“Two heads are better than one.”  — John Heywood


The organizations that Thomas Lockwood and I researched were not bound by the limitations of their structure or the defined roles people find themselves in. Rather, they invite inclusion, and bring together diverse groups and parties to collaboratively produce mutually benefitting and jointly valued outcomes. Both internally and externally, they deliberately engage people in the act of co-creation, eventually making it a key attribute of their innovative cultures.

The idea of co-creation is not a new concept. In its first forms, it focused on bringing together broader groups of consumers and customers, thereby enabling the provider of a product or service to generate new ideas. It offered a means of bringing together different parties to produce a mutually benefitting outcome. Over time, this resulted in an increased appreciation of the value of understanding the unique experiences and perspectives of customers.

What followed was the acknowledgment and use of co-creation in innovatively thinking about business strategies, structures, systems, and eventually, organizational cultures. Throughout our book, Innovation By Design, there are examples of how organizations use the pull factor to multiply the engagement of the variety of contributors to their design thinking processes.


One of the powerful examples of what happens when an organization takes the idea of co-creation and expands the process to a broader set of participants and applications is Philips, the Dutch technology company that, through its divisions, now focuses its innovation in the areas of health and wellness technology.

Sean Carney is the chief design officer of Royal Philips and is responsible for building the design thinking capabilities throughout the Philips organization. Philips created a branding for their design thinking process. In the spirit of greater involvement, they call their program the Co-Create process framework.

The framework is an embedded component and competency within the company that is forwarded through a company-wide training program and that is part of Philips University and the Philips Business process framework.

Sean joined Philips in 2011, succeeding Philip’s design leader Stephano Marzano. Sean arrived at a time when the company needed to create a shift in its broader business strategy. Over Marzano’s two decades of influence, and following the pioneering design leadership path set by Robert Blaich, Philips had become a design powerhouse and the envy of the product design world. During Marzano’s tenure, Philips Design operated as an internal service provider to the various divisions of the electronics giant, operating essentially as a design agency within the larger organization.

Now the company needed more: a broader and more integrated use of design thinking that would also influence the company’s business strategy.

Integrating design into strategy and practice

Under Sean’s leadership, design has been integrated as a strategy and a practice throughout Philips, contributing to the transformation of the company from being a consumer electronics product and lighting company, into a focused leader in health technology.

This is a dramatic strategic shift and is coupled with how design thinking is now used in the company and its influence on how the company focuses its innovation capability.

The change in separating health technology and lighting also helped move the company from a financial under-performance in 2011 to a return to delivering higher financial returns. According to the Philips Annual Report, in 2016 the company’s net income more than doubled (to €1.5 billion, or $1.8 billion USD) from the previous year and its income from operations increased from €1.0 billion to €1.9 billion, the equivalent of an increase from approximately $1.2 to $2.27 billion USD.

philips healthcare co-creation

As is often the case, though design thinking is credited with the creation of powerful innovation in products and services, it is also a key contributor to the creation of innovative organizational strategies that result in financial outcomes. As is so often the case with strategies that fall into the realm of human resources and organizational development, and that are difficult to track in terms of ROI and measurable financial value, the results at Philips demonstrate a more-than-significant effect on the financial bottom line.

Design thinking is also a key contributor to organizational transformations that get greater financial results.

Success through co-creation

A key to success in engaging the various groups in the co-creation strategy was recognizing the need to position the training in the Philips Academy, thereby allowing it to be scaled throughout the organization. At that time, HR was building a Philips Academy, and the principles of design thinking fit perfectly into that curriculum. Frans van Houten, the CEO of Philips, who was very intrigued about the use and influence of design thinking, assured that the Academy would receive the proper funding. Design and HR worked together to ensure that design thinking was developed and implemented in the organization properly.

