As we unfold the new calendar year, I’d like to begin by focusing on how leaders and their organizations and teams can be more innovative in taking on the challenges that lie ahead.   

Design guru Thomas Lockwood and I dedicated a great deal of the last two years to researching and defining the makeup and characteristics of innovative organizations. We synthesized our findings in our new book, Innovation by Design. As the result of our research, along with identifying the need for alignment, we defined the Ten Attributes that the organizations in our worldwide study group all share. In doing so, we inevitably found ourselves at the intersection of design thinking, innovation and corporate culture. Through better understanding this convergence, we also arrived at the appreciation that by changing the approach to innovation – or altering the process – the leaders of organizations can influence the mindset of their members to be more possibility-oriented in their thinking and behavior, and to act more innovatively. This insight helps us to better understand the influence of design thinking and why the attribute of design thinking at scale is as powerful as it is.

In part, for organizations to reap the benefits of design thinking at scale, it requires leaders to undertake three key strategies:

  • Train people in the use and application of design thinking.
  • Apply design thinking organization-wide for problem solving, decision making, and planning, including its application in strategic planning, product and service design, as well as process and system design, thereby ultimately maintaining a focus on and alignment to the customer and user experience.
  • Incorporate leadership role modeling in the use and support of design thinking throughout their organizations.   


Scaling Innovation

We went into our study focusing on organizations that are recognized as using design thinking as a source of innovation and business performance. What we didn’t expect was the scale at which some of the companies and organizations are applying it. Here is a snapshot of the significant numbers of people that have been trained at a few leading companies:

  • SAP has trained 20,000 employees
  • IBM has trained 50,000 employees
  • Intuit, over 10,000 employees (that’s is the entire company)
  • Kaiser, 15,000 people
  • GE Healthcare, 6,000
  • Marriott, 5,000
  • Deutche Telekom, 8,000
  • Philips, 5,000
  • Visa, 10 percent of their workforce.

This set of numbers tells a story in itself.

In some of the companies, design thinking was strategically seen as a function, a means through which to engage its membership on a larger scale. In others, we observed how design thinking spread, adding a belief in innovation and dramatically increasing its value. In some, it was approached from the top down while, in others, it started as means for which to solve a particular problem in one part of the organization and people were naturally drawn to its qualities and wanted in on the game. In still others, it was a part of human resource and organizational development strategies that were delivered through training and facilitation. What was consistent is that, regardless of how it was happening, how it was introduced, implemented, and integrated, people are drawn to participating in design thinking.

Eventually, people perceive their role in the organization as one of being a contributor to the innovative process. As a result, all three key elements of culture – participation, expertise and authenticity – are influenced. The changes become apparent in the observable shifts in behavior, that further manifest in the beliefs and values of an organization. Eventually, this changes the mindset of people and their experience, and their interpretation and mindset about the culture.

The Lessons

One big lesson is that any organization, of any size, can use design thinking as a means to influence culture and achieve greater levels of innovation. Regardless of size, the scaling through an organization, and whether it is 10 people or 300,000, the more people know about how to engage in design thinking, the greater the level of innovation. We also found that among our study group of innovators, the scale of adoption and use varied, as did the manner in which they implemented and integrated it (we include a full chapter about this in the book, Innovation by Design).

The other big lesson is the need for aligned leadership – that success requires that leaders demonstrate their commitment to design thinking and its use as the go-to creative and problem-solving process. This is accomplished through leadership’s role modeling and support of the use of design thinking throughout their organizations. When it comes to culture, leaders are responsible not only for articulating mission, vision, and strategy. They are accountable for role modeling and reinforcing the processes and behaviors of innovation. Ultimately, they are the influencers of how to use the process of design thinking to influence changes in behavior. The result is the change to an organization’s culture and the mindset of its members to think and act more innovatively. When it comes to leading an innovative culture, it’s always about alignment.


Edgar Papke and Thomas Lockwood are the authors of  Innovation By Design and founders of InnoAlignment, a consultancy dedicated to assisting leaders in designing and building cultures of innovation.


To pay homage to the season of giving, and for my last blog of 2017, I thought it appropriate to share some thoughts about the role of generosity in leadership and in our lives. This includes Seven Acts of Generosity from our book, Innovation by Design. We can all apply the Seven Acts of Generosity in our lives and further trust in our relationships.

