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22 May. 2019 | Comments (0)

In Part 1 of this blog series on connecting design thinking, diversity, and inclusion, I shared design thinking basics. Here, in Part 2, I outline how to integrate D&I principles into the design thinking process to build the bold, new approaches we need to deliver on the promise of D&I.

Progress in the field of D&I is sluggish and often fleeting. To achieve our critical goals for individuals and businesses, we must be willing to question familiar assumptions and re-consider the relevance and effectiveness of today’s best practices. This does not mean rejecting all that we do now. But it does demand that we are open to thinking and working differently. And it requires us to engage new strategies and techniques as we head into the future. New and meaningful outcomes are not achieved with good intentions; they require inspiration, preparation, commitment, and guidance. Our work is too important to settle for good enough.

We can do better.

Design thinking can serve as a valuable approach to help us tackle difficult D&I challenges and work toward more effective, relevant, and sustainable D&I strategies. It can help us get “obsessed” with our users’ needs and pursue breakthroughs to sustainably fulfill them. Even more, as this approach allows us to disrupt the dominance of conventional business drivers, traditional practices, and customary assumptions about D&I, design thinking can be used to help us harness the innovative power of diversity.

We know that diversity makes us smarter, more innovative solution builders. Whereas uniformity of identity and experience can lead to conformity and groupthink, research by Dr. Katherine Phillips and others has emphasized that diverse and inclusive teams tend to make better decisions. When we bring a mix of individuals together into an intentionally inclusive environment, we have access to a rich array of insights in the collaborative pursuit of creative solutions. Or, as Keith Sawyer argues in Group Genius, the connections made among individuals with different identities and/or experiences can enable “collaborative emergence,” unleashing “multiple sparks” of innovation. Diverse groups also tend to apply more effort to achieve a common objective. As participants are challenged to let go of familiar assumptions, their differences can enable a productive dissonance, leading them to work harder to achieve shared goals.

Traditional design thinking approaches do not require ‘user’ and participant diversity or an intentionally inclusive experience. However, when we explicitly integrate core D&I principles into this process of seeking new, ‘user’-centred solutions, we can foster a potent environment where diversity and inclusion are put to work to boost innovation.

To bring this to life in my own D&I Design Labs, I take time to help participants understand, value, and work with the mix of similarities and differences among them, and among the array of ‘users’ who can benefit from their innovative designs. And I work in partnership with participants to deliberately cultivate an inclusive environment where a full mix of voices can be heard and make a difference. Building on this foundation, participants engage with human-centred design thinking to help ensure that the innovative “sparks” created at the intersection of differences start with user’s unmet needs. And promising new solutions are tested and refined with these firmly in mind.

Design thinking combined with D&I can help us do the hard work of achieving D&I breakthroughs. As design thinking challenges us to listen to and work with users, it provides a process to meaningfully engage a full mix of perspectives, and contribute a wide range of skills and ideas to the pursuit of creative and meaningful solutions. Simply, when we combine the principles of D&I with design thinking, we can engage the D&I virtuous circle: We use the power of D&I to propel innovation for D&I.

Read Part 1 of this blog series for an overview of design thinking. You can also learn more in Design the Future | Breakthroughs with Diversity, Inclusion and Design Thinking.

  • About the Author:Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a Senior Fellow in Human Capital and Program Director, providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. Rebekah supports a broad spectrum of D&I …

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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