The Mindsets Behind the Methods: Applying Design Thinking in Your Organization


I remember as a child watching the movie Matilda and having a burning desire to move things with my mind, just like Matilda. I wanted it SO bad. I would stare really hard at the TV remote, trying to lift it with all my psychokinetic might. But after minutes of squinting and grunting, giving it my all, nothing happened and I gave up on my dream of being able to make objects fly with a glare. I was just wishing I could make magic happen.


Fast forward to today. As a design thinking facilitator, trainer and coach, I often get the question of how to change the culture of a company to be more collaborative, creative and “design thinking-y.” It can seem like an impossible task getting five, a dozen or even hundreds of people to change the way they act and work every day. And while many people wish for change, frequently they don’t actually make change happen.

So what does Matilda have to do with getting design thinking off the ground at your organization? Matilda taught us that when you put your mind to it, you can make the impossible happen.

You’re probably thinking, “Whaaaaat? Shut up. NEXT!” But bear with me.

A common thing I see after people are exposed to design thinking is a desire to directly apply the methods without being critical of what they’re trying to accomplish with design thinking in the first place. They want to check a box, follow a process, and expect magic to happen. But the real magic of design thinking is in the mindsets behind the methods.

Our actions are manifestations of our attitudes and mindsets. So the easiest way to start changing how people act is changing the way they think. You can’t expect people to completely overhaul the way they work overnight. But you can be a role model by demonstrating the change you want to see through your own behaviors and mindsets.

To get you started, here are a few, simple design thinking mindsets you can start modeling within your organization.

Make It Human

People assume doing empathy interviews is doing design thinking, and in many cases, talking to customers is a big part of the process. But an empathy interview is just one tool to help us think from the human perspective. The mindset is about shifting your frame on any problem from your own point of view, or your business’ point of view, to that of your customer to challenge your assumptions and biases.

Ask Yourself: How might I get my team and I thinking from a perspective that’s not our own?

Apply It: Next time you and your team are facing a problem, challenge everyone to think of three ways they can learn about the customer’s point of view. For example, they could actually go talk to real customers, strike up a conversation with their next Uber driver, or just browse online reviews or social media to get a sense for what customers are thinking and feeling. Then, have everyone complete at least one of those activities and come back with a story to represent the customer. This will start to train others in your organization about the many ways to understand a problem and how to continually bring the customer into the problem-solving process.

Make It Real

Ideas are only meaningful if they are put into action, which is why the mindset of making it real is so critical to design thinking. Often, it gets associated with prototyping with popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. But making it real is actually about making our ideas tangible so we can understand them, critique them and share them with others. You don’t always have to build a physical prototype (though you can!). It can be as simple as visualizing your ideas in a sketch or a storyboard that someone else can see, understand and react to.

Ask Yourself: What can I create right now to bring this idea/concept/discussion to life?

Apply It: In your next brainstorm or problem-solving session, if the discussion begins to circle around the merit of a particular idea or concept, ask everyone to take a moment to draw what’s in their mind, making it as concrete and detailed as possible. Then have everyone share their drawing and ask the rest of the team to provide feedback, starting their thought with either “I liked” or “did you think about…” This will help make the discussion more tangible, grounding it in real artifacts as opposed to hypotheticals and opinions.

Make It Inspiring

When presented with a problem, we often jump immediately to the first solution that comes to mind and the problem-solving stops there. That’s because most organizations reward solutions over curiosity and creativity. But finding innovative solutions requires being able to explore lots of possible solutions before choosing a particular one to move forward with. This is called flaring before focusing. If you’ve ever been to a Design Gym workshop, you’ll remember this Open and Exploring before you Close.

Ask Yourself: How might we get inspired about this particular problem or challenge?

Apply It: The next time you catch yourself or someone on your team jumping right to the solution, ask each person on your team to say something that inspires them. Then, set a 10-minute timer and have everyone brainstorm other possible solutions to the problem as well as unanswered questions about the problem. Then, spend another 10 minutes sharing and discussing the unanswered questions and other possible solution areas. At the end of twenty minutes, you should have a few different avenues for further exploring and solving the original problem.

With three new mindsets at your disposal to start reshaping how your organization thinks and acts, here are a few tips for affecting the magic of change:

1. Start With Baby Steps

Sometimes the best way to make a wave is with a ripple. Don’t expect you can change the entire culture of your organization overnight. But you can change your next meeting, working session or conversation in a matter of minutes. Aim to exhibit just one of the above mindsets a day in your work and with your team, and soon enough, you’ll start to notice the culture shifting the way you want.

2. Make Some New Friends

If you’re sitting around saying, “we should be working differently” you’re probably not alone. Find the others secretly wanting change too. Practice your small mindset changes with them and then begin to recruit more allies. Before you know it, you’ll have a small army of changemakers helping reshape how your organization works. Remember, it can all start with finding your partner in crime.

3. Coach the Change You Wish to See

Everybody has problems they don’t know how to solve. Find these people and become a coach for them using the mindsets above. Use inspiration and exploration to help them see the world of possibilities, or help them gain new perspective on their challenge by thinking human-first. But remember, the key to coaching is helping them arrive at their own ah-ha moment—not telling them the answer. But once they do, you can be sure they’ll be hungry for more and you can rally them to become a change agent with you. You’ll also build a reputation as someone who has a toolkit that can make things happen.


Changing an organization is no easy job. Be patient, but start today. Apply a design thinking mindset—big or small—any chance you get. Look for small wins that start to nudge people towards bigger change. Focus on practicing and exhibiting new ways of thinking and, like magic, new habits and behaviors will follow. I can’t promise that you’ll ever be able to move a fork with your mind like Matilda (let’s be real, that will never happen), but adopt the right mindsets—and teach others to do the same—and you’ll start to see your world changing around you.



This week’s blog post is from Lead Trainer Reilly Carpenter. Reilly has a background in marketing and branding and is now a Design Strategist for Capital One. In his current role, his focus has been championing internal education and adoption of design thinking into his organization’s culture as well as leading large-scale design thinking projects. Reilly is your go-to guy for questions on securing buy-in and implementing design thinking projects. You can ask him all about it at an upcoming Design Thinking Bootcamp.


The Design Gym
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The Design Gym is a strategy and innovation consultancy helping leaders to grow their business by fully unlocking the power of their most important advantage: their people. We work at the intersection of business strategy, experience design, and change management to engage the people that matter most to your work: your customers, your leaders, and your employees. See something that resonates with a project or challenge you're working on? Shoot us a note at [email protected].

  • rajoo palaniappan
    Posted at 00:15h, 31 August Reply

    Your sharing is true …..the culture of the organisation is the key to practice design thinking
    A. Transformation of the mindset to think different in. Problem solving is a real challenge to practice DT.

    Excellent learning points

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