Design Thinking in HR! The idea of “Employee Experience Enhancement”

“Employee Experience Enhancement”. The idea that we are driving forward through our DT4HR Initiative. Using Design Thinking to improve the employee’s journey, from before joining to after leaving. Built on the principle of Empathy and Action.

Here’s a great video, on those lines.

Design Thinking News: How Design Thinking Creates Connected Health Devices That Matter

Daily Design Inspirations 31: Joe Gebbia: “Design the Farm!” (#dailydesigninspirations)

Just yesterday, at the end of a Design Challenge, we were discussing the age-old battle between the designer and the product manager. And the oldest question that is asked of a start-up: which should come first.

Joe Gebbia, in this brilliant interview points out that one doesn’t need to think that way. But design the farm instead!

Excellent watch! Here on youtube.

Joe Gebbia
Joe Gebbia


FastCompany: 7 Habits Of Innovative Thinkers

Emotional Intelligence plays a big role in innovative thinking. Here are traits that these people have in common. Something we forget to look at.

Many people believe that creativity and innovative thinking are traits that we are born with—we either have them or not. However, we have found that people who are highly innovative are a work in progress, forever questioning and examining themselves and the world around them. Far from being something we are born with, we can all become more innovative and creative by developing the traits that innovative people share. Here are some of the emotional intelligence-related attributes that innovative people share.


Emotional intelligent people have their egos under control and are open to other people’s ideas. They don’t think their ideas are always the best. As a result of their openness to other ideas, they are able to accumulate a larger source of data from which to draw from. They are also less likely to fall into the trap of following up on ideas and prospects that are only popular and then receiving kudos for them.


Even though they may not think their ideas are always spot on, there is always a belief in their craft and innovate accordingly. They see failures as temporary setbacks. By failing, this will uncover a way that doesn’t work, bringing them closer to a way that will. Great innovators such as Edison, failed countless times before achieving a breakthrough that led to success. A common factor in all innovators is they see failures and setbacks as temporary and do not take them personally.


Emotionally intelligent people are curious about people, concepts, and issues. They’re open to new information always on the lookout for new ideas that can be put into practice. Being avid readers, forever seeking out new ideas, and expanding their knowledge base increases their repertoire of tools for future use. Noticing every opportunity, a random meeting with a stranger, conversation, or an event they are attending is always an occasion to learn something new. Every person they talk to is seen as possessing some knowledge that may be beneficial to them.


Emotionally intelligent people pick up on information and are able to sit back and take it in, and are adept at processing information that makes them excellent listeners. When someone is speaking, most people are formulating a response in their minds instead of just focusing upon what the person talking is saying. Good listeners are able to focus not only on the words that are being spoken, but are aware of the tone of the words, the body language expressed, and the emotions behind them. This allows the individual to not only absorb valuable information but develop strong relationships with others. We all have a strong desire to be heard and are attracted to those we feel have taken the time and effort to hear us.


Emotionally intelligent people see failure as a process—this takes them one step closer to being their best self. They don’t have to defend an idea that is proven to be wrong as they’re seeking to advance themselves personally and are looking to advance their ideas. Emotionally intelligent people just love to create because this fills their soul and life purpose.


Emotionally intelligent people have a keen sense of awareness.They can express their emotions in a way that isn’t confrontational. They can be assertive without being aggressive. One must be able to take direction in order to give direction.


Being emotionally intelligent allows people to feel comfortable around you. To truly understand a customers’ needs you have to have empathy. It’s not just about the product. It’s about the people. As Maya Angelou said: “You may not remember what someone said to you, but you will remember how they made you feel.”

Design News: The Street – Why the Financial Services Sector Should Embrace Design Thinking

Kunal Vaed, a senior vice president and the head of digital at E*TRADE Financial in New York, shares how the company applied Design Thinking to transform customer experience. Appeared in The Street.

Design Thinking has certainly captured the zeitgeist of our times, moving beyond the realm of digital-product management. Financial services institutions need to evolve to rapidly embrace design thinking or they risk disruption at the hands of nimble start-up companies.

Design often connotes simply a beautiful product, without enough attention focused on its utilitarian aspects. This is ill-fated, as a well-designed product or experience solves a human need and is something with which users want to engage and for which they want to advocate.

Simply said, design thinking places the user at the core of an organization’s agenda. It spans traditional functions within product development such as experience design and visual design, all the way to strategy and innovation.

Through extensive customer research, designers identify not just the functional needs of users but build true empathy. Designers create propositions to best serve these needs and continually test these hypotheses with customers.

The financial services industry is the perfect sandbox for design thinking. The reasons are simple.

 The industry facilitates many of life’s biggest decisions: buying a house, saving for retirement and paying for children’s education. Planning for retirement is an emotional topic, so this makes thoughtfully designed experiences a necessity.

In addition, investors face an array of complex investment choices, which require scrupulous analysis prior to investing. Design can address the complexity of investing and empower users to feel confident in the decisions that they make.

 At E*TRADE, design thinking allows the company to help investors get smarter.

E*TRADE’s approach to design thinking takes its cues from the Double Diamonddesign process, developed by the British Design Council. There are four stages in this design process: discovery, definition, ideation and delivery.

In the discovery phase, designers and product managers conduct research to understand customer pain points. This phase is divergent as we search for new questions and unmet needs.

Techniques such as customer listening are effective enablers.

In phase two, E*TRADE synthesize customer research and converge to the problem statement. This requires ruthless discipline to ensure that the company isn’t boiling the ocean.

Creating customer personas highlights differences in needs and aspirations of various customer groups. Customer journeys illuminate the path of the customer as they complete a task navigating outside and inside E*TRADE.

