem Solving for Everyone seeks to assist in addressing a full spectrum of challenges from the most vexing to the everyday—whether you work in a design field or not. It renders accessible the creative problem-solving abilities that we all possess by providing a dynamic framework and practical tools for thinking imaginatively and critically. Every aspect of design thinking is explained and analyzed together with insights on navigating through the process in Part 1 of the book. The following three vignettes are excerpted from the second part, which focuses on how design thinking is applied to real-life challenges.

1. Business

Design thinking has been recognized as an important means to innovate in the context of developing new products and technologies. But design thinking can also be applied to other business-related challenges such as devising entrepreneurial practice models, expanding professional services, operations, and even setting fees or pricing plans.

There are many cases revealing the value and power of design thinking in the corporate world that have been widely published but are primarily focused on teams—especially managers collaborating with designers. Indeed, many business school curricula incorporate elective and required courses (in addition to specialized tracks) on design thinking. The sample vignettes below, however, show how individuals apply design thinking to a very broad range of problems at varying scales.

Implementing a strategic technology plan

One of the things I so enjoy about my work is that whatever the particular challenge or business problem is, I always take a design approach to developing a solution. One of the most important aspects of that approach is that it enables me to maintain a focus on the “big picture,” or overall vision, even as I’m grappling with the weedy details. When talking to other business owners and entrepreneurs, a common refrain is feeling overwhelmed by all the logistical/management details that have to be attended to, and that can suck the life out of your dream. I certainly have my bad days like everyone else, but having a vision and a high tolerance for ambiguity (which is the same as having a high tolerance for risk) are enormously helpful to me. It puts the tedious details of running a business into a larger context and gives those activities meaning. –Michael Tardif

Michael Tardif has over twenty years of experience applying information technologies to the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings. He currently leads Building Informatics Group based in North Bethesda, MD.

Strategic plan as jigsaw puzzle

Michael had been asked to develop a strategic technology plan to implement Building Information Modeling software in a construction company—complete with itemized tasks and schedule milestones—and then “drive” implementation of the plan. After studying business operations for three months, he realized that rolling out a strategic plan—executing a linear sequence of steps—would fail because it would be so highly invasive and disruptive to existing business operations. Instead, Michael proposed a vision (or design concept)—a set of measurable goals for the company to achieve—and then set out to achieve those goals opportunistically, in a non-linear fashion, without working out the specifics of execution in advance.

To accomplish this daunting undertaking, Michael invented a brilliant metaphor: “strategic plan as a jigsaw puzzle.” Michael sought opportunities on different projects to implement portions of the strategic plan; in other words (invoking the metaphor) putting puzzle pieces into place wherever he could. The process was messy and non-linear. Michael and the staff had to synthesize information as it became available, and make adjustments to the “design solution” while maintaining the vision. But the vision always remained clear, and the “complete picture” of the strategic plan emerged over time. This was fundamentally a design thinking process.

When the process began, Michael knew conceptually what the end result should look like, but didn’t quite know how they would get there. If they had waited to have all the detailed elements in place before starting, they would have never started. And they would have failed, because the details would have been wrong, and would have diverted attention from the overall vision they were trying to achieve.

The puzzle metaphor proved more useful than Michael could have dared to hope for. Conversations about the strategic plan revolved around the question, “What piece of the puzzle is that?” Most importantly, at any point in time, no one cared that the picture was incomplete; staff understood that they were moving toward a complete picture, and understood how they were getting there. Michael could have called the strategic planning a design process instead of a jigsaw puzzle, but that metaphor would have been lost on anyone other than architects.

2. Politics and Society

Design thinking can be a critical tool for addressing leadership challenges. Design thinking promotes visualization of the big picture, reframing of perspectives, creation of innovative solutions to problems, attention to detail, and management and reconciliation of diverse and complex interests and relationships. Cultivating an attitude to authentically listen to insights from others as well successfully sharing one’s own vision may not always be easy but can be very effective as illustrated below.

Expanding the politics of civic engagement

A good leader uses the design process as a model that allows everyone to participate and thus improves and expands the politics of civic engagement.
The most creative and productive way [to apply design thinking] is to engage people—the [stakeholders]—in the process. –Richard Swett (from Leadership by Design by Richard N. Swett with Colleen M. Thornton).

Richard N. Swett was elected to the US Congress and served as the US Ambassador to Denmark.

Dick underscores a fundamental aspect of design thinking that leads to successful resolution of problems or great projects that are rich in meaning: be inclusive. The magic occurs when the input is creatively interpreted, and stakeholders see or are explicitly shown how their ideas influenced the outcome. The stakeholders are then more likely to be fully invested in that outcome, which is so important for success. This creative interpretation may reveal windows of opportunity not previously contemplated, and may thereby provide extraordinary solutions that are also responsive to stakeholder requirements and preferences.

