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What Shaped My Career as a Leader in Design Thinking

August 21, 2015 by Andrea Anderson

A bit about me: I am a passionate global leader who inspires and coaches teams to apply a design thinking approach to create compelling solutions that meet real needs of people.

I am also a single mom with two boys – 11 and 13 years old, and two cats of undetermined age. I grew up in Germany and Italy and moved to the U.S. after college. I love my job, and when not at work, enjoy spending time with my boys, gardening, rock climbing, and yoga.

So how do leadership, design thinking and women make for a great combination? I talked to some of my women friends on how they have succeeded in leadership roles. I spoke with Wendy, who runs a warehouse for a paper company in Sacramento; Ajaita, the CEO of a social impact startup in India; Romana, who was promoted recently to lead SAP’s design thinking team in Germany, Anamarie who runs GTM for User Experience at SAP.

What got us where we are?

Here is what we don’t do. We don’t think of being a woman as a disadvantage and dwell on inequalities. We don’t try to be more like men. Instead, we embrace who we are, and put our talents to work.

We all share a passion for new challenges, dare to question the status quo, and push the boundaries to explore beyond how things are done today.

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We care about the people we work with, and recognize their talents, mentor them, and provide them with opportunities to broaden their skills.

We balance (not always well) our personal lives with our business lives. Being wired as caregivers, this is often not easy. I like to bring perfection to what I do, and this can make it tough to balance things. Letting go and entrusting others to get the job done is essential to delivering great result and fostering individual growth.

We love what we do. We don’t show up to work because we have to, but because we want to. If we are not in the right position, we take charge of our destination and move to a project or job that leverages our talent. We don’t wait for our manager to make that happen, nor do we get discouraged by the “bad days”.

Here is an example of how this worked for me. About 11 years ago, SAP’s founder, Hasso Plattner, introduced a formal approach to innovation called design thinking. Some of the core values of this approach are empathy, diversity, and testing ideas early and often to come up with the most compelling solution for a problem.

Back then, I was asked to create awareness for design thinking and how it helps create useful and delightful software. I have had the opportunity to teach the methods of design thinking to teams inside and outside SAP. Realizing that this is my passion, I have chosen managers and projects that let me practice design thinking ever since.

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For example, in our Cloud organization I applied a design thinking approach to our go-to-market and product strategy for SAP Travel OnDemand. This helped us to formulate priorities along user needs versus features and functions.

I was entrusted with a chairman sponsored project for one of our largest CPG customers to create an SAP HANA application for their CEO and his team to run strategic reviews of their business. This co-innovation project has resulted in an analytics product code-named “Boardroom of the Future.”

My latest venture is to scale sharing our knowledge around design and design thinking across our 70,000 employees and outside of SAP. This has resulted in innovative experiential e-learning offerings, or MOOCs, that reach participants around the world.

My message to those who want to be leaders is that gender should not hold you back. Believe in your talents, go for new challenges, and most importantly do what you are passionate about.

This story originally appeared on SAP Community Network.

Top image: Shutterstock

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