Next, E*TRADE creates early prototypes to visualize potential concepts in the ideation phase. Customers are part and parcel of this process and co-create these concepts.

Last, convergent thinking is employed to deliver a high-fidelity prototype, which is ready for developers to code. In this final phase, customers play a vital role in testing the usability of the new experience.

Consider E*TRADE’s new Adaptive Portfolio offering, which combines automated advice with access to financial consultants. Early on, in the discovery phase, E*TRADE’s research showed that customers were seeking peace of mind and transparency in their search for the right investing solution.

So E*TRADE designed with a simple problem statement: to help users go from idea to investment in five minutes. During the ideation phase, E*TRADE paid special attention to create an uncluttered design for the risk tolerance questionnaire, with intuitive questions, actionable steps and persistent help.

E*TRADE also heard that customers were interested in confirming their tolerance for risk before finally signing up. So E*TRADE designed a series of engaging visualisations to compare and contrast the company’s model portfolios by risk tolerance.

Finally, in the delivery phase, E*TRADE conducted usability interviews with customers to further optimise the work flow. E*TRADE is measuring interaction data across this experience and continue to refine it based on user behaviour.

Employing a user-centric mindset in the brokerage industry comes with its challenges, given the spectrum of users. E*TRADE has sophisticated traders who have honed their craft over the years and instinctively deploy a virtual army of strategies as they move in and out of positions every day.

At the same time, E*TRADE has buy-and-hold investors who take long positions for income and are more interested in long-term performance. Finally, E*TRADE has delegators, who are interested in self-adjusting solutions such as Adaptive Portfolio that are professionally managed.

Making sure that the design is flexible enough to scale becomes paramount.

There are four key considerations that can help strike the right balance.

  1. Share the glory. Customers and stakeholders across the organization need to co-own the outcomes. The financial services industry needs to place particular emphasis on co-creation given the complexity of investment choices and the changing regulatory landscape. Connecting designers, product managers, engineers and compliance experts early and often creates a shared responsibility.
  2. Get commitment from the top. Senior management needs to set the tone for the importance of designing an exceptional customer experience. E*TRADE Chief Executive Paul Idzik listens to several hours of customer calls every week and encourages employees to “put themselves in the customer’s shoes” at all times.
  3. Create an aspirational north star. Every organization needs to find purpose in its customer agenda. This agenda needs to speak to all, from customer service representatives, to engineers to designers to operations staff. In fact, the company has memorialized eight design tenets in posters and digital screens across E*TRADE to remind employees of what it means to deliver exceptional customer experience.
  4. Test, learn, re-test and re-learn. The user-centric mindset means the process is iterative. Design thinking fits perfectly with E*TRADE’s continuing transformation toward an agile software development process. Continuously analyzing data on how customers are using products and services ensures that E*TRADE evolves and learns.

Investors have entrusted the companies in this industry with a major responsibility: to help them manage their money.

Furthermore, their expectations are being set by digital leaders outside the financial services industry, who are constantly upping the ante. As a result, their expectations will only increase.

This industry has a narrow opportunity to embrace design thinking and position the customer at the core of its agenda. This has significant implications on talent mix, product development processes and tools, and project portfolios.

The most profound impact is in transforming the industry’s culture to be design-forward.


Daily Design Inspirations 31: DNA: Lessons from Italy, designs from India (#DailyDesignInspirations)

Great read today in DNA, about two Indian designers who are pushing the envelope on “sustainable” design. 

With such diverse inspirations as textile waste and kitchen utensils, designers Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta’s creations show that ancient craft techniques are not alien to contemporary lifestyle, writes Marisha Karwa in DNA

Read on:

For most of us, the internet slang ASAP stands for ‘as soon as possible’. Not so for designer duo Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta, whose assigned meaning for the acronym is ‘as sustainable as possible’. The philosophy forms the genesis of every project the Delhi-based partners of multi-disciplinary studio Sarthak Sahil Design Co undertake.

“We want to define our identity as contemporary Indian designers in the international design scene. We therefore design products that are global in appeal but local in spirit,” says Sengupta. “Our core design philosophy is to capture the human story behind every craft that we reinterpret and re-contextualise for a contemporary audience.”

The 36-year-old alumni of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) met College of Art graduate Bagga at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, where they were pursuing a master’s degree. Following the course, they were selected by the furniture-maker, the Poltrona Frau Group, for a project under the mentorship of master designer Guilio Cappelini.

“Working at the design firm Cappelini was a significant milestone in our careers,” observes Bagga. “We were introduced to the state-of-the-art when it came to furniture design and manufacturing. The sheer scale of their operations was intimidating and at the same time, attention to every minute detail was very inspiring.”

The stint with the century-old furniture group and the experience of life in Italy led to the pair’s most significant learning. “The Italians are very proud of their traditional materials and craftsmanship, yet they are the market leaders in the contemporary luxury market,” notes Bagga. “They know how to synergise their craftsmanship with modern technology, keeping abreast with social and market trends. They also respect human labour and understand the importance of innovation even in mass production.”

Milan, Manipur and back again

Since going into business together in 2009, Sengupta and Bagga have “indulged in a wide diversity of projects”, including gift items, product and furniture design, installations and interiors — all inspired by traditional craft techniques. They first reinterpreted Manipur’s longpi pottery for their Magia Nera (black magic) collection, creating table top accessories such as coasters, vases, lamps and more from the black-hued clay using traditional moulds of the artisans. Another collection, called Kerala Sutra, uses the state’s many art forms, including theyyam, kathakali, leather shadow puppetry, mural painting, metal casting, etc., as motifs for lamps and light installations. Yet another lamp collection is inspired by the kamandal — a vessel used by ascetics to carry water in.