A leader who applies design thinking is someone who has a vision, understands where he or she is going to direct the process, but is not confined by the boundaries or preconceptions of what a solution could be. The design thinking method will allow—even encourage—everyone who is participating in formulating the solution to make their contributions, and the solution will then emerge. It could be a political, business, or some other organizational context where there is a need for leadership, but also there is the likely benefit of participation. The end result is not clearly defined; rather, engagement with the whole process takes the team to a solution.

A caveat worth noting is that this type of leadership requires some assertiveness and presence; a design-by-committee environment can be frightening if the leader does not have the confidence to control the dialogue in that environment.

Dick recommends working toward the best solution for all the stakeholders, perhaps promoting a shared vision of project objectives from the outset. If design thinking is utilized in its truest, purist sense, the end result can sometimes be a surprise. But as long as it is a better surprise than what everybody had in mind, then that’s okay!

Writing and passing the Congressional Accountability Act

Dick co-authored the Congressional Accountability Act, landmark legislation that requires Congress to abide by the same laws it passes for the rest of the country. I asked Dick how he was able to harness inclusive participation in order to get this landmark legislation passed.

The typical process in Congress involved first writing a bill, then seeking cosponsors, and finally the bill goes to the floor of the House of Representatives where people try to pin amendments to it in order to change what they don’t like. Dick suggested, “Why don’t we do this like we’re designing a building: let’s go around with a blank piece of paper to all the different groups that are interested in the accountability, and let’s ask them to tell us how to design this, and we will interpret, integrate, and synthesize their different designs. We will come up with an amalgam of the best of what they have told us.”

Members are not all going to do this in the same room at the same time. The idea was so totally foreign to them that no one really understood what was going on—so much so that Norm Ornstein at one point said, “Wait a minute, you guys are letting everybody say what they think your legislation should be, and then you’re going to come back to them with three different schemes to review, then they’ll pick the one that they like the best?!”

Dick responded, “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.” Ornstein said that this is fascinating because no one has ever taken this approach in this body before.

It took three and a half years to complete the legislation; Dick and his coauthors had to threaten everybody because they weren’t moving the bill to the floor for a vote. Congressional members didn’t want to be made accountable because they had this great House rules system where they could do whatever they pleased—their behavior never had to be connected to the laws that were passed for the rest of the country. Dick and others finally forced the vote; they won 97-3 in the Senate and something like 433-3 in the House. It passed by an overwhelming margin because everyone was participating and yet Dick and his coauthors were still able to give this direction and to maintain a sense of control over what they were ultimately trying to achieve. It was a captivating exercise.

Part of the creativity lies in how Dick was able to interpret the input in a way that was meaningful and effective while everyone felt as though they were invested in its content.

3. Law

Alternatives and the big idea

The notion of alternatives is an extremely valuable part of design thinking.
Stepping back and always asking yourself what’s the big idea—what is the organizing principle to what you’re doing—is a key part of design thinking. –Jay Wickersham

Jay Wickersham is principal of the Cambridge, Massachusetts law firm Noble, Wickersham & Heart LLP. Jay holds both law and architecture degrees from Harvard.

There are several ways that design training has been helpful to Jay. One is the synthesizing of different kinds of information from a whole host of different sources. Design thinking is very powerful in training you to keep looking more broadly; to keep looking beyond the borders of what one might think is the problem. Draw in information and knowledge from all kinds of different sources. In that sense, design training is quite the opposite of legal training. In legal training, you are trained to screen things out, to keep narrowing down, and to make a decision that turns on one or two key legal points, so you can dismiss everything else as irrelevant.

In contrast, design thinking stipulates that you look as broadly as possible, and then find ways to integrate the information you’ve gathered. Related to that point, in architecture you come to respect the perspective and expertise of others. Architects have a unique responsibility to coordinate vast amounts of multidisciplinary input: on any project of modest scale architects might have from ten to thirty or more consultants in other disciplines, any one of whom knows more about their part of the project than the architect does.

And the same thing is true when it comes to the contractor. Any one of those subcontractors and suppliers know more about their particular piece of the building than the architect. So the architect’s challenge is to extract that expertise, weigh it, and figure out how to coordinate that particular piece of information with all the other pieces of information.