The result was the establishment of a “10%–20%–70%” training model—that is,

  • 10 percent of the design thinking team became moderators and co-create leaders,
  • 20 percent of the team acted as coaches, and
  • 70 percent of the team actively focused on the principle of learning by doing, and co-creating with people internal and external to the company.

Important to the successful and meaningful implementation was that the training was applied on real-life challenges, mainly in the healthcare domain.

The different types of challenges varied in the areas of innovation for business strategy, new value propositions, business transformation, and customer engagements.

Design thinking was used to reframe the challenge of how to compete in the sector and to come up with a shared vision from which both internal groups and external partners and stakeholders could explore possible strategies and value propositions. By working on real-life business challenges, the Co-Create program delivered measurable impact and achieved sustainable change for the organization in the transformation of moving from a product company into a healthcare solutions provider.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


In our book, Innovation by Design, Thomas Lockwood and I identified 10 attributes that give remarkable power to the human-centered aspects of design thinking organizations. Curious confrontation, that is, facing differing ideas and mindsets with the desire to investigate and learn, is one of these aspects.

Throughout our research we found this attribute to be consistently present. Though we can safely say that it isn’t 100 percent of the time present in how things get done, it almost always exists when people are applying design thinking to a problem. And, it is especially valuable when design thinking is used to confront differing viewpoints and conflicts.

Creating a change in mindset – The Hunger Project

Some 40 years ago, in the wake of the Bangladesh famine crisis, the founders of the Hunger Project took on one of humankind’s greatest challenges, ending human hunger. It wasn’t long before they came to the realization that the usual charity responses and resolutions wouldn’t work. They recognized that past efforts did not provide the right solutions because the right problems had not been identified. The key question that needed to be answered was not “How do we do what is being done better?” but “What’s missing in the work of ending hunger?

To broaden and deepen their problem-solving capability, and to think more creatively, they engaged the help of a group of experts and consultants. With the help of the group, they began a deeper inquiry and concluded that it wasn’t a matter of throwing money, and more money, at feeding people.

At that time, they concluded that the real problem was the lack of political will.

In Africa, where women were in the role of farmers, they found poor leadership and a lack of government focus on agriculture. When they confronted this issue further and followed their curiosity, they realized that the real problem was a matter of gender relationships. Though women had the primary responsibility for the feeding and care of the communities they lived in, they were the least empowered.

Confronting the truth and continuously acting from a place of curiosity is not easy.

By looking for what was missing, the Hunger Project found the path to strategically reinvent, shifting from the putting of time and energy into education in richer and wealthier countries, to bottom-up development in underdeveloped and impoverished areas of the world.

Each time the organization reinvented itself it required the ability to confront itself, and its stakeholders, to look for what is true.

As John Coonrod, the Hunger Project’s executive vice president, explains:

Learning how to reinvent has been part of our process. We had to stop doing what we thought we were good at and start addressing what was missing. Not knowing what was next can be hard sometimes. We had to accept that we didn’t know what was next always or how to get there. We referred to it as “climbing a mountain in the fog.” We had to shift our resources and get everyone on board. And then we found out that while leadership was on board, we had failed to engage donors. They didn’t understand the change. To do that, we had to educate them and shift their mindset. Instead of calling them “donors,” we started calling them “investors.” What we learned was that in making strategic shifts, we have to include everyone.

curious confrontation mindset helping to improve humanitarian aid

In the 1990s, the Hunger Project once again reinvented itself.

To confront gender issues at the local and individual levels, the strategy shifted to focus on the transformation of gender relations. However, this time they started with a focus on the broad engagement of investors and creating internal and external alignment. As John points out:

At the heart, ending hunger is about unleashing the human spirit and human dignity. The key to ending hunger is knowing who hungry people truly are. If given a chance, they will end their own hunger. It is about people being able to be in charge of their own lives and destiny. To not be denied the most basic of human rights and principles so that they can be able and capable of taking action in their own lives. Awareness creation is the starting point of a staged program of building people’s confidence, leadership, organizations and skills so that they can set and successfully achieve their own goals. We have a range of capabilities and structures to get things done.