The medley of work, says Sengupta, “keeps us happy from a creative sense and allows us to master new skills”. Bagga explains that new collections are either based on briefs by clients or are works of self-indulgence. Bagga describes the latter as a “bottom-up process” for which their travels and exposure to culture are the biggest “inspiration pools”. “We travel extensively, and we can’t help getting inspired by what we see along the way,” says the 37-year-old. “There is so much diversity in our nation, there is no end to rediscovering age-old practices. For example, we chose the crafts and culture of Kerala for our light installation collection for Somany Ceramics earlier this year. And last year, we choose Gujarat as our inspiration state for creating a range of stainless steel furniture for Jindal Steel.”

Sarthak Sahil Design Co’s collections have been exhibited across the world, including at the world’s largest furniture fair, the Salone del Mobile Milan, at London’s Alchemy Festival and most recently, at the International Furniture Fair in Singapore.

Staying rooted

The studio’s commitment to traditional arts is evident not only in their collections, but also from their overseas projects. Last year, when the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, approached the designers for an installation to mark Diwali and Christmas for the extensive ‘The Fabric of India’ exhibition, they chose to juxtapose the rituals and symbolisms of the two festivals. “We proposed the Kalpataru — the wishing tree. The structure of this installation was handcrafted by silversmiths from north India, adorned by hand-painted murals from Kerala, depicting a foliage of trees and plants, and having ritualistic importance in Indian culture,” points out Sengupta.

Among their many works that have earned them laurels is the Katran collection. Katran, the term for the leftover pieces of colourful cloth from textile and cloth mills, is traditionally spun into ropes that are then used to make khatiyas. In the Katran collection, the ropes are used for chairs, loungers, lampshades, tabletops and more — the vivid colours adding to the quirky and tactile reuse of textile waste. “The Katran collection is true to our hearts as it is a manifestation of all our brand values — ethics, ethnicity, ecology, sustainability and meaningful design,” says Sengupta. Such is the appeal of the Katran chairs that they’ve become a part of the designers’ everyday life. “‘Love chair’ is good for sitting and working in, and our ‘Pelican chair’ is more like a lounger to relax and take a power nap in,” says Bagga.

Quick takes

Favourite architects: Antoni Gaudi, Laurie Baker, Zaha Hadid

Favourite designers: Oki Sato of Japanese design studio Nendo, Fabio Novembre, Jasper Morrison

Favourite design products: Muji stationary and Flos lamp

Pet peeves: Plagiarism, tardiness

Daily Design Inspirations 30: HBR: What Design Thinking Is Doing for the San Francisco Opera (#DailyDesignInspirations)

David Hoyt and Robert I. Sutton
JUNE 03, 2016


On March 2, 2015, a line of people stretching around the block waited to get into the Rickshaw Stop on Fell Street in San Francisco. This was not like most nights at the funky music venue and bar; the people in line weren’t waiting to see an indie band, or dance to music spun by a DJ. This night the entertainment would be opera … of a sort. The evening, organized by the San Francisco Opera (SFO), was called “Barely Opera,” with the slogan “This Isn’t Your Grandmother’s Opera.” Complete with a “Wheel of Songs” that audience members could spin to select the next song, a live DJ, opera-themed drinks, and costumes for attendees to try on, it was designed to remove the intimidation often felt by those new to opera and introduce a younger, hipper audience to operatic music.

Barely Opera was the result of a project that was part of a course at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (“”). As part of the course, two students worked with SFO to help the Opera think about how to best use a new 299-seat facility that would open in early 2016. But they hoped that the benefits would extend far beyond this objective — that the project would introduce the Opera staff to new ways of thinking that offered the potential to fundamentally change how it operated.

The challenge of experimenting at an organization committed to perfection

An important part of the city’s cultural scene, the San Francisco Opera dates back to the 1850s. SFO’s facility, the 3,146-seat War Memorial Opera House, was funded by a voter-approved municipal bond in 1927. Where most opera houses are funded by wealthy patrons, this “people’s opera house” was paid for by ordinary citizens. The new facility would enable the performance of programs not well suited to the large opera house.

As one of the world’s leading opera companies, SFO has traditionally focused on perfection in all aspects of its performances. Matthew Shilvock, the company’s new General Director, described this drive for perfection as, “our blessing in allowing us to produce moments of exquisite theater, and our curse in terms of not giving us the flexibility to adapt quickly.”

Like almost every non-profit organization, SFO has limited resources. Ticket sales cover just a fraction of its production and administrative costs, with the balance coming from donations, grants and endowment. To survive and thrive with the conflicting demands of performance excellence and constrained resources, SFO has developed a highly structured organization.

As a result of these factors, previous “experiments” had typically been meticulously planned, and executed at extremely high levels of quality. Given the drive for perfection ingrained in its culture, the natural response to poor results was that the quality level had not been sufficient, and other potential lessons were often lost. This blend of perfectionism and limited resources meant that experiments were rare events at SFO.

Getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable

“Design thinking” is a hands-on approach that focuses on developing empathy for others, generating ideas quickly, testing rough “prototypes” that, although incomplete or impractical, fuel rapid learning for teams and organizations. The two students who worked with the Opera were Zena Barakat and Madhav Thattai. Zena was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, and previously a senior video producer at The New York Times. Madhav was in the MSx program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a program for mid-career managers. He had been director of product management at Dell Computer before coming to Stanford.

