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Author: Mr. David Chung, Founder of InnoEdge Consulting

Table of Contents and Synopsis

Part 1: The Critical Role of the Design Thinking Method in Innovation Management

Part 2: Design Thinking Mindset and Competency Indicators in a Global Perspective

Part 3: The Ten Key Mindsets of Effective Design Thinkers

Part 4: Three Core Competencies of Innovation Leaders

Part 5: Conclusion and Implication

Part One: The Critical Role of the Design Thinking Method in Innovation Management

Within the realm of innovation management, the methodology of Design Thinking has evolved into an emblematic and significant domain, representing a results-driven creative problem-solving capability (Auernhammer & Roth, 2021)。 This approach not only emphasizes human-centered problem-solving but also strengthens the ability of innovation leaders to boldly lead change, thereby effectively promoting business innovation, organizational reform, and industrial transformation (Auernhammer & Roth, 2021;Chung & Chung, 2018;Kan et al., 2019;Liedtka, 2018;Liedtka et al., 2021;Liedtka et al., 2019;Tschimmel, 2012)。

Over the past decade, enterprises and organizations worldwide have widely recognized the Design Thinking method as an effective tool for innovation management. It has become a key strategic lever for reshaping the future development of companies. When innovation leaders adopt the mindset of Design Thinking and master its practical skills and tools, this becomes a crucial factor in boosting the organization’s innovative momentum on its journey of innovation, transformation, and change. It helps leadership teams position their organizations at the forefront of the industry. In other words, the Design Thinking method is a key skill for innovation leaders, akin to a compass and map for leaders, guiding enterprises on the path to success (Dosi et al., 2018)。

Part Two: Design Thinking Mindset and Competency Indicators in a Global Perspective

In the last fifteen years, experts and scholars from various countries and fields have analyzed hundreds of studies and contributions related to Design Thinkers from different perspectives and have identified 19 key mindsets required for effective Design Thinkers (as outlined below). These mindsets have gained widespread recognition in global academic research(Auernhammer & Roth, 2021; Chesson, 2017; Dosi et al., 2018; Goldman et al., 2012; Howard et al., 2015; Lahiri et al., 2021; Schweitzer et al., 2016; Vignoli et al., 2023), and have been proven to be applicable in the domains of business and education.

Part Three: The Ten Key Mindsets of Effective Design Thinkers

In the research on the Design Thinking mindset published by Dr. Matteo Vignoli in both 2018 and 2023, he conducted two meticulous analyses of Design Thinkers in the innovation field globally. In his latest research report, he filtered out 10 key mindsets from 19 mindsets and conducted an in-depth examination of 40 specific behavioral indicators under these mindsets (Vignoli et al., 2023)。

The 2023 study covered two main groups: professionals and university students, with approximately 12% of professional respondents from Asia, an approximately equal male-to-female ratio, and an average age of 38 years old. These respondents had an average experience of managing innovation projects using the Design Thinking method 13 times. After confirmatory factor analysis, Vignoli ultimately identified ’10 mindsets’ and their corresponding ’31 conceptual and behavioral indicators’ as key assessment criteria (Vignoli et al., 2023)。

(1) Empathy: This mindset involves adopting the perspective of others to deeply observe and experience, thereby gaining insight into the motivations behind individual behavior. When applying Design Thinking to innovative solutions or driving business transformation, it is essential to accurately capture and understand the explicit and implicit messages of users’ thoughts, emotions, actions, needs, and values. The practice of empathy requires maintaining an open nature, rejecting preconceived notions, and being able to interact easily and freely with individuals from diverse backgrounds and with different viewpoints

(2) Collaboration & Diversity: This mindset emphasizes collaboration within a diverse team environment. It advocates for integrating a variety of unique perspectives and promotes interdisciplinary cooperation to make full use of a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience. Design Thinkers must go beyond the traditional confines of collaborating solely with users and instead establish a deep and comprehensive collaboration with all stakeholders related to the problem. Through such collaboration, Design Thinkers can more accurately uncover the root causes of issues and create enduring and effective solutions.

(3) Creative Confidence: This mindset refers to an individual’s strong belief in their ability to innovate and solve problems, empowering them with the courage to overcome unfamiliar challenges and to seek and assimilate new knowledge rather than relying solely on existing knowledge and experience. Creativity is indispensable when applying Design Thinking to tackle complex problems or engage in business innovation; it enables innovation project teams to explore and articulate abstract and subjective concepts, transforming them into tangible and compelling solutions.

(4) Abduction Thinking: This mindset is a critical pillar of productive thinking. Design Thinkers do not see innovation as just a part of their routine work; they strive for higher levels of achievement. They are not content with existing results but are committed to exploring possibilities from different perspectives, thereby fostering innovative ideas. Starting from known realities, they outline various potential future scenarios, thus uncovering more exceptional solutions.

(5) Experimentation or Learning from Mistakes: This mindset reflects the ability to materialize abstract concepts into testable prototypes and a preference for action, especially through various methods of exploring user reactions to new solutions. Design Thinkers have an open attitude, are willing to accept failure as part of discovering new opportunities, and are always prepared to learn from these failures to improve and innovate continually.

(6) Learning-oriented: This mindset is realized through proactive action, observing feedback, rapid prototyping, and testing hypotheses. Since innovation is inherently linked to learning, Design Thinkers must treat the innovation cycle—whether solving creative problems in their work, leading product or process improvement projects, or participating in corporate transformation or organizational change—as an opportunity for learning. They have a profound passion and strong desire for learning, which includes learning from others, challenging established thought patterns, and seeking knowledge in new environments to enrich their insights.

