Design Thinking in Corporate Learning

Design Thinking – Unleash Teams’ Creative Potential

What’s the biggest enemy of innovation?

Fear of failure.

One of the main problems lies in individual biases and learned behaviors. People get in their own way and stymy their creativity. They pre-judge themselves and think that ideas are unworthy. And that results in teams that struggle to apply new ideas.

Jeanne Liedtka published an article Why Design Thinking Works as featured in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago. In it, she talks about how design thinking works to “help the innovators themselves.” It’s a holistic approach to solution-finding that assists both clientsclient and team membersmember.

Implementing design thinking in corporate learning and development can unleash a torrent of creativity for your teams. But before you learn how, let’s talk about what design thinking means…

What Is Design Thinking?

Most companies look for employees who are great problem-solvers. They want employees who think outside the box. But design thinking goes a step beyond those coveted soft skills.

It’s a non-linear way to come up with solutions to challenging problems. It is methodical and focuses on “we-solutions” using collaborative methods.

Design thinking frameworks can vary from three to six steps. Generally, most training programs adhere to the five-stage model. The model was initially proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

These stages include:


This stage is often labeled as the “understand” stage. It’s where team members learn about the people who have a particular challenge. You can think of it as an “identify” stage. You’re looking at the “who” of a particular scenario.

This is where empathy comes in.

It’s important to feel what it’s like to be them with this challenge, if possible. Empathy helps employees create more effective solutions because they feel personally invested.


Once you do the research and feel empathy for the people involved, it helps you define the real problem. You’re able to do a deep dive past obvious solutions because you can look at it from different angles.


Ideate or ideation is when you start creating possible solutions. Teams throw out ideas without worries of judgment or restrictions. More ideas generated means more potential solutions to the challenge.


The hands-on exploration of a preliminary solution, this stage could mean anything from a series of sketches to a cardboard prototype. If the solution is an idea, you may even see teams use storyboards. It all depends on the industry and solution.


The final stage is all about seeing if the prototype works. Teams may need to refine prototypes depending on a test response. Or, they may need to create an entirely new solution. But this is all part of the process.

In the design thinking process, each stage happens in a non-linear fashion. Some team members may work concurrently on more than one stage at a time. At the same time, teams may double back to other stages when they receive new information. Each stage is a different mode, but they don’t necessarily work sequentially.

Design thinking is applicable in an array of situations. Check out some examples of design thinking at work in the world today:’s Clean Team in Ghana

Ghana had a major problem. Millions of Ghanaians didn’t have in-home toilets. They also had few options for sanitation. This was a very tough problem that needed a creative solution.

As such, Unilever and WSUP (Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor) got together with Together they developed Clean Team, which works as a sanitation subscription service. They deliver and maintain toilets and Ghana has a new sanitation option.


A little over a decade ago, Airbnb was a failing startup. The company reached an earnings plateau of $200 per week. The three founders knew that something had to change or they weren’t going to survive.

They had to dig down deep and let go of the belief that everything they did “had to be scalable.”

Instead, they pivoted and gave themselves permission to dive into their creativity well. It was only after they embraced design thinking that they started seeing real changes.

How Do We Implement Design Thinking in Our Workplace?

In the job description, you can always request candidates who are familiar with design thinking. But it’s much more efficient to work with the talent that you have through learning and development or L&D.

With the rise in corporate training, L&D sectors are growing. More companies recognize the importance of reskilling or upskilling their employees. In 2019, a LinkedIn Report revealed that learning opportunities directly influenced employee retention. As many as 94% of employees said that they would stay longer if companies invested in their training.

So, it all comes down to your corporate training program.

You can implement design thinking into your workplace as a new business strategy. But it may be more advantageous to use design thinking in corporate training.

Generally, people learn about design thinking by attending workshops that address specific problems to give them real-world applications. That avenue may work for your company.

However, you can also incorporate design thinking strategies into corporate learning.

Here’s how it would work:

Imagine employees entering a sales training or insurance training program. In the training, they’re presented with a problem unique to the department. Rather than working individually, they’re encouraged to work within teams using design thinking steps.

In doing so, they rewrite old behavioral learning habits. Ideally, teams will learn to trust their own creativity. They let go of methods and ideologies that don’t work and embrace a new way of creating solutions.

The Biggest Challenges for Implementing Design Thinking in Corporate Training

Which skills do companies care about the most?

According to the 2020 LinkedIn Learning report, the answer is soft skills. Creative problem-solving & design thinking skills come in at 42% for many companies.

Despite the high demand, reskill or upskill learning has its challenges:

1. Getting Managers to Make Learning a Priority

Managers believe in learning soft skills for themselves. According to LinkedIn Learning data, they spend 30% more time learning these skills. Yet, it can be difficult to get managers on board with promoting a learning environment.

Without manager support, employees may hesitate to engage in training programs. They may question its legitimacy.

The problem isn’t entirely with managers, though.

As many as 83% of executives support employee learning, according to LinkedIn. However, that number drops to 27% for CEOs. The lack of support from the top can severely limit engagement and legitimacy.

2. Increasing Learner Engagement

Staying current with learning trends like micro-learning and gamification helps keep learners engaged. Micro-learning divides big subjects into bite-sized, manageable chunks. And since researchers found that people are more likely to engage and learn through mobile games, many learning platforms incorporated gamification.

You can also find companies like Learnsure that create customized learning programs with micro-learning and gamification principles.

In addition, the available enterprise training options also help increase learner engagement. It encourages self-directed learning with access to lessons at any time or place.

The training program also encourages engagement with other team members. It allows for an environment of shared learning and accountability. Both of those characteristics can help increase engagement in the long run.

Discover a New Solution with Design Thinking in Learning

You have a phenomenal team of star performers, but they aren’t performing as they should. They’re boxed in by old ways of problem-solving that works for them at the expense of innovation.

But you can take steps to change that way of thinking. For a start, try introducing a new solution-orientated model in their corporate training program. This subtle introduction can help ease employees into design thinking.

It’s a win-win.

Your team has a new way of finding solutions for clients. And clients will love the innovative solutions developed by your team.

Are you ready to unleash your teams’ potential? Contact Learnsure AI to book a demo.

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