The SFO project began in January 2015. Zena and Madhav’s first step was to take the SFO team working on the project to meet with people from outside the world of opera. One was Christina Augello, founder of the experimental EXIT Theatre and organizer of San Francisco’s Fringe Festival. She described the struggle of experimenting on a tight budget, something she considered to be an essential part of the creative process—a sign on the wall read “No Risk, No Art.” At EXIT Theatre, everyone worked as a community, sharing roles, pitching in where needed.

The opera team also spoke with Hodari Davis, the Artistic Director of Young, Gifted, and Black, and the National Program Director of Youth Speaks. He emphasized the importance of going out into the community, insisting that you can’t “wait for the community to come to you. Don’t build a space and think that the community is coming to you. You have to go to the community.”

Zena also brought in James Buckhouse, an opera and ballet fan who works at venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and formerly with Twitter. He was scheduled to be the Master of Ceremonies of an under-40 night for the San Francisco Ballet, which shares the War Memorial Opera House with the Opera. Planning for the event had just started, and it would take place in 30 days.

These conversations energized the SFO team, who realized that they usually communicated and learned from within the opera community. There was also a useful sense of competition — if the Ballet could put something together quickly, why couldn’t the Opera? The group brainstormed around this idea, and began to conceive a dramatic new prototype that would enable them to attract a new, younger audience.

To gain insights into audience perceptions, SFO team members approached strangers near San Francisco’s Ferry Building and asked if they would be willing to give 5-10 minutes of their time for some feedback. Once they agreed, they were given tickets and told to walk through some imaginary doors. The “audience members” were warmly greeted by the SFO team, given a mask, and directed to three stations, each with an iPad providing information: one station had food menus on the iPad and a person playing a bartender, one station showed a video of a wig maker, and one station had videos of a singer performing. Afterwards, each participant was debriefed.

This exercise taught the team that people in different age groups have very different needs, and also that there’s much variability within age groups. For instance, among people in their 30s, parents were vastly different than singles. They also learned that audience involvement (tested by giving participants the mask) was far more powerful than previously anticipated. They got useful input on menu items and prices.

Most importantly, the SFO team learned the power of rapid prototyping. It had taken them just two hours to pull the materials together and three hours in the field, and they had gained valuable insights. Although they were a bit embarrassed by the low-budget feeling of the prototype, they were surprised at the depth of the insights they gathered in such a short time. The feedback was so much more useful and empowering than information from surveys.

And yet there were setbacks during this early stage. Zena and Madhav challenged the SFO team to go to some event that they would never ordinarily attend, something that made them feel uncomfortable — and do it within the next two weeks. The idea was to gain empathy for their new audiences, who would be asked to come to a new experience put on by the SFO. They wanted the SFO staff to talk to people at these events to learn more about them. But only two of the seven team members completed the exercise.

Zena and Madhav scheduled another prototype to get the SFO team into the community, interacting with people outside the opera. The team went to a park in nearby Hayes Valley, played opera music, and tested ideas about including drinks in ticket prices (an idea that was not well received), various menu options for the new venue, and whether people would want to take food and/or drinks into the performance. Their classmates weren’t impressed by this prototype: With the SFO team in the room, they criticized it as being too safe and encouraged Zena and Madhav to push the SFO team further outside their comfort zones.

Building a more ambitious prototype

As the SFO team walked out of the disappointing design review at the, they told Zena and Madhav that they were thinking of taking over a bar for their next, more ambitious prototype. Zena and Madhav challenged them to put on the event in just two weeks, by the end of the class, which was far sooner than the SFO staff thought possible. In less than a week, the SFO team had booked the Rickshaw Stop, an alternative music venue just three blocks from the Opera, which had a stage and space for an audience of 400 people.

Zena and Madhav challenged the SFO team to go to some event that they would never ordinarily attend, something that made them feel uncomfortable — and do it within the next two weeks. The idea was to gain empathy for their new audiences, who would be asked to come to a new experience put on by the SFO. They wanted the SFO staff to talk to people at these events to learn more about them.


Zena and Madhav formed three teams to plan and carry out the event: programming (what the performance would be at the venue), experience (things surrounding the performance), and engagement (audience engagement before the event, and feedback afterwards). The seven SFO project members joined teams that were outside of their comfort zones. For instance, the marketing person was on the programming team, and the woman who would be responsible for programming at the new SFO venue joined the experience team. Each team then recruited three more people from amongst the staff, for a total of 5-6 people per team. While the whole event was intended as an experiment, each team also designed experiments within their area to provide additional insights.

They came up with a name, Barely Opera, at a brainstorming session 10 days before the event, involving all 20 people from the teams plus Zena and Madhav. As soon as the name was chosen, the engagement team bought a URL, developed a website, created a logo—all within a few hours, and without having to go through the approval process normally required for decisions at the opera. The SFO teams found this autonomy liberating.

They advertised the event on social media and on local blogs, charging a $10 “cover charge” (not ticket price). A list of songs was developed with the Adler Fellows, a group of young resident opera singers in training, who would perform with piano accompaniment. Their hope was modest: to attract 100 people.

When the doors opened on March 2, 2015, a line of nearly 400 people stretched around the block. Just inside the door was a photo booth, with costumes from the Opera’s inventory that people could put on. To make guests feel welcome, six opera-loving volunteers served as hosts — dressed in full costumes, wigs, and makeup. They greeted the attendees, took photos with attendees, asked for feedback, and served opera-themed cocktails and tamales.

The idea was to flip conventions on their head. The greeters were in extravagant attire, but the singers themselves were casually dressed—just jeans and t-shirts. The audience members were invited to try on opera costumes, but that’s where the formality stopped.