In 1990, in response to typical top-down and charitable responses to hunger, which were often too inefficient and inflexible to meet the challenge of hunger, the Hunger Project, together with the Planning Commission of India, pioneered a new, decentralized, holistic, people-centered approach known as Strategic Planning in Action (SPIA).

This methodology turned traditional planning on its head: The Hunger Project would bring all sectors together, identify a critical gap or opportunity for synergy, and then launch catalytic projects, which would reveal new pathways for action.

More than 20,000 communities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have applied SPIA to empower people to achieve lasting improvements in health, education, nutrition, and family income.

The leadership of the Hunger Project shows the ability to confront the truth about the context that they were operating in and, through being curious, inquire and explore what changes they and the organization needed to go through. They also had to confront the organization’s myriad stakeholders—some of which could be resistant to change—asking them to also face the current realities, investigate and learn about the different viewpoints that emerged, and be open to the new ideas that offered the possibilities for finding the right solution. Each reinvention of the organization reflects a deeper exploration and understanding of the right problem to be solved.

For the Hunger Project, to create such a change in mindset requires the attribute of curious confrontation.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


One of the culture keys, and a cornerstone to how people interpret culture, is how disagreement and team conflict are managed. It has a great deal to do with how people feel safe in a culture, including their experience of what is acceptable and safe behavior, and what is considered unacceptable and unsafe. More than at any other moment in time, people learn about the culture they’re in when they experience conflict.

Curious Confrontation:

Facing differing ideas and mindsets with the desire to investigate and learn.

One of the questions that Thomas Lockwood and I asked when researching our book Innovation by Design focused on the influence that the use of design thinking has on how people manage disagreement and conflict. This ended up providing us one of the key attributes consistent across our study group organizations,

We ended up five insights that stood out as being the most significant:

  1. Design thinking provides an effective tool for confronting and managing disagreement and conflict.
  2. Organizations using design thinking have a belief in and positive mindset about curiosity.
  3. People who use design thinking demonstrate better inquiry and listening skills, which is the key to effectively managing disagreement and conflict.
  4. 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 it.
  5. Design thinking is a valued process for confronting disagreements and misalignments among functions, and their leaders, and effectively breaking down unhealthy silos.

One of the greatest challenges any organization or team will face lies in how it effectively manages disagreement and conflict.

The process of design thinking creates a platform for the constructive management of diverse thinking and strategies, and the conflict that often naturally results. Viewing disagreement and conflict as an opportunity is a quality design thinking organizations can engage in. It’s an aspect of creativity and innovation that is natural to any environment in which people are committed to finding and creating the best solutions possible.

team conflict and the benefits of design thinking

Team Conflict, Competition and Creativity

When managed properly as part of an organization’s culture, the commitment to viewing team conflict and disagreement as an opportunity for creativity can be leveraged as a means to drive more innovative solutions to market. When teams compete with one another, it can also add to the speed at which innovation takes place.

A good example of such an environment is at some of the Samsung research and design centers. Here, several design thinking teams are established to work on the same challenges, at the same time. The teams work independently, don’t communicate with one another, and often don’t even know about the work of other teams. Their goal is to use design thinking to discover new products and services needs and solutions within a specific domain. This does not appear to be a case of lack of management coordination, but rather a case of putting more resources into solving a given problem area to increase the probability of success.

In this environment, internal design thinking team competitiveness is encouraged, and it seems quite practical in that corporate culture. This may be one of the reasons Samsung innovation seems to be far outpacing Apple innovation in recent years.

Although internally competing groups and teams—when clearly articulated as part of an organization’s culture and led in a healthy manner—can provide a great benefit, it can also backfire, leading to a lack of information sharing and unwarranted redundancy and duplication. It can also result in a more critical win-lose environment or the bringing to market of products not fully realized. Despite some hiccups along the way, Samsung has used this approach with a great deal of success.

