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Challenges of Implementing Design Thinking in Existing Organisations

A really good article on the challenges of implementing Design Thinking in existing organizations is called: The Challenges of Using Design Thinking in Industry - Experiences from Five Large Firms, by Lisa Carlgren, Maria Elmquist and Ingo Rauth, published in the Journal: Creativity and Innovation Management.

It lists 7 challenges “…mainly related to the interfaces between the use of DT [Design Thinking] and mainstream operations, as well as the output of DT work.”.


The challenges listed are:

  1. Misfit with Existing Processes and Structures

  2. Resulting Ideas and Concepts are Difficult to Implement

  3. Value of DT is Difficult to Prove.

  4. DT Principles/Mindsets Clash with Organisational Culture

  5. Existing Power Dynamics are Threatened

  6. Skills are hard to Acquire

  7. Communication Style is Different

A first reaction to these is: How then can we overcome these? But a generic answer to this question depends too much on details of one's individual situation. Instead, further insights into the causes of potential issues are listed below, which should help with finding suitable solutions to one's own specific issues.

  • Design Thinking is used in situations which one (mostly) has not encountered, or solved, before. Design Thinking skills are ‘dynamic’, their application is tailored to the situation and the task at hand. These two characteristics make the Design Thinking hard to learn and execute well.

  • Outcomes of Design Thinking do not only depend on learned skills. The quality and effect of Design Thinking (the outcomes) are also dependent on (the freedom and support from) the immediate environment (e.g. corporate culture) in which the skills are applied, and a large dose of serendipity (luck, stamina).

  • A supportive environment (regarding: processes, structures, culture and communication) for Design Thinking differs significantly from those needed for efficient execution of business-as-usual.

  • Any change to these may interfere with existing power dynamics, and thus strong resistance to the required changes may be encountered.

  • The explorative nature of Design Thinking creates undetermined, multiple, uncertain and rather conceptual outcomes of various quality.

    • Undetermined: outcomes are only determined by the process, the process is not determined by predetermined outcomes (compare this with a ‘project’ and Project Management). This makes the initiative difficult to justify in advance from a traditional business point of view of a required ROI.

    • Uncertain: any (possible) later success is still dependent on many factors that are still unknown and may remain outside one's own control.

    • Multiple: not one ‘solution’ is pursued, but multiple (possibly competing) in parallel. A sign of intelligence is: the ability to hold in mind several competing ideas at the same time.

    • Conceptual: outcomes are not ready to be implemented yet, difficult to explain, justify and ‘sell’ internally, at an early stage.

  • When resources (time, money, and attention) are limited, conflicts are likely to occur between activities which (seem to) serve different purposes, timelines and interests. This is likely to be the case between Design Thinking and current business activities.


All these factors combined make it quite difficult to start adopting and implementing Design Thinking practices in existing organizations.


Carlgren, Lisa, Maria Elmquist, and Ingo Rauth. The Challenges of Using Design Thinking in Industry - Experiences from Five Large Firms, Creativity and Innovation Management 25, no. 3 (September 2016): 344–62.

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