Audience members selected songs by spinning a “Wheel of Songs.” As each song was performed, a projection screen behind the stage provided translations in the form of memes (a funny image sometimes accompanied by text.) For instance, when the final singer hit a dramatic high note, a picture of Beyoncé was shown. The audience loved it.

The event was a huge success. But the real purpose was not the single event; it was to help SFO staff top change how they think about their mission and to develop new ways of operating. The next day, everyone met to debrief. As Madhav described it, “We had decided ahead of time that we were absolutely not going to focus on the outcome of the experiment.” They did not want the event to be the end, but rather the beginning of an ongoing process.

A few days later, when the group met up again, after 10 minutes of celebratory champagne, strawberries, and cupcakes, Zena and Madhav asked, “What were our failures?” The entire group then celebrated the committee that had the most failures—and celebrated the freedom to experiment and try things outside their comfort zones.

Keeping the creativity going

The project opened the eyes of Opera personnel to the power of experimentation, spurring “a new commitment to innovative thinking and creative brainstorming” as Shilvock put it. The Opera subsequently formed a number of innovation groups (iGroups) drawn from different departments to work on issues related to opening the new facility.

These in turn gave rise to a new production arm called “SF Opera Lab” to stage productions at the new facility, now named the Diane B. Wilsey Center. SF Opera Lab would experiment at the Wilsey Center, but also in other venues around the city.

For the new theater’s first season, lasting from March through May 2016, events included an a cappella opera, a one-man show, a film concert, and a program of music featuring the opera’s promising young performers (again, the Adler Fellows) and members of the Opera’s orchestra. Ticket prices for these events were considerably less than for the opera, ranging from $25 to $125. The web page for each event had a box titled “Who’s Gonna Love It,” describing the type of person who would be most attracted to the event. For instance, “Svadba-Wedding” is an a cappella opera about a Serbian bride-to-be and her friends preparing for her wedding day. The “Who’s Gonna Love It” box read, “Fans of Pentatonix, World Music lovers, or anyone planning a wedding.”

Through Wilsey Center performances and casual pop-up events around the city, the SFO team began to learn what younger audiences wanted from an opera experience.

The art form (opera) wasn’t a problem – they thoroughly enjoyed the performances – in fact, the singers performed some pop songs at the pop-up events, but the audiences seemed to react more strongly to the opera songs.

The problem for younger audiences were some of the trappings and traditions that surrounded the art form – the feeling that there were lots of rules made for an intimidating experience.


The problem for younger audiences were some of the trappings and traditions that surrounded the art form – the feeling that there were lots of rules made for an intimidating experience. For instance, Zena attended an opera at the War Memorial Opera House and noticed a sign at the main stage that encouraged people to take selfies and to share them via a particular hashtag. When she did so, an older patron scolded her, saying taking pictures wasn’t allowed.

The atmosphere at the pop-ups was much different. It was informal.   There was an emcee that explained the songs, why the singer was doing a particular song, and who generally made everyone feel welcome and comfortable. The singers also enjoyed the less formal events, in which they were able to interact with the crowd in a different way than during staged operas. They could tell jokes, talk to the crowd, and see reactions up close. They were accessible to the audience, and the audience was accessible to the singers.

Yet, as with all innovators who challenge the status quo, the iGroups faced challenges. The SFO culture had a strong bias towards maintaining the highest possible production values. Not all members of the Opera’s staff and management had embraced the design thinking “fail early, fail often” approach. And some felt that experiments like Barely Opera had diminished the Opera by not incorporating the high standards of a world-class opera company. The success of the pop-up events helped overcome this resistance. Sean Waugh, who led the SFO project team, observed that more and more staff were attending the pop-ups, where they realized “how thrilling it is to go to an opera event and see that the majority of people there are under the age of 35.”

Given the strong cultural pull of perfection, there was a risk that the pop-up events, which originally had a high degree of spontaneity, could become too polished. That SFO would get comfortable with a successful formula, and that it would lose those attributes which made it successful. For the audience and performers, keeping the show authentic, real, and unpredictable was part of the appeal.

But now the Opera had a way of fighting these impulses. As Shilvock puts it, “Design thinking is liberating for a company tightly constrained by contracts and expectations!” The project “opened the door for us to be a more creative, questioning, and iterative organization, a little more willing to try and fail.”

Waugh agreed that the effect on the organization had been transformative. “This is an organization that has done almost a complete 360 after this process.  Before it was an organization that was very, very, very adverse to change, not open to the idea of failure, and now we’re embracing change to a greater degree, making SFO a more fun place to work.”

To which we can only say, “Bravo.”


Authors’ Note: Zena Barakat’s and Madhav Thattai’s San Francisco Opera project was completed for a class called d.leadership: Design Leadership In Context, where a dozen or so pairs of Stanford students each year work with an external “client” to help them apply design thinking to solve thorny problems. Charla Bear also contributed to the project during a different phase. The class is taught by Perry Klebahn, Kathryn Segovia, Bob Sutton, and Jeremy Utley.


David Hoyt is a research associate at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Robert Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering in the Stanford Engineering School, where he is co-director of the Center for Work, Technology, and Organization, cofounder of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and a cofounder and active member of the new “” His new book, with Huggy Rao, is Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without

Design News: Engineering as a Driving Force Behind the Design-Thinking Movement


It’s wonderful that design thinking is now applied to so many different problems: designing better experiences for hospital patients, designing and implementing better client experiences at social-service agencies, starting new companies, teaching leadership, inventing new radio shows, changing organizational structures, and developing new products and services for people at the bottom of economic pyramid — to name just a few. Design thinking focuses on uncovering human needs, and doing so by not just relying on what people say, but by watching what they do as well. It entails developing a point of view about what needs to address, generating quick and rough solutions, prototyping like crazy and testing ideas with the users, customers, patients, employees or whomever the solutions are intended to help — and doing it all very quickly and not being overly attached to ideas.