Developing Conflict-Management Skills

As leaders show a willingness to support the teaching of design thinking skills to their employees, they soon become aware of the benefit they get from its use as a team conflict management tool. This includes paying more attention to the development of communication and conflict skills that support its success.

Because design thinking is a way of leading with curiosity, it encourages embracing ambiguity, uncertainty, and confusion. In doing so, people come to understand the value of listening to one another, allowing for the creative process of building one idea upon another. It also feeds the ability of people to move from a reliance on individual creativity and contribution, to behaving more collaboratively and engaging in shared creativity.

It all leads back to the understanding that an openness to listening to one another results in improved levels of inquiry, a necessary element in effectively and resolving conflict.

The skills of listening and seeking understanding are key to empathy, the first step in the design thinking process.

Genuine inquiry and open listening are paramount for users of design thinking to be successful and, as the result of lessened levels of fear, leads to the increased levels of emotional maturity and safety that directly impact how conflict is constructively managed. The result of lesser levels of fear translates into the free expression that leads to the ability of people to engage in the idea generation that feeds the process of co-creation.

When applied to conflicts, design thinking results in greater openness and faster generation of ideas, better feedback loops, and less competition over whose idea is better.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


Design thinking is a human-centered innovation process that emphasizes observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualization, and rough prototyping. The objective is to solve not only the stated problem at hand, but the real problems behind the obvious.”
Thomas Lockwood

So what is design thinking? 

There are many definitions of design thinking, but to be honest they are all pretty much the same. That’s because design thinking itself is an open, shared, and co-developed concept. So let’s not get wrapped up in semantics. According to Wikipedia:

Design thinking refers to creative strategies designers utilize during the process of designing. It is also an approach that can be used to consider issues, with a means to help resolve these issues, more broadly than within professional design practice and has been applied in business as well as social issues. Design thinking in business uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.

In our 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.

As Thomas points out in his book Design Thinking, there are several key tenets that appear to be common in design thinking, and that we found consistently present in our design thinking organizations.

Identifying the right problem and understanding the user

The first tenet is a quest to identify the right problem to solve, coupled with a deep understanding of the user. This is achieved through:

  • observation,
  • fieldwork and research,
  • an empathetic approach to discovering stated plus unarticulated user needs, and
  • open inquiry.

Rather than adding the dilemmas of missing the mark in understanding consumers’ wants and needs, taking the approach of design thinking makes understanding the problem and the desired outcome all that much more focused and faster.

“The key is to start from a seeking to understand point of view”
Thomas Lockwood

Empathy coupled with collaboration

Empathy coupled with collaboration is the second tenet of design thinking. This applies to both the users and through the forming of multidisciplinary teams. In collaboration, constraints can be removed and great ideas can emerge. This helps to move an organization past silos and toward radical collaboration, rather than incremental improvement, thereby moving faster toward the creation and delivery of the right solution, a valued solution.

innovation - what is design thinking

Accelerate learning

The third tenet is accelerating learning through hands-on experimenting, visualization, and creating quick rough prototypes, which are made as simple as possible in order to get usable feedback. Because design thinking is effective in radical problem-solving as well as incremental improvement, the more experimentation the better.

The quick and simple prototypes also help grasp a potential implementation well before resources are spent in development. Often the goal is to fail quickly and frequently so that learning can occur. Prototypes can be sketches, rough physical mock-ups, stories, role-playing, concept storyboards—anything to help make the intangible more tangible. In a world in which shorter and abbreviated written messaging, visual cues, and emotional storytelling are overtaking written forms of communication, visualization has become a primary tool in the engagement of innovative thinking.

Integrating business model innovation

Thomas Lockwood is a big advocate of integrating business model innovation during the process of design thinking, rather than adding later or using it to limit creative ideations.

