BR INTERVIEW. Ulrich Weinberg: Any company confronted with digital transformation should consider cultural and social change within the organization

Newsroom 10/09/2019 | 16:28

Ulrich Weinberg, the head of Design Thinking School at the Hasso-Plattner Institute, told Business Review that any company using digital technology that is confronted with digital transformation right now should consider cultural and social change within the organisation and Design Thinking is probably the most holistic approach to it.

By Romanita Oprea

He explained how some major companies chose to change their incentive-system in order to boost cooperation in the organisation.  “Individual incentives are motivating individual competition, while team incentives are encouraging collaboration,” Weinberg points out.

Ranked among top 100 innovators in Germany, Ulrich Weinberg, the Head of Design Thinking School at the Hasso-Plattner Institute co-founded the Global Design Thinking Alliance GDTA in 2017.

He is also an internationally sought-after speaker and a consultant for large and medium-sized organisations. In his recent book “Network Thinking – Beyond Brockhaus Thinking”, he calls for radical new thinking in education and business.

He specialized in 3D computer animation as early as the mid-1980s and worked on artistic, technical and scientific projects for companies such as ARD, BMW, Mercedes, Siemens, Schering, Telekom, ZDF.

He has been a visiting professor at the Communication University of China, in Beijing, since 2004 and the honorary director of the Design Thinking Innovation Center there. He will hold a presentation about “The Cultural Dimension of the Digital Transformation”, at the 3RD edition of Design Thinking Forum, on September 19th.

Your personal approach on Design Thinking. What is your definition of the concept?

I was producing 3 D computer games before I got in touch with Design Thinking. I was in this mode of multi-disciplinary design and innovation approach many years before I realized there is a term in use for what I was doing. And I realized this is the most flexible and comprehensive frame work available.

Are we still using linear processes instead of a flexible approach? Then time has come to convert to Design Thinking. I frame it is a combination focusing on team work, making space flexible and focusing on doing loops and iterations and prototypes.

In my presentation, on September 19, I will also share the story of our furniture line, the first in the world conceived with collaboration in mind, with the purpose of making the most of the office space, for people’s sake.

At some point in my career, observing organizations, I realized we have operation tables – highly designed for the purpose of helping medical personnel saving lives and, at the other end of the spectrum, there are coffee tables, designed for conversational purposes.

In between, all we had were conference and board room tables and those were clearly not made for collaboration.

With this in mind, I launched the very first furniture line that was created with the quality of the team relationships and people’s wellbeing in mind. Nowadays, there are 300 organizations all over Europe using it.

What is the most memorable example of Design Thinking in your career?

Bosch is the most interesting example of my career because it shows impressively the power of Design Thinking in the transformation process of a large organization.

We are accompanying Bosch since about four years now on their digital transformation journey – on board member level and training hundreds of leaders in the organization, so I can follow its evolution closely.

Bosch is a relevant example, not only because they embarked in the Design Thinking process, but also because of the scale they’ve applied it. It is a large organization, with around 400,000 employees globally and what they did is really remarkable: they are not only using methods to focus on innovation and digital transformation, they took the leap towards cultural transformation.

And this cultural approach is the best for introducing new technology. They are focusing on the human aspect in every detail; therefore, they changed the incentive model. At this point in Bosch there are no individual incentives left, no target agreements anymore.

There are still team-bonuses and incentives for company performance. Why is that? Individual incentives are motivating individual competition, while team incentives are encouraging collaboration. Bosch wants to foster a collaboration climate, not competition.

Since 2016 they stopped the individual compensations model and they replaced it with collective rewards. Then they asked their people to rethink their workplace: “How should it be? Should we all work from the very same desk every day or do we welcome a more flexible and fluid approach?”

They’ve asked their people about the hierarchical structure, how they would like to work together and now the workspace and the hierarchical architecture look very different from few years ago. As Bosch managed to redesign their organization, this is my best example as cultural innovation through Design Thinking.

A childhood story that announced your career path.

I always loved futuristic environments, SCI-FI movies and magazines. I used to draw space ships as a kid and that lead me to study design and art, later on. If you are looking at what I am doing right now is a completely different story.

I had a soft spot for arts, exploring both visual and music. But back then everyone encouraged youngsters to pick one discipline only, so I was trained to become an expert in something.

Therefore I’ve decided to move towards art and design and to practice music only at home, as a hobby. Now I am in a situation to work and talk with so many experts and it’s so interesting to activate all the gifts, interests and capabilities one has, in an inclusive way.

Can you offer a message for companies that are still reluctant to design thinking?  Why those entities should use it and what is the expected outcome?

Any company using digital technology that is confronted with digital transformation right now should consider cultural and social change within the organisation and Design Thinking is probably the most holistic approach to it.

Most of the agile frame works, like Scrum, Agile, Lean Startup, are too much method-oriented, but this is not enough: we need to change the way people collaborate, work and think, so we need a quantum leap. Design Thinking is the answer.

What is the difference between Design and Design Thinking?

There is a big difference: Design is a discipline, Design Thinking is post-disciplinary. It combines all the existing disciplines and uses their brain power to come up with new solutions.

Please give us the essence of your presentation at Design Thinking Forum, in one sentence.

My presentation is on Design Thinking: The cultural dimension of digital transformation. I will come up with some relevant examples from my consultancy career, working with different organisations from Germany, China and the world at large.

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