AbstractsBusiness Management & Administration

Human-centered Innovation Processes: The Case of Design Thinking in Nascent and Large Firms

by Alan Cabello

Institution: EPFL
Year: 2015
Keywords: Design Thinking; Multifunctional Teams; Empathy; Problem Definition; Ideation; Prototyping; Venture Creation; Dynamic Capabilities; Absorptive Capacity
Record ID: 1091451
Full text PDF: http://infoscience.epfl.ch/record/206882


For more than a decade managers, academics, educators and politicians have indicated that innovation is the key to our future. As a result, we find a plethora of innovation initiatives around the world, from university curricula to the mission statements of banks. This push to innovate is a direct result of the recent economic downturn as well as from an ever more competitive, connected and dynamic world. In order to remain relevant in such a world, emphasis is given to generating new ideas that may lead to new products and services. Despite these initiatives, evidence indicates that investment in innovation does not correlate with success. Although the goal of innovation is clear, the processes whereby that goal may be accomplished are varied and not entirely understood. The motivation of this thesis, therefore, is to gain a better understanding of some of those innovation processes. In recent years, a growing number of firms, organizations and governments have adopted an approach to innovation that is referred to as “Design Thinking”. They use the term to describe the process by which a multifunctional team tackles a problem by exploring the underlying needs of the people most affected by that problem—whether that be customers, users, etc.—then, based on these observations, defines the root cause or key elements of the problem and finally attempts to resolve it through an active cycle of ideating, prototyping and testing potential solutions. While the process itself is well defined and understood, its implementation and use by managers in the context of innovation management calls for further exploration. With this objective, I first conducted research within academic literature, followed by an ethnographic study focused on the use of Design Thinking by both large firms and entrepreneurial teams. The first paper of this dissertation examines the different elements in the Design Thinking process within the context of management research. The goal of the first conceptual article is thus to establish the common ground among diverse subfields of research in management upon which future research in Design Thinking may build. The second paper of this dissertation aims to uncover how large firms use Design Thinking as an approach to innovation. Based upon direct observation and interview data we find evidence of links between Design Thinking and Absorptive Capacity. We therefore propose that Design Thinking may be a helpful tool for firms who wish to innovate by an increase in their Absorptive Capacity. The third and final paper of this dissertation aims to understand the effects of Design Thinking on the venture creation process. This work is based on ethnographic research conducted at Stanford University wherein twelve teams participated in an accelerator program that uses a Design Thinking approach with the goal of creating and launching new ventures. Building on Dynamic Capabilities literature, this research finds that the teams with greater capability to iterate their venture concept through repeated cycles…