Design Thinking has not yet become a mainstream innovation methodology. Whilst private sector training exists, these are not directed to the SME’s who need it most and tend to involve individual CPD as opposed to a business wide approach. The training methods are also not ideal for business wide interventions.

‘The Current State of Design Thinking Practice in Organizations’ research report (2015) was the first large-sample survey of Design Thinking adoption in practice. Organizations of all sizes participated. The explorative analysis of the survey data was gauged against insights from qualitative interviews with experts, funded by The HPI-Stanford Design Thinking Research Program.  And it states:

“Design thinking enters organizations via a multitude of learning channels. People create their unique learning channel mix, which leads to different notions of what the concept is…viewing it as a toolbox, process, method(ology) or mindset.

Experts emphasize that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, as it forms a system. They point to organizational shortcomings when merely applying isolated elements without an awareness for the interdependencies of mindset, principles, practices and tools that constitute (Design Thinking)”

Empirical confirmation of Design Thinking effectiveness and how Design Thinking generates innovation and strategic design capability, which drives process innovation, technology adoption and productivity exists, but unfortunately no published sources found that offer a robust RCT demonstrating Impact. None appear in the IGl database or any supporting literature or in publicly accessible searches, that may help to determine the impact that Design Thinking training could have on productivity for SME’s.

Surprising then that the role of innovation in boosting SME productivity growth has been relatively underexplored, despite strong evidence of its positive impact… evidence strongly indicates that those businesses that engage in international activity and innovation are more likely to enhance firm performance, including productivity growth (Unlocking UK productivity ERC).

The status quo is that Public support for Innovation is largely through financial mechanisms like R&D tax credit and grant funding which has been found to have both positive and negative impact. (What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth) and not in training and support for innovation and productivity behaviour change.

And That the Productivity Leadership Group consisting of high-profile business leaders that have joined with the Government to launch the Be the Business initiative which aims to build a national productivity movement and raise productivity levels among British businesses by encouraging the adoption of best-practice management techniques and simple digital technologies, (Business productivity review) does not address Design Thinking at all.

We need to engage low-mid productivity SME’s, to secure high adoption of Design Thinking capabilities, and in so doing create commercial and creative confidence and human centred approaches to problem solving for real impact. Training and supporting in ‘how to innovate well’ is truly ‘teaching to fish rather than giving a fish’.


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