Avoid Digital Disruption With an End-to-End Winning Mentality

Sports play a huge role in my life. Whether rooting for Notre Dame, watching my kids in action or running on the treadmill, I appreciate the heart, determination, and effort that go into competition.

How design thinking is transforming our culture

I also admire how sports unify people by bringing together different backgrounds and cultures in moments of victory or defeat. What I value most about sports, though, is the work that goes unnoticed — the blood, sweat and tears sacrificed behind the scenes to help push a team over the finish line.

At SAP, we practice this type of work every day. It is one of our foundational pillars and it underpins who we are as a company. While the sports fan in me likes to refer to it as game planning, the business leader in me calls it design thinking. Similar to how a coach prepares strategies for his or her team to overcome unforeseen challenges in a sporting event, design thinkers actively reimagine business models, business processes, and the way companies work to outperform digital disruption.

Design thinking empowers us to redefine business problems through empathy and creativity

Design thinking is essentially a human-centered and empathetic approach to innovation that integrates the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. It breaks boundaries for businesses by rethinking current problems and developing entirely new capabilities.

Transforming a Corporate Culture

SAP Co-Founder Hasso Plattner always believed design thinking was a necessity for software development and business success. In 2004, Plattner started the first d.school at Stanford University. He helped a similar school open four years later in Potsdam, Germany. Plattner brought 35 of these design thinkers into SAP to collaborate with the corporate strategy group. Design thinking quickly became a strategic priority to help us drive innovation across the entire organization internally. In 2012, we took it up a notch by infusing design thinking externally — in customer scenarios — to re-frame their business problems, help them discover new business outcomes, and find human meaning for technology.

Design thinking empowers us to redefine business problems through empathy and creativity. We are putting our customers’ needs, motivations, and expectations at the center of our innovation strategy to find real business problems, lead breakthrough innovations, and create customers for life. The beauty of it is that it’s agile and highly adaptive to the most diverse customer preferences. It’s also our way of bringing human meaning to technology — working differently to explore customer needs, create new value, and invest in the future of businesses.


Leveraging Design Thinking

To successfully adopt design thinking, you have to evolve your mindset when approaching business challenges. Rather than solving problems, it’s about uncovering unmet needs and finding the problems. It’s about asking open-ended questions, networking with a diverse group of people to expand perspectives, and maybe even experiencing some failure along the way.

Design thinking combines collaboration with experimentation to rapidly scale innovation across an organization. The creative framework of it, when done right, raises the competency of the entire organization. It is accelerating the pace of digital transformations, targeting developing markets, and creating new revenue streams to keep businesses ahead of disruption.   

The Core to Future (and Fast) Innovation

To remain competitive, companies are adopting faster and more iterative ways to leverage digital technology and catalyze rapid change. Just like building a game plan in sports, I believe design thinking is the go-to strategy for defeating digital disruption and outperforming the competition. It’s truly reinventing the future of businesses. Just look at SAP’s new system of innovation launched last year, SAP Leonardo.

The “wow factor” of SAP Leonardo is not just that it enables customers to leverage technologies like IoT, machine learning, blockchain, analytics, and Big Data, but that it was created with design thinking at the core to help companies fast track their digital transformations.

What once started as an experiment with a handful of people has now transformed a culture and started a movement. The only way to really “get innovation right” is to start with design thinking. It is the key differentiator between today’s fastest moving players and those that sit on the bench and watch them go by.

Lloyd Adams is managing director of the East Region at SAP