Why design thinking is an important MBA skill

Design thinking is an important mindset that lends itself to solving complex human problems, writes Dr Ileana Stigliani, an assistant professor of design and innovation at Imperial College Business School, in the Financial Times.

Picture: Imperial College Business School

 “Design thinking starts with real empathy – putting yourself in your customers’ shoes to understand problems and uncover new and unexpected solutions,” Stigliani says. “Companies might think they know what their clients want, but often they do not – because they have used old fashioned, rigid methods of market research to find out.”

In the professor’s eyes empathy is one of the most underestimated leadership skills in today’s business environment. “But it is powerful,” she claims. In the FT article the expert cites companies such as Deutsche Bank or PepsiCo which encourage employees to act as customers and use the same services and products as if they were clients. Stigliani hails this as a human-centred approach that highlights problems you may not have known existed, and then uses them as stepping stones to innovation.

In her class, the assistant professor gets students to conduct design research amongst other approaches. First, students need to identify their audience. Then they need to spend time with these respondents, asking about their experiences, listening, rather than conducting a survey. “Once you have an idea of potential solutions, then you use market research techniques to validate an idea or ‘prototype’ – this is the stage at which to ask for feedback,” Stigliani writes in her FT article. “Designers have worked this way for a long time.”

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