An extremely valuable part of design thinking that Jay has learned is the notion of alternatives. Do not fall in love with your idea. You need to generate five more. Jay is always trying to give his clients alternatives, whether it’s figuring out how to resolve a dispute, structuring contracts on a complicated international project, or thinking about an ownership transition. List the pros and cons of each of the alternatives or approaches. Jay, of course, has a sense of which he thinks is favorable, but this should also be a discussion with the client.

If there are several options, the final solution, scheme, or alternative usually borrows elements from each one. Jay states that, in his law firm, they don’t pretend to have the “right” answer. Whenever possible, they present alternative approaches as a way of eliciting the discussion, which usually results in coming up with an answer that will be probably better than any of the alternatives. And it will get people on board to support it.

Jay believes that if you give people the sense of different options, they don’t feel like they’re being railroaded into doing just one thing. They are much more receptive to having an open conversation about the pros and cons. If you feel strongly about one option, it is often easier to convince somebody if you’ve been able to show why one approach is not as strong as another.

Here is another way that design thinking is so important to Jay: the way in which the process is iterative. This is central to design thinking. The process starts at the conceptual level—and this applies to the alternatives as well—but keeps narrowing in. When Jay is putting together contracts or some legal agreement, he’ll make the analogy that they don’t want to jump into construction documents before they’ve done the concept design—and the client is asking him to move right into construction documents. The concept design must be completed first, then fleshed-out in the next phase, and then they can move into the actual agreement.

There’s a real risk, particularly when someone has an expertise (i.e., a lawyer), that a client assumes you’re going to move directly into the final product. In design thinking you start conceptually and then flesh it out, develop more detail, and then, as you move into a larger scale, you are forced to tackle a whole new set of issues. Note that always, through all iterations and scales, you must try to maintain a kind of integrity to the design or big idea. That’s a wonderful model for a process and end result.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article | Design Thinking | Design Thinking: A Guide to Creative Problem Solving for EveryoneAndrew Pressman, FAIA, an architect and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, leads his own award-winning architectural firm in Washington, DC. He has written numerous critically acclaimed books and articles, and he holds a Master’s degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

6 Characteristics of Successful Law Firms

StrategyDriven Entrepreneurship Article | Successful Business | 6 Characteristics of Successful Law FirmsWhat does it take for a law firm to be successful? Unfortunately, there is no single best way to answer this question. Success can be relative, and it can be pursued in several ways. That said, keep on reading the rest of this post and we’ll quickly list down some of the characteristics that are common in successful law firms.

1. They Provide Timely Services

The timeliness of the delivery of legal services is one of the most important things that will have an impact on the satisfaction of clients. This makes it important for firms to make sure that they can deliver the required outcomes as scheduled. To add, it will also help to use legal billing software to make sure that the invoices will be sent on time.

2. They Embrace Technology

Successful law firms do not hesitate to use technology for their benefit. They consider it as a necessity and not as a luxury. They train their people to embrace innovation instead of resisting them and sticking to conventional methods. A good example of using technology in a firm would be through using software like Rocket Matter, which can improve efficiency and productivity, such as for scheduling and billing.

3. They Put an Emphasis on Diversity

In one article published on the website of Thomson Reuters, it has been noted that diversity will be one of the key differentiators that can affect the success of law firms in the next five decades. This calls for the need to value gender equality in the workplace. Discrimination based on race will also have no place in the firm. In fact, a firm with women and minorities in their roster of lawyers will have a huge advantage in positioning their company.

4. They are Recognized in the Community

One of the easiest ways to measure the success of a law firm would be through how much it is recognized in the community. With this, it is also important for firms to do something that is meaningful for the community, such as having pro bono cases to help those who are unable to access high-quality legal services.

5. They Manage Talent Exceptionally

Like in other businesses, the people are the most important assets of a law firm, making it necessary to have robust talent management practices in place. Every client expects to be working with only top-notch people, so the firm should have the talent to meet these expectations. To add, the law firm must have an effective strategy in attracting and retaining top talent to be competitive.

6. They are the Best Place to Work

At the end of the day, the most important characteristic of successful law firms is that they gain a reputation as the best place to work. This way, they attract the best people to provide exceptional legal service. This is related to what has been mentioned above since this is critical in talent retention.

The success of a law firm is not an easy feat, especially considering how tough the competition is. However, with the things that have been mentioned above, it will be easier for providers of legal services to stand out and improve their bottom line.

StrategyDriven Marketing and Sales Article | Business Signs | Let The Sign Talk For You!

Let The Sign Talk For You!

StrategyDriven Marketing and Sales Article | Business Signs | Let The Sign Talk For You!A sign has many essential roles in any businesses. It doesn’t merely symbolize an image your company portrays. It illustrates something that’s not as easy as how church signs depict, where angels are typically good, while demons are always the opposite.

