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THESIS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
Design Thinking as an Enabler of Innovation:
Exploring the concept and its relation to building innovation capabilities
Division of Innovation Engineering and Management Department of Technology Management and Economics
CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
Gothenburg, Sweden 2013
Design Thinking as an Enabler of Innovation: Exploring the concept and its relation to building innovation capabilities LISA CARLGREN ISBN 978-91-7385-918-9 LISA CARLGREN, 2013. Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska hgskola Ny serie nr 3599 ISSN 0346-718X Division of Innovation Engineering and Management Department of Technology Management and Economics Chalmers University of Technology SE-412 96 Gothenburg Sweden Telephone + 46 (0)31-772 1000 Printed by Chalmers Reproservice Gothenburg, Sweden 2013
Design thinking as an enabler of innovation: Exploring the concept and its relation to building innovation capabilities
Technology Management and Economics Chalmers University of Technology
ABSTRACT This thesis deals with the concept of Design thinking (DT) and the building of innovation capabilities. DT has emerged as a management concept promising innovation inspired by design. However, the concept is poorly conceptualized and scarcely investigated in organizational settings, especially in relation to its potential role as an enabler of innovation. Building on empirical studies of companies claiming to use DT, the thesis aims at providing a better understanding of the concept, how it is used in innovation work, and its role in building innovation capabilities in large firms. The studies show large variety in the understanding and use of the concept, and its integration in and adaptation to existing practices. The concept of DT seem to be somewhat stuck in between the fields of innovation and design. On the one hand the concept can be seen as (over)simplifying the complexity of design practice; on the other hand, the results of this thesis show that use of DT is aligned with several practices highlighted by innovation scholars. The thesis makes two main theoretical contributions. First it argues for a performative perspective on DT that does not focus on what DT is or what value it has, but rather what it becomes and what it can do in various settings; thus putting focus on context. A conceptual model for how to understand DT as a boundary object is proposed, consisting of five core principles associated with a set of principles, practices, and techniques. It takes account of the fact that DT takes different shapes in different contexts, and accommodates to a variety of ways of applying and using DT. Second it argues that DT can play a role in building innovation capability in large firms. The studies show how a range of perceived values and effects of using DT are connected to elements presented in innovation capability theory; resources, processes, mindset and a strategic intent to innovate. It is argued also that the current status of the innovation capability of a firm can hinder or enable use of DT and the competences built, thereby influencing potential value resulting from its use. There are few previous examples in the literature of how innovation capabilities are built, and this thesis adds a new approach; building innovation capability through the long-term use of DT, and in interplay with the current capability of the organization. The thesis shows that the perceived effects of using DT go beyond practical innovation work, and argues that when managers consider using DT, it is critical to not consider the concept in isolation, or demand results too fast, but rather to take a systemic perspective, considering all aspects of resources, process and mindset. The thesis also paves the way for more research, both on the use of DT and on how innovation capability can be built.
LIST OF APPENDED PAPERS This thesis is based on the work contained in the following papers, referred to by Roman numerals in the text: Paper I Carlgren, L. (2013): Identifying latent needs: towards a competence perspective on attractive quality creation, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, DOI:10.1080/14783363.2013.776762 Paper II Carlgren L., Elmquist M. and Rauth I. (2012) Implementing design thinking in large organizations, paper presented at the International Product Development Management Conference, Manchester, UK, June 17-19. Paper III Carlgren L., Elmquist M. and Rauth I. Demystifying design thinking: Exploring design thinking in practice, submitted to an international journal. Paper IV Carlgren L., Elmquist M. and Rauth I. Design thinking: exploring values and effects from an innovation capability perspective, submitted to an international journal. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the European Academy of Design Conference, in Gteborg, Sweden, April 2013. Paper V Carlgren, L. Design thinking in innovation work: revisiting Kaiser Permanente, submitted to an international journal.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Writing this thesis has been a long, exciting and difficult journey, which of course would not have been possible without the tremendous support I have received from colleagues, family, friends and fellow PhD students. First and foremost I would like to thank the persons that I have worked the closest with: my supervisor Maria Elmquist for being the most amazing, inspiring person on earth, who through harsh critique, firm dead-lines and never-ending encouragement helped me realize this thesis and become a better researcher. I will never forget how you have helped during late nights and not the least, understanding the challenges of writing a PhD thesis with two small children. It has been incredibly fun to do research with you and write papers together. My assistant supervisors for the last three years Anna Rylander and Sverker Alnge have also been invaluable to me through questioning what I have taken for granted, adding insights from other theoretical fields, helping me develop my thoughts and through being very encouraging and helpful. Thank you for being so kind, sharp and inspiring. Ingo Rauth what a man, what a designer, what a friend, what a colleague. Doing this research together has been a wonderful journey, and within our project, you, Maria and I have complemented each other in a fantastic way, through our different backgrounds, personalities, ways of thinking and writing. I have really appreciated working with you, being smitten with your energy, arguing over how to interpret data, building models, and not the least collecting data together over endless hours of Skype calls, and in and outside of San Francisco during the summer of 2011. From 2006-2009, I belonged to the Division of Quality Science. I would like to thank all my colleagues there for inspiring conversations, support and friendly atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the company and support of Ida Gremyr, Andreas Hellstrm, Bo Bergman and later also Marcus Assarlind, Marco Santos, Henry Raharjo and Svante Lifvergren. In 2010, I moved to the Division of Innovation Engineering and Management. From the first day, I felt very welcome and I am glad to be part of this inspiring group of researchers; for this I want to thank all my colleagues at the division. Sofia Brjesson, my examiner and the head of the Center for Business Innovation (CBI) merits special attention. Thank you for supporting me when other supervisors were absent, and coaching me whenever I needed support. I have especially enjoyed the relaxed and friendly atmosphere among the PhD students at the divison, and I thank you all for helping me get through long working days: Anne Elerud-Tryde, Sarah Fallahi, Marcus Linder and Yash Mansoor. I also want to thank Magnus Holmn for always taking interest and offering help (not the least for providing me with some very bizarre music), Jonas Hjerpe for assisting me when Maria was on parental leave, and Angelica Linnehav for fantastic administrative support and for being so caring.
As a PhD student I have also belonged to a larger group of PhD students at the department, and I have much appreciated your company and support: Lise Aaboen, Ulrika Badenfelt, Lars Bankvall, Nina Edh, Anna Fredriksson, Anna Grzelec, Ludvig Lindlf, Christina Maulon, Anna Moses, sa Rnnbck and Bjrn Sderberg. Further, I want to express my gratitude to the Center for Business Innovation at Chalmers for supporting our research financially, and indirectly, the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA). I would also like to thank all the company representatives who have participated in the studies, in particular Scott, Chris, and Christi. I have been fortunate in receiving help from other research colleagues that shared their contacts and enabled some of my interviews, especially during my stay in California thank you Larry Leifer, Martin Steinert, Uli Weinberg, Claudia Nicolai; Bettina Maisch and Sara Beckman. In the final 24 hours of writing this thesis I had tremendous last-minute support from Anne Elerud-Tryde, Sara Fallahi, Ingo Rauth, Ludvig Lindlf, Nina Edh, Lise Aaboen and Anna Grzelec. I will be forever grateful for this, and for those of you who are still not done with your thesis writing: I definitely owe you one. I would also like to thank Ylva Carlgren for your help with transcribing interviews, Marcus Jahnke for providing feedback, as well as Cynthia Little who has done a tremendous work in language editing this thesis, at late and early hours. I would not have been able to do all this work without the support of some dear friends, in Majorna and other parts of the world. I thank all of you, but in particular I would like to express my d