(7) Critical questioning: This mindset is a way of thinking that blends an open mindset with precise techniques and is critical when using Design Thinking for creative problem-solving or business transformation. It demands maintaining a “beginner’s mind,” focusing on the essence of the problem while considering the team’s objectives. Design Thinkers employ this skill to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information deeply, continually questioning and validating various concepts with curiosity.

(8) Holistic Thinking: This mindset refers to the ability to step back from details and view problems from a broader perspective in specific contexts, such as overseeing product or process optimization, participating in corporate transformation, or organizational change projects. It involves recognizing how to effectively combine divergent and convergent thinking at different stages of the evolving innovation process to accommodate changing problem parameters. Practitioners of Design Thinking need to possess the capacity to expand and challenge the scope of initial problems and be able to adjust the innovation process timely to address these challenges.

(9) Dealing with Uncertainty: This mindset involves treating ambiguity as a critical element for further analysis and exploration, whether it’s the absence or incompleteness of information, unformed conceptual solutions, or those not clearly prioritized activities that may drive outcomes. Innovators understand that uncertainty and risk are key factors for innovation success, and they learn to view each problem and constraint as an opportunity to uncover new possibilities.

(10) Optimism to have an Impact: This mindset implies maintaining an optimistic attitude towards experimentation and the ongoing process of improvement, even when aware that the current choice may not be optimal, and is committed to moving forward. Design Thinkers focus on starting from the current state, striving to transform it into something even better. They are firmly committed to creating positive change by evaluating various possibilities and distilling value from insights.

Part Four: Three Core Competencies of Innovation Leaders

Dr. Matteo Vignoli’s research has achieved a significant breakthrough in quantifying the key mindsets of effective Design Thinkers, providing data-driven quantitative standards for the assessment and development of innovative talent and setting new milestones for talent cultivation strategies within organizations. By synthesizing a decade of academic research on how design thinking promotes transformational leadership(Anders, 2021; Crawford & Strohkirch, 2004; Groeger & Schweitzer, 2014; Leavy, 2010; Obmerga, 2020; Schweitzer & Groeger, 2016; Schweitzer et al., 2016; Wanasika & Krahnke, 2018), we can distill the ten mindsets of design thinking into three key competencies of innovative leadership. These competencies are crucial for businesses, as they are directly linked to enhancing the organization’s innovation potential and ensuring the smooth execution of transformation processes.

Human-Centered Orientation: This leadership ability encompasses a long-term commitment to deeply understanding user needs, which includes rapidly empathizing with user emotions and sensitively perceiving diverse points of concern for others. Moreover, individuals who embrace this mindset are proactive in developing new things in collaboration with team members and are willing to cooperate with people with different views and skills. They maintain an open attitude toward collaborating with people from different backgrounds, willing to accept and respect a variety of perspectives and experiences, which greatly promotes a cooperative spirit and helps to co-create more valuable solutions(Anders, 2021; Crawford & Strohkirch, 2004). Therefore, a human-centered way of thinking is an indispensable core capability in any leadership process pursuing innovation and transformation.

Innovation Process Mastery: The core of this leadership ability lies in an individual’s enthusiasm for conceiving innovative ideas that differ from existing solutions, coupled with a high curiosity for unknown fields. These individuals are confident in their ability to address and solve complex problems that require innovative thinking. They are also keen on exploring various possibilities through prototyping, bringing abstract concepts into tangible practice. Furthermore, they view challenges as opportunities for learning and growth, gaining lessons from practice and actively assimilating feedback (Leavy, 2010; Obmerga, 2020; Schweitzer & Groeger, 2016; Schweitzer et al., 2016). These traits constitute the essential professional qualities of highly efficient Innovation Project Leaders.

Strategic Innovation Foresight: This leadership ability represents an individual’s capacity to use macro thinking to analyze complex problems with uncertain outcomes and to foresee the potential impact of proposed solutions on the external environment. This ability allows them to make wise decisions based on reasonable speculation, even in situations with limited information, and to anticipate the possibilities of different decision outcomes. They are not only committed to improving the status quo but also possess a strong desire to create significant value for the ultimate solution (Groeger & Schweitzer, 2014; Wanasika & Krahnke, 2018). Hence, possessing strategic innovation foresight is a key competitive edge for modern Organizational Change Leaders.

Part Five: Conclusion and Implication

As an innovation leader, being adept at human-centered thinking, mastering the innovation process, and possessing strategic innovation foresight is of paramount importance. These competencies empower leaders to discern user needs, foster effective collaboration, inspire innovative thinking, adapt to rapid changes, and bring valuable solutions to the organization. Such leaders prioritize the needs of users and key stakeholders, thereby developing products and services that resonate with customers. The ability to master the innovation process enables them to engage in creative thinking, explore new possibilities, and accelerate the innovation process within the organization through prototyping. Additionally, a strategic innovation vision endows them with the capacity to anticipate market trends, assess potential risks, and make far-sighted decisions, laying the foundation for long-term success.

In recent years, business leaders in Mainland China and the Hong Kong region have actively adopted design thinking as a strategy to drive innovation and achieve sustained business growth(Chung & Chung, 2018; Kan et al., 2019; Lam, 2019, 2020, 2022; Stefaniak, 2019). Therefore, design thinking has become more than just a problem-solving approach; it is a strategic way of thinking that fosters collaboration across functional teams and the integration of innovative thinking. For corporate leaders, strengthening the ten mindsets of design thinking to cultivate these three innovation competencies is crucial for maintaining competitive advantage, fostering a comprehensive culture of innovation, and driving business growth and profitability.


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