One of the most powerful forms of influence is generosity. From a leadership perspective, while it is often overlooked, the influence of generosity is always present, even when we’re not paying attention to or looking for it.

How can we best define what generosity is?

Currently, our most popular definitions focus on three types of “giving”resources, money and time. Interestingly, many studies show that, of the three, we are more likely to give money and resources than we are willing to give of our time. Even more interesting is the fact that the more current and frequently found definitions of generosity fail to explore it as a form of influence. They are aspects of influence that go well beyond the measurable cost versus benefit often attributed to generosity and the giving of money, resources and time.

This leads us back to exploring the longer-standing definitions of generosity. Here are three that appear with consistency:

1) The habit of giving freely without anything in return.

2) Freedom from meanness or smallness of character.

3) Acts of giving characterized by noble spirit.

All of these definitions transcend much of our current thinking about generosity and provide the framework for a deeper understanding of how we influence each other. They also provide insight into how we convey generosity on a daily and ongoing basis and through which we can achieve greater levels of mutual respect, mutual benefit, and trust.

As evidence of this influence, there’s extensive school of study on the connection of generosity to how our brains work, including our resulting physical and emotional responses. This includes studies exploring the hormone oxytocin (commonly referred to as the love hormone) and its link to parental bonding and the positive feelings of trust that result in caring behaviors, including generosity and the human desire to connect through giving. This further supports what we know about human nature and our desire for generosity, which is at the core of so much of our spiritual and religious belief systems. As Mother Teresa expressed, “At the heart of God is generosity.”

To help you put this all into practice, here are seven powerful acts of generosity from Innovation by Design that you can apply immediately, in all of your relationships to achieve greater levels of mutual respect, mutual benefit, and trust. 

Seven Acts of Generosity

APPRECIATION. Showing appreciation to people begins with having a positive attitude toward others and recognizing them for their value, for who they are, and what they contribute to the world. To show appreciation is to praise individuals for their strengths, beliefs, and competencies, and to recognize their contribution. While we spend a great deal of time looking for grounds to criticize one another, when people feel appreciated, they feel safe. When they feel safe, they feel confident. When people feel confident, they perform at higher levels. And, they trust you more.

LISTENING. One of the most generous gifts we give to one another is the act of listening. To listen genuinely with the intention to understand and know another person is how we establish true mutual respect. There is a generosity in relationships wherein people are committed to consciously hearing one another and listening for understanding and meaning. It often takes time and patience to really listen to one another. In today’s fast-paced world of multiple priorities and almost continuous engagement in the multiple tasks we’re confronted with, the act of generous listening has limitless value and influence.

GRATITUDE. The act of gratitude begins with simply saying “thank you.” Unpretentious and powerful, in any language, these simple words of gratitude are available to us in virtually any situation we may find ourselves. Because of this, it is likely the most often overlooked act of being generous. Saying “thanks” not only shows people that you’re paying attention to their actions, it signifies that you are grateful and appreciative of what they are giving and of their contribution. When we show gratitude, we are acknowledging a benefit that we are receiving from one another.

KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge is power and power is influence. In a world in which the level of our knowledge, skill, and competency is often the means by which we are measured, when we give of our abilities and generously share our know-how and competencies, we are providing one another with an increased ability to achieve and to succeed. Take a moment and ask yourself who outside your parents had the greatest influence on your life. It is very likely to be someone who taught you something—a teacher, boss, coach, or spiritual guide who was sharing their knowledge with you. Too often leaders miss the opportunity to coach and teach. The sharing of knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can give to those we lead.

COMPASSION. The generosity of compassion is intimately tied to the giving of empathy and sympathy. When we act compassionately toward another person, we demonstrate consideration and kindness. Compassion is often described as being empathetic to another people’s point of view and striving to gain an understanding of their emotions and, ultimately, their fears. It is when we are able to understand another person’s fear, through the awareness of our own emotion, that we can be fully present to the relationship. Compassion speaks to the heart and soul, and conveys an ability to be a part of a shared experience. This is the origin of the notion of kind-heartedness. After all, we are all human beings and share the same basic desires, needs, and fears.

ACCEPTANCE.  Think for a moment how you treat someone that you are tolerating versus how you treat someone you willingly accept for who he or she is. There is a requirement that goes with the second of these two options, which is the necessity of seeing others through open-mindedness. When we are open-minded, we move beyond tolerating others in our relationships, to genuinely accepting others for who they are, with all their goodness, as well as their shortcomings. Acceptance of one another conveys a generosity of human spirit. It acknowledges our differences as a natural outgrowth of our likenesses and what we all have in common. It is the generosity of accepting the conditions that accompany any relationship. After all, it’s a long and arduous road trying to get people to change who they are, especially when it’s for your own benefit.