There is, however, a part of the story that seems to be slipping away — especially in the business press and in business schools, as well as in areas such as education and healthcare where design thinking is being used. Many executives, students and journalists don’t seem to realize that engineers and engineering schools were among the main driving forces behind the start of this movement. David Kelley, the main founder of the innovation firm IDEO and the Stanford, has been teaching mechanical engineering at the university for over 35 years(he is pictured above, with the Apple mouse that IDEO designed); and Bernie Roth, our academic director at the has been teaching mechanical engineering at Stanford since 1962 (he is a pioneer in the field of robotics).

And consider two of the most revered design thinkers and teachers I know:Diego Rodriguez at IDEO and Perry Klebahn at the (officially, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford). When I first met Diego, some 20 years years ago, he had just graduated from Stanford, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering and was working at IDEO. Diego did get increasingly interested in business, got a Harvard MBA, and now — back at IDEO for years as a partner — has become one of the most imaginative business thinkers I know (check out his blog and tweets). Yet, when I talk to Diego, listen to his ideas, and watch his masterful teaching and coaching, I can always see how the magnificent engineering designer inside him remains the strongest guiding force. His relentless advice to do things like get out and talk to and watch some real human beings, to develop a sharp point of view, to brainstorm, to “prototype until your puke,” and to view ideas as easy to get, important to throw away, and ultimately best to be judged by users and the market (rather than experts) all go back to his product-design roots. This really struck me when, a few years back, Diego was designing a new organizational structure for a client that, many years before, he had designed a product for when working as a young IDEO designer. He remarked to me, “The end product is a lot different, but the process I am using is remarkably similar.”

I see the same thing in how Perry approaches problems. Perry has always been a product guy, as he invented the modern snowshoe as a Stanford product-design student and then went on to grow a company that sold and spread the product called Atlas (the above grainy picture is of Perry on CNN with his invention back in 1997). Then Perry was a senior executive at Patagonia, and most recently was CEO of Timbuk2. Perry has also taught numerous product-design classes at Stanford over the past 25 years, and in the last decade, taught over a dozen classes for students and executives at the Stanford In fact, Perry has taught more classes than any other faculty member since the was founded in 2004 (even though he was CEO of Timbuk2 for five of those years, he kept teaching).

Over the years, I have watched Perry move beyond and expand his engineering-design skills to an ever broader set of problems, like helping software executives gain empathy for what millennials want and rethinking the strategy of a Fortune 500 company. Lately, Perry’s students in his classes — which he teaches with others including Kathryn Segovia,Jeremy Utley and me — tackle problems ranging from finding ways for the San Francisco Opera to attract younger customers to improving the experience of buying a bra for women who have had mastectomies.

Yet Perry’s engineering roots are always evident. I remember watching Perry use his product-engineering background to guide a class exercise aimed at improving employee selection, recruitment and socialization practices for our fellows program. He pressed the students to look for unmet needs, to identify the problem they were trying to solve, to brainstorm ideas for prototypes quickly, and then to test the emerging ideas with users — even though those ideas were unfinished and crude approximations of organizational practices. This process, although modified by Perry and many others to fit problems of all kinds, is simply a variation of the design process that Perry used as a Stanford engineering school student years ago to invent the modern snowshoe — and then to grow the company and customer base required to make the product succeed.

Yes, I am a tenured professor in the Stanford School of Engineering, but I am not an engineer. The core of what we do at the, and of much of what they do so well at IDEO, is rooted most strongly in product-design engineering — especially the flavor taught at the engineering school. That is why, frankly, I feel better when I work with “real” engineering product designers like Diego and Perry in the classes I help to teach — even though I recognize that there are master design thinkers from all kinds of backgrounds, including lawyers, journalists, computer scientists and psychologists. The aforementioned Kathryn Segovia has a Ph.D. in communication (she did her thesis on the psychology of avatars), and Jeremy Utley is a Stanford MBA and former management consultant). Both have developed into two of the most skilled design-thinking practitioners, teachers and coaches I know.

Like many people at the, I get in regular arguments about what design thinking is, how it ought to be applied, and the times when it isn’t right to use it. It’s healthy for all of us to question what we do and how to do it better. But one thing we all share at Stanford, whether our students and faculty realize it or not (and some don’t, as the history is fading a bit), is that the brand of design thinking that we teach is a mindset and set of methods that was developed and refined at Stanford’s engineering school for decades — especially by product designers — before design thinking was ever a hot topic in business, entrepreneurship, education, healthcare and so many other places.

Original Post here

 Go to the profile of Bob Sutton
Bob Sutton
Stanford Professor who studies organizations. Books include bestsellers Good Boss Bad Boss, The No Asshole Rule, The Knowing-Doing Gap and Scaling Up Excellence. He first wrote this post about five years ago and update it every now then. The iteration before this one appeared a couple weeks back at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program eCorner site.

Daily Design Inspirations 29: Elon Musk recounts the Secret History of Tesla Motors (#DailyDesignInspirations)


USA Today, May 31, 2016

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is talking to shareholders, starting with a history of the company. Soon, shareholders will talk to Musk.