It’s a delicate balance, but also one of the attributes of effective design thinking organizationsThat is, they are able to integrate thinking by combining the creative ideas with business aspects, including the three Ps (people, planet and profit), in order to learn from a more complex and diverse point of viewThis is also helpful in anticipating what new business activities and the resources that may be required in the implementation of a new product, service, or experience initiative.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


Transforming or designing culture requires changing individual and collective behavior.

One of the greatest values to be gained from design thinking is the impact it can have on the culture of an organization and how it contributes to greater collaboration and innovation, regardless of its size.

Designing Culture: The Example of GE

In 2016, General Electric’s (GE) revenue topped $123 billion. GE has more than 330,000 employees operating in over 180 countries. It comes as no surprise that in a commentary published in April 2017, John G. Rice, the company’s vice chairman, shared his observation that it’s natural for a business of GE’s size and scale to see silos manifest along the way. He pointed out that the sharing of ideas and collaboration necessary to be innovative, and the ability of employees or team to add new value, have always been a challenge for the company:

Without a radical shift in everyday working behavior—in employee’s relationships with the company and one another—silos will remain, and the sort of cross-industry and horizontal collaboration that companies like GE need to foster for growth is not going to happen.
John G. Rice, Vice Chairman, GE

For any organization to undergo the continuous change required to sustain and grow, and to be innovative, its leaders and employees need to understand the tension between the paradigm of consistency offered by its culture and the ambiguity necessary for change. This means that they must be able to, at a root level, both trust in the necessity of their culture to evolve, while not relying on or creating unnecessary conditions of predictability.

It also requires being responsive to what is required to attract and leverage the ever-evolving world of talent.

Attracting creative talent

One of the keys to attracting creative talent is to create a culture that thrives on continuous learning and risk-taking.

This requires creating shifts in the culture to interest the new generation in the workforce, a group that wants to engage in a set of work experiences that are radically different from those of the past—a set of experiences that call for the greater levels of participation, and more collaborative and fast-paced ways that design thinking affords. It is about a more creative and engaging way to work and innovate together.

In its effort to become more design thinking–focused, GE moved its headquarters to downtown Boston.

Of the 800 positions at its new headquarters, 600 are designers, developers, and product managers—all evidence of the shift from being engineering-driven to design-driven, from product-centric to customer-centric, and from marketing-focused to user experience–focused. It’s also a sign of the need for executives to collaborate more with designers, design thinkers, and design leaders.

In a September 2016 interview with the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson, when asked about the rise of the creative class and the company’s move to Boston, GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt explained:

I have to say it’s real. I thought it was a little bit of B.S. initially, I wasn’t sure. And when I looked out the window — when I was in Connecticut, it was beautiful, awesome, great office — but when I looked out my window, I saw nothing, there was nothing going on. I could watch cars go on the highway, things like that. I’ve been [in] Boston now six weeks and you just walk out the door. You’re in the middle of an ecosystem that quite honestly, for a big company, it makes you afraid. You’re where the ideas are. You get more paranoid when you’re doing that and that’s a good thing.
Jeff Immelt, CEO, GE

And how else is GE’s new headquarters different? “The new headquarters will be leaner, faster and more open with a constant flow of industry partners, customers and innovators.” The intent, execs say, “[i]s that it will be more like walking into a start-up in an urban setting than the remote suburban headquarters of the past,” helping to transform its culture from a functionally driven one with silos, to a culture focused on collaborative design thinking and creativity.

Taken from
Architecture mockup from the planning stages of GE’s Boston HQ

From fear to transformation

What keeps us from realizing the tension between predictability and the ambiguity of change, the kind of real change that offers the opportunity for an organization to transform itself, and shift its culture?

One of the requirements to successfully implement design thinking to produce change and spark innovation is having a framework to understand culture. What is needed is a definition of culture and a means through which to assess the various aspects of an organization’s behavioral traits and leadership influence.

