In the May 15, 2018 Work Design Magazine[1], Chris LaPata, client leader with BHDP Architecture[2], addresses the importance of Design Thinking in innovative workplaces. “Without innovation, organizations risk the possibility of either being acquired by a company with entirely different priorities or going out of business.” Innovation demands commitment to drive lasting results. Too often, companies that do not innovate either are fearful of failure or are traditionally stuck in a linear problem solving approach.

Design Thinking is not just ‘thinking out of the box’. “Design Thinking involves a creative, agile mindset that incorporates the ability to ask questions from a variety of vantage points … to evolve a culture that quickly generates, shares, and assesses the economic viability of an idea.”

LaPata cites General Stanley McChrystal’s[3], The New York Times best seller, Team of Teams, New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, to illustrate how Design Thinking confronts VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) by applying the word to business environment. It was the U.S. Army War College that first used the acronym VUCA, following the break-up of the Soviet Union. In Iraq, fighting Al Queda, McChrystal immediately realized that top-down command could not effectively combat the versatile enemy; it had to be done on a task force level with decentralized authority in the smallest units; his approach was a “team of teams – faster, flatter, more flexible.”

Design Thinking “combines adaptability, agility, and cohesion of a small team with the power and resources of a giant organization.” LaPata goes on to emphasize that “Design Thinking does not ignore VUCA components; it incorporates them strategically and creatively … to successfully navigate an extremely complex world.” We can no longer use the formality of a hierarchical, ‘straight jacket’, authoritarian structure to foster a versatile culture of innovation.

David Kelley’s innovative company IDEO developed a 5-step design in his Design Thinking that begins with an empathetic approach to understanding the customer’s needs to clearly define the terms of engagement with the customer through repeated and ideated questioning so that a prototype can be designed and tested before the tentative product is offered.

This is the essence of innovation that an organization must foster within its culture to not only survive today’s competition of competence and excellence but also to surge ahead with the advantage of being a pioneer in its field.


[2] BHDP stands for Baxter, Hodell, Donnelly, and Preston, founders of their architect company, 1937.  This company designs environments that affect the key behaviors necessary to achieve strategic results for clients in the workplace, higher education, industrial, retail, and science markets.

[3] McChrystal, Gen. Stanley; Collins, Tatum; et al. (2015). Team of Teams, New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Penguin Publishing, New York, N.Y.