Here’s how it is going:

5:21 p.m. — At the beginning, Musk and his fellow Tesla creators didn’t know what they were doing. “Completely clueless” when it came to figuring out how to make a car, he says. Plus, many wouldn’t give a startup the time of day. “At times, we couldn’t get suppliers to call us back.” Musk adds. “That was the usual response.”

5:23 p.m. — Musk gives a shout out to a California company called AC Propulsion that pioneered electric cars more than a decade ago.

5:29 p.m. — “Electric airplanes. Still dying to do that,” Musk jokes as he recalls the conversation that originally got him to thinking about electric cars. Tesla Chief Technical Officer JB Straubel says he brought up the airplane idea initially with Musk. But both turned their thinking to cars. In 2003 and 2004, everyone was telling them there would be no interest in electric cars. Musk says he got a test ride in AC Propulsion’s car and he told them “you’ve got to show the world this is real.”

5:32 p.m. — After being told that AC wouldn’t make an electric car just for him, Musk says he asked if he could make one himself. That’s what led him to the consortium that would launch Tesla. It was never. “this is a great way to make money.” Rather, “When I told my friends about this, they said ‘You’re crazy.'” Creating a car company would be dumb enough, but launching an electric car company was considered “stupidity squared.” Musk put the company’s odds of success at 10%. He said he put in lots of his own money — he made one of his fortunes from PayPal — because he didn’t want to risk his friends’ money on the Tesla venture.

5:37 p.m. — He blasts General Motors for killing its electric car program, which had such devoted fans that they were holding candlelight vigils as their cars, the Saturn EV1, were being crushed.

5:40 p.m. — Big mistake: Thinking that he could take a Lotus Elise and add an electric powertrain to create the Tesla Roadster. In fact, everything changed. “In the end, only 6% or 7% of the Tesla roadster” had anything else in common with another car.

5:48 p.m. — Musk says he gave early test drives to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The prototype developed a bug so it only went 10 miles per hour. Musk says he had to reassure them the car goes a lot faster — and they became investors. The lesson for people creating their own company: Adapt quickly, recognize and correct your mistakes. The sooner that happens, so much the better.

5:54 p.m. — Musk says he “was basically the chief designer of the body” of the original Tesla roadster. And he adds: “I don’t think I’m a good designer.” His inspirations: The Ferrari and Porsche.

5:56 p.m. — The team got 100 orders after giving test rides of two prototypes, which were barely hanging together, says Chief Technical Officer JB Straubel. Musk says “huge challenges” with the roadster including a transmission that “didn’t work.” The problem was eventually solved and Roadster deliveries began in 2008. Though it passed all required safety tests, Musk quips that the car was “completely unsafe” and “broke down all the time.” It required redesign and new suppliers. Straubel says Tesla had to move factories from overseas to California, including the battery pack manufacturer from Thailand. He says a lot of what’s special and underappreciated about Tesla is its manufacturing processes. “How important it is to build the machine that builds the machine,” is how Musk puts it.

6:15 p.m. — “I don’t know anyone who likes the current car buying experience,” Musk says. Tesla vowed to fix that, too, by not having conventional dealers. Most important thing: “Make sure that when people visit our store, they look forward to coming again.”

6:20 p.m. — Musk says designing a sexy sports car is relatively easy, but a sedan is hard. That led him to former General Motors and Mazda designer Franz von Holzhausen. “I realize it was the future,” von Holzhausen says.

6:25 p.m. — The design studio was a tent pitched in a corner of the SpaceX rocket factory. Musk told von Holzhausen he wanted the Model S to have seven seats — a very tough challenge in a sedan.

6:29 p.m. — In October, 2008, Musk says he met with head of R&D with Daimler in hopes of keeping Tesla alive. He says he was told they were thinking about an electric Smart car. He says he called and told Straubel that they had three months to have a working electric Smart car. At the time, Smart wasn’t sold in the U.S. So they sent an engineer to Mexico with $20,000, who came back with one. In a day, they had torn the whole car apart. It was the fastest Smart car ever. “You could do wheelies in the parking lot,” Musk says. The Daimler team arrived grumpy, but perked up when they drove the prototype — and they got a development contract. “If we hadn’t done that, Tesla would have died,” Musk says. It helped with credibility and Tesla needed the dough. Musk says he was tapped out and was borrowing money from friends at the time. It was early 2009, a time when the auto industry was hitting bottom and Chrysler and GM would be filing for bankruptcy reorganization.

6:35 p.m. — Tesla was losing money on every Roadster it built before the third quarter of 2009. But the Daimler investment was a turning point. “We were bailed out — by Daimler, not the government,” Musk says. Tesla had received and paid back an Energy Department loan. The loan was received in March, 2010.

6:47 p.m. — When it came to shopping the initial public offering, Musk says he found out Tesla could be polarizing. “Tesla is a company that seems to inspire love or hate,” he says. Investors were “rarely indifferent.” After the IPO, Musk says Tesla became one of the most shorted stocks on the Nasdaq — right up there with Skullcandy, Coinstar and Travelzoo. He hailed Toyota for joining with Tesla on the RAV4 electric and parting with its Fremont, Calif., factory that it operated jointly with GM. Today, it is Tesla’s factory.

6:55 p.m. — How Tesla created its Supercharger network, its high-speed chargers. Musk says it had been hoping another company would step up and install a network of high-speed electric-car chargers, but none did. Tesla was sending out teams of interns to scout locations at travel rest stops.

7:01 p.m. — The Gigafactory came about when Musk and his team realized there just wasn’t enough industry capacity to make the batteries that Tesla will need. Plus, most lithium-ion battery factories were aimed at supplying the electronics industry, not tailored to electric-car production. He says the Gigafactory will be capable of triple of the volume of what was expected. The party to celebrate its opening will come in July.