What culture does more than anything else is inform and reinforce its members how to individually and collectively attain success. It’s how to behave

The definition of what success is and how it happens is as unique to the organization as it is to an individual’s role. Culture speaks to the various aspects of behavior associated with attaining success. It includes the behaviors that support achievement or get in the way of it, resulting in a set of expectations and an understanding as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

One of the more powerful aspects of design thinking is its influence on culture. All organizations and businesses, including those that are much smaller, will encounter similar problems. Yes, the bigger you get, the more complex and difficult communication and collaboration become. Yet if you look at it through the lens of what drives these potential outcomes, the path takes us back to human behavior.

Cultures don’t create people. People create cultures.



Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


Throughout the history of business, we have found ourselves trying to figure out how to maximize our human potential. Meaningful innovation is the most important issue that organizations continue to grapple and struggle with.

As mentioned in a previous post, in our pursuit of innovation, we have created complex organizations, with many moving parts, all adding to the complexity of our solutions, 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.”

We want to innovate how our organizations can work more simply and allow for shared capacity to solve problems and innovate more freely.

To give you 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:

“[t]wo-thirds of chief executive officers (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.”

A review of the results of a number of global surveys of CEOs, C-level executives, and leaders from 2015 to 2017, including the major studies conducted by KPMG, Fortune, IBM, and PwC, provide further insight. With the exception of the Fortune survey (500 companies), most of the surveys we reviewed included more than 1,200 participants. Among the key findings:

  • Fostering innovation is one of their top strategic priorities, placing among the top six in every survey.
  • Most CEOs are grappling with how to engage their cultures in the change necessary to be more innovative.
  • A significant majority (seven out of 10 CEOs) say it’s important to specifically include innovation in their business strategies.
  • The majority of survey respondents identify the need for transformational change in their organizations.
  • Eight out of 10 are concerned that their existing products and services may not be relevant in three to five years’ time.
  • The majority of respondents say their organizations are struggling with the speed of technological innovation.
  • Gartner reports that 89 percent of companies believe customer experience will be their primary basis for competition in 2016, versus 36 percent four years ago.
  • Accenture reports that 81 percent of executives surveyed place the personalized customer experience in their top three priorities for their organization, with 39 percent reporting it as their top priority.

Innovation and Tempting Failure

What is equally as telling is that, while innovation is consistently among the top six strategic priorities, less than a third believe their organizations’ cultures encourage risk-taking or safe-to-fail environments.

This is important to recognize. Among the more powerful aspects of motivation and human behavior are the needs for predictability and safety.

From childhood through to adulthood, we are literally taught, trained, and reinforced to find the safest paths. As a result, satisfying these needs is paramount to how people perceive the ability to express themselves and take risks. We discover that it’s not a good idea to tempt failure.

However, the process of innovation includes failure. Whether an organization’s temperament and messaging allow for exploration, experimentation, and the potential subsequent failure says a lot about how innovative an environment it provides for its members. It also doesn’t always fall within the context of processes and systems that are designed to limit risk. Or, ways of solving problems and making decisions that advocate adherence rather than possibility thinking.

This is about culture. This is about the pursuit of understanding human behavior and the role that awareness plays. These challenges are clearly defined in the KPMG report of findings:

  • Thirty-six percent of CEOs say their organization’s approach to innovation is either ad hoc, reactive or occurs on a silo basis.
  • Only one out of four says that innovation is embedded in everything they do.
  • Only 29 percent feel that their organization is highly capable of creating a safe-to-fail environment.

This data becomes even more powerful when one considers that only one out of five CEOs note that innovation is at the top of their organizational agendas. This last piece of insight tells us that when identifying an organization’s key strategic priorities, a top-six finish is likely still not good enough.


The most likely explanation is that, for CEOs and leaders, and the people in the companies and institutions they lead, the risk of being innovative is often what keeps their cultures from being more innovative. They are afraid of the risk of failure that comes from thinking outside the box, letting go of the familiar, seeking the possible over the predictable, all while falling into the trappings of that which they perceive will keep themselves safe.