Signs can do more than what you think, depending on how ingenious they are. In a holistic view, signs can make a connection to whoever will take a look at them, similarly to what you feel when eyeing a masterpiece.

Generally, signs stimulate communication. In business, they are regarded to convey a message to a specific group, typically for the purpose of advocating or marketing. Let me give you some examples of how a sign can do the talking for you.

Escorts customers

Signs can act like a google map, which would direct people, who search your store, to where your business at; as well as recommend your shop/store to any person who will pass by. In brief, signs would tell the locations of your store to the clients for you.

Let’s say; you’re a customer. When your phone is out of battery, and you don’t know where a particular store is, the signs could serve as guideposts that could escort the way for you to see where a store is. It’s a way that’s traditionally old, yet still outstanding as gold.

Promotes your store

Signs can differentiate your business from other companies. How? Make sure that your signs would reinforce a point of difference; something that would beautifully standout from others and something that can easily visually and briefly promote whatever you want to deliver to your customers, similar to a sales person with a pleasing personality.

Size, design, structure, and design are the elements that you need to consider to make your signs exceptionally captivating. Signs should compliment on its environment, which could make it a head-turner.

There are many things to consider. For instance, a sign shouldn’t be so dark if it’s in a dark area, make it bright instead. Its font size shouldn’t be so small, make sure that it’s comprehensible even in the distance.

Don’t forget the readability of your message. Signs are there to convey specific messages, hence make sure that you can conclusively show the message you want to express. Check the font styles, size, elevation, color and other factors that can affect the viewers’ comprehension.

Entertains orders and payments

Not only for visual and promotional functions, but signs also give attention to your customers through directing them to your merchandises, as well as giving them information about when your store would have sales, new products, and promotions, just like what a human resource officer does.

Additionally, signs that have your company’s website or QR code can place orders and accept payments for you without opening your store and consuming electricity. In this way, again, you can give opportunities to those by-passers who don’t have time to stop at your store at the moment but wanted to pay your store a check the next time.

Does business talks

Signs partly signifies how well you, as a seller, do business talk. For instance, if you do a simple but direct selling, your signage also looks plain but straightforward. If you’re quite humorous yet a persuading, your sign portrays this well, too.

Similar to actual business talk, bear in mind that the most significant role of signs in initiating sales is that it can call attention to the whatever deals you have in your store and persuade customers to buy.

Sale signs are one of those business talkers we’re talking about. These kinds of signs tend to compel customers to have a reason to buy through deals, sales or incentives. Also, having a unique local touch, of which your place is originated, on your signs can appeal to foreigners and even to local people.


What makes signs more interesting is that it does a cost-effective marketing strategy. You only invest once on this; however, its level of exposure isn’t comparable to other approaches. It doesn’t need any workforce, yet works 24/7; which means it would be continuously visible, regardless of which time of the day.

Ways to Impress a Client On a Business Trip

StrategyDriven Customer Relationship Management Article | Customer Relationships | Ways to Impress a Client On a Business TripHeavy luggage, lost at reception and boozy business dinners are all regular features of hosting a client who has traveled on business. One of the most important features of impressing a client while they’ve made the effort to travel is to keep them entertained while you get to know them. Spending some time talking over a few beers is great for understanding them on a personal level, but wowing them while they’re visiting can also be hugely beneficial to your company.

Don’t just take them to the local bar

If your client would really just prefer to sit in a comfy chair and drink a few beers, then perhaps take them to a quiet bar downtown. However, if they’re really interested in seeing what your town or city has to offer, take them to a restaurant that will show them you’re keen to offer them a high-quality experience. Something such as a Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant will not only offer them some impressive cuisine, but also show them a good time too.

Show them the sights of the city

Does your city have an infamous opera house? A beautiful set of gardens? Changing up where you chat to your clients about business not only gives them some mental respite, but also shows them that you hope they come and visit you again. You want them to get the sense you’re proud to have them in your home city. This also offers another chance to entertain your guests for the evening and make their work vacation have a greater focus on the vacation part.

Show them the best of your country

Some clients haven’t just traveled from one state to the other, they may have traveled from Europe or Asia, and they might be hoping to see a little more of the United States than just your board room. If you’re desperate to win this client’s approval, then showing them the best the US has to offer is a flashy way of keeping them impressed. Taking them to see the all American sights of Texas, by using a specialized transport service, can be key.

You can do this by searching for private jet charters Dallas. This will bring your company one step closer to impressing your international client, and the client one step closer to seeing a real cowboy. It’s even said that doing something silly or fun will lighten the mood and make everyone feel that little bit closer to their colleagues.