7:15 p.m.– The Model X crossover has been “challenging,” Musk says. “I need to fault myself for hubris in putting too much technology all at once into a product,” he says. He says he should have saved some of its most cool features for a version II or version III. The big problem at the moment: Making its signature feature, the gullwing doors over the second row, work correctly. “It’s a software problem. It’s figuring out how to interpret all the data from the sensors” and writing in the software in a way that knows how to open the doors under different circumstances. “Digging ourselves out of the hole” on that has been quite hard, he says. Two more software releases, which are usually sent wireless to the vehicles, are expected in the next month. “We will be at point where the doors are better than normal doors, as opposed to worse.” He added that anyone considering a Model X purchase should go ahead. “If you buy one now or soon, you will love the doors because the software will be right.”

7:23 p.m. — Musk says Nevada has put in $20 million so far for the battery Gigafactory, compared to $2 billion in investment so far by Tesla and its partners. “They are giving away nothing. It was basically bushes and desert,” he says. “It’s basically a 1% discount.”

7:39 p.m. — Musk closes the more than two hour history of Tesla by talking about how the real improvements in the future will come at the manufacturing level. “The true problem and difficulty is building the machine that makes the machine,” he says.

7:46 p.m. — A Nevada union representative criticizes Tesla for labor practices in building the Gigafactory. Musk says if Tesla had wanted to save money, it never would have built cars in California. And he noted other automakers not only build cars in states with cheaper labor costs, but other countries.

7:51 p.m. — Musk says Superchargers won’t be free for Model 3, its mass-market electric car next year, unless people buy an optional package that includes it. He says people should charge their cars where they charge their phones — not at a gas station. They need to value their time.

7:54 p.m. — Musk won’t rule out the possibility that someday Tesla made find a way to make electric aircraft, but not now. For one, he says he wants the company to stay focused. For the other, the energy density of batteries isn’t where it needs to be yet.

8:08 p.m. — Musk says no worries about the supply of lithum, used in Tesla batteries. “The nice thing about lithium is it’s extremely abundant on earth,” he says. In the next few years, Straubel says that Tesla is trying to find ways to reduce costs of lithium, but there have been no problems with supply.

8:18 p.m. — Eventually, Musk says he expects Tesla’s battery storage business, Tesla Energy, to have “roughly similar” revenue as the vehicle side.

8:40 p.m. — Musk says he’s already overdue to a board of directors meeting in closing the session.

Design Thinking News: Infosys Continues to Drive Design Thinking. Even Upwards.

The Economic Times, May 25, 2016

Infosys on ‘design thinking’ treadmill to get its top gear acclimatised with latest technology

It’s not just the 194,000-odd employees at India’s second largest software exporter who are being put through the paces.

In what would mark the first such instance in India’s $160-billion IT industry, board members at Infosys are now being trained and brought up to speed with “design thinking” -an industry parlance that refers to the practice of solving traditional tech problems using newer, different and innovative methods.

Board members at top companies across the world, especially in the technology industry, routinely go through training sessions to help them keep pace with the rapid changes across the technology landscape.

However, this would mark the first known instance in India’s tech industry where a company is proactively aligning the board with the vision of the company’s top management, as part of a broader strategy to bring about a cultural shift at a traditional outsourcing company where coders and engineers have been content with following orders of customers, without asking questions. The design thinking exercise is one of the cornerstones of CEO Vishal Sikka’s broader strategy for the company and he has actively pushed executives and employees at the company to embrace the exercise. To execute this strategy, Sikka has even sought help from external mentors such as computer science pioneer and legend Alan Kay, who over the past two years has held sessions with company executives and employees.

Infosys chairman R Seshasayee said the decision to train the board on design thinking was taken recently during the last financial year.

“The adoption of Design Thinking at Infosys has been very encouraging, and we can see the enthusiasm and energy with which employees are adopting this philosophy. The Infosys board was keen to embrace this approach that is getting deeply ingrained into the company’s DNA. We introduced the entire board to these concepts during the year and I have found the application of its principles in our course of business very refreshing and impactful,” said Infosys chairman R Seshasayee in an email to ET.

According to Infosys’ latest annual report, at least six board members including chairman R Seshasayee, board veteran and former Cornell University professor Jeffrey S Lehman, Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Bank of Baroda chairman Ravi Venkatesan have all gone through what the company calls “immersion sessions” where they have been trained on design thinking. Each of these board members have gone through ex tensive sessions on design thinking that lasted for at least 3.5 hours, according to the annual report.

A person directly familiar with Sikka’s thinking said that the board has also been put through immersive sessions on areas such as Artificial Intelligence and that Sikka is actively trying to “acquaint the board with concepts around design thinking as he looks to unleash newer, more executable ideas at the board level.”

Infosys has already trained over 80,000 employees on design thinking and hopes to cover the entire company in the near term, according to its latest annual report.

The design thinking exercise comes at a time when Infosys is starting to show signs of a major turnaround in its fortunes and increasingly resembling its former bellwether self, having trumped top-tier rivals such as Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro for four consecutive quarters.

“Putting the board through design thinking is a must. Design thinking is the equivalent of Six Sigma for this generation. Until the boards understand what’s required to build for empathy and to understand the innovation process, they can not relate to the work required to deliver on innovation,” said Ray Wang, founder of enterprise research firm Constellation Research.

“Training the entire company including the leadership team on design thinking represents more than anything else a change in mindset for Infosys.However, Infosys needs to push change management in equal measure as training alone only gets you so far,” said Tom Reuner, managing director at HfS Research.