INTIMACY. The ultimate act of generosity is the giving of one’s self to the world and engaging others in intimate relationships. This is the key that unlocks the power and influence of authenticity. As much as acceptance invites others to be themselves and to be open with you, intimacy is your invitation to yourself to be open and to be authentic with others. As much as intimacy defines our closeness to others, it also speaks to the closeness and familiarity we have with ourselves. When the internal and external align, that alignment appears in the confidence to be open about what we think, see, and ultimately, what we feel.

Edgar Papke and Thomas Lockwood are the authors of Innovation By Design and founders of InnoAlignment, a consultancy dedicated to assisting leaders in designing and building cultures of innovation.


Culture informs people how to individually and collectively achieve success, and to understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. As a result, it is at the core of how people come together to innovate. That being said, how does a leader assess and understand the culture of their organization enough to know what its sources of innovation are? And, how can we simplify the path and know how to get there?

These are not uncommon questions. In fact, more and more studies and ideas are focusing on how leaders and organizations can better understand how innovative they are and how they can better leverage the sources of innovation at their disposal. This is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the history of business, we have found ourselves trying to figure out how to maximize our human potential. Today, more 
than ever, companies and institutions of all 
types and sizes are concentrating on the creation of more innovative cultures.

To get a sense of the magnitude of how important innovation is perceived to be to the success of today’s organizations, one just has to look at the title of KPMG’s 2016 Global CEO survey, aptly titled “Now or Never. ” The executive summary delivers a clear message, sharing that “two-thirds of CEOs believe that the next three years will be more critical than the last fifty years. The forces creating this inflection point are the rapidly evolving technology and the speed of transformation it unleashes. In four years’ time 4 out of 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies.

In response to the pursuit for greater innovation, the marketplace now offers a host of tools and instruments, all aimed at collecting enough data – and the right data – to tell how well the members of a team or organization are able to
 work together to be more innovative. As a result, in pursuit of innovation, we have created intricate organizations, with many moving parts, all further adding to the complexity of our lives—until we come to the place of recognizing what the great designer Dieter Rams pointed out many years ago: “less, but better.” For, when all is said and done, more than science or the collection and use of data, the quest to understand how to create higher levels of innovation leads us back to the quest to better understand human nature.

What most of us have come to realize is that we’re arriving at a place in time that what will serve us best is simplicity. We’re looking for solutions to the resulting emotional stress that all the moving parts and advanced technology creates in our lives. By doing so, we are able to release the creativity required for the further innovation we seek. It’s a matter of doing it in smarter and in simpler ways.

The solution that many of the world’s most innovative organizations have learned to rely on is the use of design thinking. In conducting the research for our new book, Innovation By Design, Thomas Lockwood and I conducted an in-depth study of 21 of the world’s most innovative design thinking organizations. Among a host of great discoveries, including the identification of 10 key attributes, we found that while every organization has a unique culture, those that succeed are able to figure out how to integrate design thinking. That is, through better understanding their culture, they were able to implement and integrate design thinking into it more successfully.

The organizations in our study group learned to use design thinking to simplify and better leverage the human-centered processes through which to innovate.

What they further demonstrate is the ability to apply a systematic approach to understanding and better leveraging their unique culture. This is the attribute we call Culture Awareness: Understanding how to implement and use design thinking in a manner that is in alignment to the organization’s culture. In our book, Thomas and I provide the framework for how they were able to accomplish this success, including the definitions and keys to understanding the three culture types: participation, expertise, and authenticity cultures.

The successful introduction and implementation of any change is reliant on the ability of an organization’s leadership to have an in-depth understanding of culture. In doing so, they can better understand the basic tenets of behavior, and how individual and collective innovation and success is achieved. As the stories of 21 of the world’s most innovative organizations in Innovation By Design demonstrate, such understanding is one of the great undertakings and keys to successfully simplifying and leveraging innovation. The value of having a framework for assessing and understanding culture cannot be understated in leading innovation. Nor can the need for simplicity and a focus on human nature.

Edgar Papke and Thomas Lockwood are the authors of Innovation By Design and founders of InnoAlignment, a consultancy dedicated to assisting leaders in designing and building cultures of innovation.


