More than ever we are being urged to embrace the new – from continual upgrading to the latest mobile phone and tablet to being at the forefront of cutting-edge technology to stay ahead of business competition.

But let’s spare a thought for the traditionalists, who want to pause and think before rushing headlong into ‘the next new thing’. Maybe, new does not always mean better.

Social scientists, Ross Honeywill and Verity Byth, from their workplace profiling research, identify two fundamentally different types of people in the approach taken to innovation. There are the natural innovators drawn to challenge, change, risk and innovation. The other type are the natural stabilisers, the traditionalists, who stick to the proven, favouring the status quo and valuing stable, recurring patterns of behaviour; they thrive on certainty and structure in getting the job done.

Despite more attention paid to the natural innovators, the natural stabilisers are vital to organisations. The challenge in managing innovation is drawing out the best from both types.

In fact, in an Institute of Public Administration Australia article, independent strategy adviser, Martin Stewart Weeks contends that it is in the nature of organisations to have a conservative instinct, that resistance to change is the norm. But his view is that while sometimes necessary and valuable, the predisposition in organisations to resist change must be balanced with the need to “keep feeding the disruptive engine of innovation”.

One pathway for change-resistant organisations, and their traditionalist inhabitants, to nurture innovation and reform is through design-led innovation.

Design-led innovation is not just product and industrial design. Design-led innovation is a method of working based on commonly-used design principles, to improve the performance of enterprises by innovating not just in products and technologies, but across a combination of all business functions, particularly customer engagement, experimenting with new markets and operational capabilities, and in distinctive models for capturing value and profits from business activities. (Bucolo and King, 2014).

Design-led innovation works through a process of ‘design thinking’. Design thinking is based on acquiring a deep understanding of the customer and user, gaining insights, and developing innovative solutions to solve everyday business issues or more complex problems.

Design-led innovation can appeal to traditionalists as it is a systematic process, based on ‘tried and true’ practices of the design professionals over decades. It deals with the inherently chaotic and creative process of generating and experimenting with bold new ideas and customer experiences in an orderly fashion, with practical, tested results at the end.

To illustrate, The Strategy Group offers a nine-step guide on ‘How to Solve Problems with Design Thinking’, in summary:

  1. Define the problem: Specify what the problem is that you think needs to be solved.
  2. Observe and empathise: Gain a deep unbiased understanding of the way your customers do things, why they do them, and develop an empathy about their habits, challenges and beliefs.
  3. Generate insights: Generate unbiased insights from your observations. Look especially for non-obvious insights. The best insights give you direction to form innovative solutions.
  4. Reframe the problem: Go back to the original problem that you thought you were trying to solve. Is it, in fact, the right problem, or does it need reframing?
  5. Brainstorm: The goal is to create lots of possible solutions, rather than trying to find the single best solution—quantity, not quality of ideas at this stage.
  6. Pick possible solutions: Identify one or two possible solutions to move forward—ones that you think show promise or are high priority.
  7. Build prototypes: Flesh out the possible solutions into ’prototype’ offerings of how the solution would work and how it would be implemented for desired results.
  8. Test your solutions: Go and test the solutions with your customers. Ask ‘why’ questions to elicit and capture rich, substantial reactions and feedback on the prototyped solutions.
  9. Learn from failures to achieve success: Failure is not necessarily a bad thing. The key is to fail early and learn from the failures.

Paradoxically, it may be that design-led innovation can provide traditionalists with the haven they need for experimenting safely with innovation.


Verity Byth and Ross Honeywill (2008), Managing the Innovation Fault-line, in “Inside the Innovation Matrix: Finding the Hidden Human Dimensions”, Australian Business Foundation.

Martin Stewart Weeks (2015), Blurring Boundaries, Institute of Public Administration Australia (NSW), 24 January 2015, at

Sam Bucolo and Peter King (2014), Design for Manufacturing Competitiveness, Australian Design Integration Network (ADIN).

The Strategy Group (2014), How to Solve Problems with Design Thinking, at