Offer them a souvenir to remind them of the trip

At the end of Local Hero, the most poignant moment is when the American lead character takes out a handful of sea shells that remind him of Scotland. Leaving them with something small and significant to place in their luggage that will hopefully remind them of the good time spent with your company, and leave them wanting more.

Clients on executive travel might be keen to be impressed, but they’re also a tired traveler. Finding activities that bring out the human and less of the business person will make the trip not only memorable for them, but also for your team.

StrategyDriven Talent Management Article | Employee Metrics | Quality Quantified: Learning To Measure Your Employees

Quality Quantified: Learning To Measure Your Employees

StrategyDriven Talent Management Article | Employee Metrics | Quality Quantified: Learning To Measure Your EmployeesNo two people will perform in exactly the same way when it comes to the work which they do. Some will be able to work for days on end, getting average results while they throw themselves into their work. Others, though, will find it easy to get excellent results, but won’t have the stamina to work for more than a few hours. As an employer, it is extremely important that you are aware of these strengths and weaknesses if you want to be able to leverage them correctly. To help you out with this, this post will be exploring some of the best ways to measure your employees, assessing how well they are working for your business.


While you will get a good insight into your business when you’re able to spend time with it, the people working for you will often have the best idea of how their team mates are getting on. When someone isn’t pulling their weight, for example, most offices will be well aware of it, and people won’t be very happy. Peer-reviews are a great way to overcome this. Once every six months or so, you should have your employees anonymously rate one another on different aspects of their work. In the end, you should be left with a range of interesting statistics.

Of course, when you’re relying on other people to give you information, you have to be wary of pettiness within your ranks. Some team members may simply dislike one another, resulting in negative feedback which doesn’t truly reflect their work. To overcome this, you should be looking for examples of bad feedback which seem to be unanimous, ensuring that you’re not going to pick on someone because other people have decided to be mean to them. This is only the start of your measuring, though.

Personal Development Plans

It can be very easy for people to slip into a pattern with their work when they aren’t pushed to do more with it. This leaves a lot of employees to let their skills become stagnant, and they will never be able to make their role more complicated. Personal development plans have been used by businesses for decades to track their employee’s performance throughout the year. Staying on top of something like this is absolutely crucial, and forgetting to give people their assessments will limit the success you are able to find from it.

This works by talking to your employee and outlining the areas in their work which need to be improved. You can agree on a target for them to reach, along with talking about the way that they will reach it. This works extremely well, as it gives your team the chance to understand how well they are doing, rather than simply working at a job which doesn’t give them any feedback. If you hold meetings with each team member every couple of months, you will quickly see their work start to get better, especially when your employees are young.

Customer Feedback

There are few people in the world who have an insight into your employee’s effectiveness than the customers they work with. Getting feedback from people like this isn’t always easy, but it will open the doors to some truly honest information, and this can be hard to get when you’re only working internally. You should only ever ask for feedback when a customer has had something done for them, like making a purchase or getting some product support, as this will ensure that they have their experience fresh on their mind.

Of course, though, you need to make this as easy as possible, or you could find yourself struggling to get people to fill in your forms. There are loads of companies out there with the tools to help you to collect feedback from your customers. By using a service like this, you will put your surveys into the hands of experienced professionals, ensuring that your customers always have the best experience. As time goes on, you will learn what you need to do to be able to handle jobs like this for yourself.

Digital Metrics

Nothing tells a better story about the success of your team than numbers. When people are working for you, it’s crucial that they have targets in place, and that you have a way to make sure that they are reaching their targets. In the case of a call center, each person on the phones will need to talk to a minimum amount of customers each day. Collecting this information is easy, and you can have your employees do it themselves by simply adding to a spreadsheet whenever they complete a piece of work.

Their Past Experience

When people are trying to get a job from you, they will always give you an idea of what they’ve done in the past. It’s fair to build your expectations for their work out of this, with those who have had very complicated jobs being able to overcome issues which other people won’t be able to face. It’s fair to judge people based on their past experiences, but you have to be careful not to take this too far. Employers will often make the mistake of pushing their best and brightest as hard as they can, leaving those who need motivation the most to struggle, and causing an imbalance of work in the office.

It can be hard to make sure that you’re getting what you pay for when you hire people. A lot of companies spend huge amounts of this area, giving each of their team members enough money to live on, while also paying for loads of other little features which come with them. As time goes on, this will get easier and easier, and you will get better at pushing people in the right direction. Of course, though, this work is very important, and this means that you will need to avoid letting it become too routine, as this will make it easy for employees to get around it.