This is a stark reminder that, as a leader, if you’re not willing to fail, others will not take a risk to succeed.

The data also raises the question of how the most successful organizations in the world go about innovating at the level they do, disrupting industries and market segments, quickly turning what were just yesterday stable technologies and ways of life into quickly outdated or obsolete ones. How do they go about creating new forms of industry and markets where none existed? How do they create more meaningful customer experiences and work across internal silos? What is the code to cracking their culture, and what do they do that is so different from the also-rans that they outperform? What are they doing that others aren’t? How did they identify the gap between the average and the means to becoming exceptional innovators?


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.



“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” —Albert Einstein

The collective imagination is humankind’s greatest genius. Throughout our human history, as we developed and created the world around us, the sharing and building of one idea on another has been, and always will be, our best recipe for innovation.

The world we continuously create for ourselves is the manifestation of our collective imagination, the natural desire to come together in community; to collaborate, explore, and learn; and to create what we want and desire to have. It gives us the ability to respond to our basic needs, as well as solve even the most complex of problems. It fuels the innovation that is the foundation of our competitive global business society.

Innovation is who we are

Humankind’s desire and drive for innovation is breathtaking. Innovation is who we are. It is what we do best.

As our societies evolved, we creatively designed social structures that met the needs of and further relied on our shared ability to innovate. As we did, we were reminded that along with our innate desire to innovate, we have an inborn desire to compete. When these forces come together, innovation is accelerated. The social structures that we relied on for survival and connectivity evolved into enterprises of commercial means that have become the fixtures of our global society.

These new enterprises and organizations became the vehicles that took us on the journeys of the scientific, industrial, and more recently information revolutions. All along the way, we continuously increased our level of innovation and ramped up the pace of change in our world.

Today we find ourselves at a place in history in which our capability for innovating and creating change has provided us with incredible levels of technology and know-how.

Every day we find ourselves exposed to new ideas

Moment by moment we are introduced to an array of new products and services, some of which are delivered to us by purpose-driven, design thinking organizations and enterprises whose main concern is to figure out how to create more meaningful innovation and customer experiences. We are now operating in a new global era in which a new digital economy is emerging—a new economy driven by pioneering technology that allows for virtually everyone and everything in our world to be connected, with new pathways for information and knowledge abounding: the Internet of Things, the interconnection via the Internet of computing and smart devices—electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity—that enable objects to collect and exchange data.

All this adds to a world that presents us with the means to faster and faster, innovate more and more.

With all the knowledge and technology available to us, and the means of immediate communication and instant access to information at our fingertips, why does our focus constantly return to how we can become even more innovative, to solve bigger and more complex problems?

Throughout the history of business, we have found ourselves trying to figure out how to maximize our human potential. Even today, and more than ever, companies and institutions of all types and sizes are concentrating on creating more innovative cultures.

This is not a new breakthrough in thinking. Being successful has always relied on the ability to work together and be creative. More than science or the collection and use of data, the quest to understand how to create higher levels of innovation and empower our creative intelligence seems to be a more elusive aspect of how we innovate.

The better we become at innovation and creative collaboration, the more we want to figure out to get better at it—alas, human nature.

In pursuit of innovation, we have created complex organizations, with many moving parts, all adding to the complexity of our solutions, 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.”

Less, but better

As complex as the world is today, we look for finding solutions to the resulting challenges and emotional stress that all the moving parts and advanced technology creates. The more complicated means of communication and interaction move us to a place from which we seek greater simplification.

We have arrived at a place in our history that causes us to pause and reflect on the complexity of the organizational systems that humankind has created, looking for ways to overcome the needless barriers to communication and working together they represent.

Why? So we can find better, faster, and, yes, simpler ways to work together to solve problems more efficiently and effectively.


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.