One of the essential characteristics of creative and highly innovative cultures is their ability to recognize and leverage conflict.

Granted, for any organization or team, one of the greatest challenges it faces is how to effectively manage competing interests, differing views, disagreement, and multiple mindsets, all of which are natural sources of conflict. However, when managed through the framework of design thinking, they’re also great contributors to innovation.

The struggle for most organizations and their leaders is in finding the right approach to confronting and realizing the potential for innovation that resides in the natural creativity that lives in the multitude of conflicts that they deal with. Conflicts are all too often avoided, thereby leaving the sources of innovation and creativity untapped. One of the most powerful solutions to finding the right “how” for many of the most innovative organizations is their use of design thinking.

Design thinking is a way of leading with creativity and it encourages embracing ambiguity and uncertainty. It offers a platform for managing diverse thinking and strategies and, in doing so, it offers the opportunity to curiously confront conflicts in a constructive way. In spending resources to teach design thinking to their members and develop it as a core competency, organizations leverage the benefit they get from using it as a management tool for converting disagreement into the fuel necessary for innovation.

In our research that led to the writing of our new book Innovation By Design, Thomas Lockwood and I identified ten attributes that the 21 highly innovative, design thinking organizations in our study group all possess. The one that we found to consistently lead to constructively managing conflict is Curious Confrontation. We define Curious Confrontation as: The ability to face differing ideas and mindsets with the desire to investigate and learn. When confronting conflict, it is the ability to act with curiosity that results in the intentional inquiry and appreciation of differing points of view and mindsets that inevitably results in healthy collaboration. 

Along with research that finds a sense of curiosity as a characteristic of genius, one’s curiosity quotient (CQ) is also a critical contributor to one’s level of social intelligence. Research shows that curious people have more friends, more significant relationships, and are viewed by others more highly than those with less curiosity. In light of their increased ability to be more inquiring, others see them as more considerate, interested, and empathetic. As a result, they are seen as more likable. Research also indicates that people who are curious are happier, healthier, more productive, and have better social relationships. The reality is that every organization has its struggles in dealing with the differing points of view, values, and beliefs we all have. As a result, we don’t generally listen to one another very well. While confronting conflict has more than its fair share of negative connotation attached to it, acting intentionally with curiosity sets the stage for the openness and trust necessary for free expression and higher levels of creativity and innovation. This, in turn, builds empathy.

Empathy is paramount for users of design thinking.

Through our research, we found that not only does design thinking provide a framework for people to express themselves, it also provides a platform for listening and empathy. Empathy, as displayed through genuine inquiry and expression, is paramount for users of design thinking. As the result of lessened levels of fear, empathy leads to the increased levels of emotional maturity and safety that directly impact how diverse views and ideas are constructively managed. This results in a significant influence on an organization or team’s culture. A cornerstone to how people interpret culture, and often the first impression that people get about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, is based on their experience of how disagreement and conflict are managed. More than at any other moment in time, people learn about the culture they’re in when they experience conflict and discover what feels safe, as well as what feels unsafe.

By asking how design thinking helps people manage disagreement and conflict in our research, we came to recognize the importance that curiosity plays in the intentional management of conflict as the source of innovation that it is. Curious Confrontation is the key attribute that consistently plays a role across our study group organizations to foster empathy and create healthy relationships that support teamwork and lead to innovation.

In summary:

  • Design thinking provides an effective tool for confronting and managing disagreement and conflict.
  • Organizations using design thinking have a belief in, and positive mindset about, curiosity.
  • People who use design thinking demonstrate better inquiry, empathy, and listening skills, which is key in managing disagreement and conflict effectively, and building trust.
  • Because design thinking skills can be applied to dealing with disagreement and conflict, confrontation happens in a more timely and healthier manner, thereby avoiding much of the dysfunction and consequences associated with avoidance.
  • Design thinking is a valued process for confronting disagreements and misalignment’s among functions, and their leaders, and effectively breaking down unhealthy silos.
  • This creates synergy, design thinking organizations leverage creativity.

Edgar Papke and Thomas Lockwood are the authors of Innovation By Design and founders of InnoAlignment, a consultancy dedicated to assisting leaders in designing and building cultures of innovation.


