Idea Storm Blog: Design Thinking and Organisational Ambidexterity

Exploiting vs Exploring

Recently I was having a meeting with a C-level executive working at one of the largest companies in South Africa and he implied that while companies needed to be innovative it was vital that they focused on and maintained their current business.

This is called organizational ambidexterity, which is defined by Wikipedia as an organization's ability to be aligned and efficient in its management of today's business demands as well as being adaptive to changes in the environment at the same time. It is a combination of exploring new revenue opportunities while at the same time exploiting traditional proven methods of business. Companies need to reconcile the need for efficiency and innovation, consistency and change, short-term profitability and long-term prosperity.

"Design thinking can help us to become more innovative.

It could transform our culture towards being more innovative, more open and less hierarchical. Through interdisciplinary teams we could break up silos and develop products that are really based on the needs of the customer."

Sara Ilic, Munich RE

A company can have an overriding strategy and product set but it takes teams within the company to execute the strategy. This goes deeper than country manager level, or divisional manager but today every manager needs to have the freedom to implement a strategy that will serve the company most effectively.

Design Thinking on Every Level

Roland Berger, a large consulting company based in Germany, published a paper titled “Design Thinking on Every Level – Fresh decision-making throughout the organization

"Design thinking has previously been a method used mainly in product or service development. It involves interdisciplinary teams working together to come up with customer-centric solutions," explained Vladimir Preveden, Partner at Roland Berger. "The idea behind our approach is to get design thinking implemented not only in certain departments but across the entire organization, on the strategic level. That will help firms become more agile and flexible. The principle also places the interests of the customer at the heart of everything the company does. And digital technologies play a crucial role in creating innovations that make the company fit for the future.".

Stanford Design Thinking Process

The Design Thinking approach we at Idea Storm would recommend is based on the Stanford Design Thinking process.

Practical example

Here is an example of how this would work in practice.

Situation: A manager leads a group of skilled professionals that are used to support sales people within a division. The manager needs to structure his team so that the goal of reaching the division’s sales targets are met.

Here is how Design Thinking can assist:

  • Empathy: The manager needs to identify who the customers or users are, in this case the sales people within the division. The manager would then have discussions with the sales people, individually and/or in a group to understand the challenges that they face. Hopefully the manager would start to understand their frustrations and the stresses they are under.

  • Define: This is also called the Synopsis phase, where the manager would identify common themes from the various discussions and would be able to define the areas of importance.

  • Ideation: The manager can now open this process to the team and brainstorm “How might we” statements on how the challenges in the define stage can be met. The statements are assessed and consolidated into a strategy.

  • Prototype: In this example the manager can take the created strategy and immediately begin to implement it.

  • Test: The manager can monitor the effectiveness of the strategy and make adjustments accordingly.


This might sound straight forward when written down like this but here are the benefits:

  1. All managers within a company have a structured approach to use for strategic decision making. Senior management can trust their managers throughout the organisation to make the best possible decisions.

  2. Managers focus on their customers or clients to guide their strategic thinking.

  3. Managers involve their direct team to collaboratively come up with the best solutions.

Idea Storm can help

Idea Storm offers “Design Thinking for Managers” training that can be catered for the requirements of your company and industry.

71% of suitably trained employees perceive that design thinking has improved the working culture - study by Potsdam-based Hasso Plattner Institute 2015.

Please contact us to get more details and how we can drive Design Thinking throughout your organisation.

The views in this article are my own and does not represent the company I work for.

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