For our recently released new book, Innovation By Design, Thomas Lockwood and I conducted an in-depth study of 21 of the most innovative organizations in the world. As a result of our research, we identified 10 attributes they all share and that they use to leverage design thinking to produce change, drive new ideas, and deliver meaningful solutions.

We found ourselves asking two important questions:

  • As human beings, what motivates us to want to come together to innovate and create change with the intensity we do?
  • How do the organizations in our study group (among them SAP, IBM, LEGO, NZTE, GE Healthcare and Intuit) create and lead their innovative cultures?

These questions are among the most intriguing challenges that leaders of organizations continuously wrestle with.

We came to realize that the human energy that brings the 10 attributes together to make things work is The Collective Imagination: The natural desire of human beings to come together in community to collaborate, explore and learn, and create what we want. This is the fuel that provides the substance and underpinnings of our organizational cultures. The Collective Imagination provides the energy for creativity to freely flourish and feeds the innovation within an organization’s culture.  

In my book True Alignment, I provided a model for better understanding the desired alignment of the customer experience and branding with cultures of organizations and teams. The psychology behind this model uses FIRO-Theory as the groundwork science. Created by psychologist and author Will Schutz, FIRO-Theory suggests that all human behavior and interaction is motivated by three fundamental desires to feel: 1) Important and significant;
 2) Competent and capable; and, 3) Liked and accepted.

These are the same elements that also make up the motivational drivers of our human ability to innovate and act as the three pillars of The Collective Imagination: 1) Participation; 2) Pursuit of knowledge; and, 3) Free expression.




In innovative organizations, The Collective Imagination is at work through the behaviors of involvement, collaboration, and cooperation that result in the sharing of ideas, people paying attention to each other, and the subsequent leveraging of differing viewpoints, inferences, and opinions. The underlying influence that opens the door to successful collaboration among the members of an organization or team is the human need for inclusion. If we dig a little deeper, we find that this natural need for participation and connectivity has a great deal of influence on how people feel valued and respected. This is also what makes listening such a powerful aspect of design thinking. When we feel like we will be paid attention to, and not ignored, we show up, get involved, and share our ideas.

Pursuit of Knowledge

Innovative cultures are always hungry for ideas and thrive on finding new ways to understand our world and how human beings and nature function. Fueled by our innate desire to feel competent, have a sense of control, to know more, and to always do better, the pursuit of knowledge is the force of nature behind our ability to think critically, inquire, and ideate. This includes the analysis of data and the use of available criteria, and the seeking of new information to solve problems. In innovative cultures, analytics, data interpretation, and the creation of measurable feedback loops into the prototyping and iteration processes. These are means through which a focus on expanding what we know can become “What if?” questions. As human beings, we are never quite satisfied with what we have, nor what we know. The two are intertwined. To get more of what we want, we seek the knowledge necessary to create what we seek.

Free Expression

Our ability to freely express what we think, see, and feel, without the risk of being rejected or not being liked, offers the capability to engage in the unbridled creativity that results in the uninhibited generating of ideas, brainstorming, and the more imaginative and fearless expression of thoughts and feelings. The use of playful and artistic expression is evidence of this basic and yet powerful source of creativity. Fearless exploration is often at the heart of extraordinary innovations. It is important to recognize that free expression is the path through which we open ourselves to being vulnerable and intimate with one another, and express our feelings. In reciprocity, we are more apt to give empathy to those that allow us to communicate without inhibition or fear. Fearless expression is also one of the keys to imaginative communication. It provides us with the sense of childlike wonderment and deeper emotional connection to our work, as well as seeing business as an art form. It reminds us that business is art and that art is the creative expression of human emotion.



Put the three pillars in place, and you have the ingredients that manifest in The Collective Imagination and that provide the underlying motivation for our constant and ongoing quest to innovate. As important as the three pillars are to the successful application of design thinking, they are also essential to highly innovative cultures. In light of this, it’s important to note that you can’t succeed by relying on one or two of the three. As fundamental as they are, they are also fully interdependent, and therefore essential to creating success. This is why design thinking plays such a significant role in how innovative cultures attain success.

Unlike many other processes that have come and gone, and that have the aim of bringing the power of The Collective Imagination to the forefront, none has been as successful as design thinking. This is evidenced by the level of problem-solving and levels of success being achieved by the highly innovative organizations using it.

Edgar Papke and Thomas Lockwood are the authors of  Innovation By Design and founders of InnoAlignment, a consultancy dedicated to assisting leaders in designing and building cultures of innovation.