ORGANIZATIONAL CREATIVITY RESEARCH

Designing Disruption: Reframing Design Thinking as an Innovation Framework Within the Canadian Energy Sector.

Design thinking is understood as a driver of innovation and change – a series of organizational resources, theoretical perspectives and creative protocols that can seed positive innovation and organizational transformation in established corporate cultures (Brown, 2009; Kelley, 2018). This study seeks to understand how design thinking can support organizational transformation, disruptive innovation and change management in one specific area of our larger economy: the Alberta energy sector.

To do this we will conduct a series of interviews with large scale oil and gas companies operating in the Alberta energy sector to better understand: the ways that design thinking can affect the innovation culture of an organization; the main individual and organizational barriers to adopting design thinking as an innovation process; and the specific organizational roles, functions and structures that support the use of design thinking practices. Data from this research study will be used to develop a series of case studies of “design thinkers” in the energy space, and to begin the work of re-framing design thinking as a theory of innovation.

Through this inquiry into the innovation and design thinking practices of energy sector corporations, this research will contribute to a better understanding of how design thinking can be used to complement other innovation frameworks. Findings from this research project will be disseminated in scholarly publications, at academic conferences and online in the form of open-access case studies and white paper resources, each of which will add theoretical and empirical contributions to the larger debates about nurturing and fostering innovation practices in Canada’s largest economic sector. This project is a pilot study of the use of design thinking in innovation work; the data collected and analyzed as part of this study will support future large scale and multi sector studies of the use of design thinking as a tool for innovation and change in the Canadian economy.

By examining the use of design thinking practices within change and innovation-oriented initiatives in energy sector organizations, I hope to develop a clear picture of: how we can use design thinking to effect change and to complement other innovation frameworks; what is required to adopt design thinking practices in organizational cultures; and whether design thinking is an effective method of catalyzing innovation and change within the Canadian economy.

Specifically, I aim to answer the following key research questions:

1. How can design thinking affect the innovation culture of an organization?

2. What are the specific organizational roles, functions and structures that support the use of innovation-focused design thinking practices?

3. What is the empirical effectiveness and field of application of design thinking, and is design thinking positioned in relation to other innovation frameworks?

This research project is aligned with my larger program of scholarship here at MRU and represents a continuation of research that I have been conducting on the role of design thinking in the development of change making, social innovation and entrepreneurship practices. Additionally, this research project is a continuation of my commitment to student engagement in the research process – as indicated elsewhere in this application students will act as collaborators in the data collection, analysis and knowledge mobilization phases of this study. This research is framed as a pilot study of the use of design thinking in one specific sector: I plan to use knowledge generated here to support my future program of research which will include large scale and multi sector studies of the use of design thinking as a tool for innovation and change in the Canadian economy.

Through this study, I will advance a deeper understanding of how design thinking practices can be fully integrated into cultures and teams, how design thinking can support creative and critical change in organizations facing sector specific disruption, and how design thinking can foster a practice of change-making in a larger corporate community. This research project will contribute new knowledge to a critical gap in the field and will support the adoption of design thinking practices within energy sector organizations seeking positive and deliberate disruption.


Design Thinking and Innovation Management in a High Performance coaching Context: Application to Practice.

Collaborators: Dr. Simon Raby, Mount Royal University and Laura Watson, Own The Podium.

The innovation practice of design thinking is understood as a driver of positive and disruptive innovation (IDEOU, 2019; Kelley, 2013) – a series of organizational resources, theoretical perspectives and creative protocols that can seed positive innovation and organizational transformation in established corporate cultures (Brown & Wyatt, 2010). The use of design thinking as a driver of innovation and organizational transformation has been scrutinized for decades (Brown, 2009; Cross, 2011; Liedtka, 2015). However, most of these investigations have addressed design thinking as a form of process creativity, which has contributed to the blurring of boundaries between this impactful mindset and studies of individual practices within creative industries. What has driven recent growth of attention to design thinking in contexts outside of the creative industries is a change of perspective: design thinking is increasingly characterized as a distinct innovation management practice (IDEO, 2019; Hassi & Laasko, 2011), one which can support and foster the development of creative problem solving and innovative leadership skills (Plattner, Meinel & Leifer, 2012) . Session C of the Canada Coach initiative offered through the Coaching Enhancement Program (CEP) presents a unique perspective into how creative problem solving and leadership skills can be fostered using this design-based mindset. By studying the ways that coaches participating in the Design Thinking activity as part of CEP Innovation and Change Session adopt and adapt design thinking practices in their work (both during the CEP session and in their work with athletes) we will be better able to understand the validity, contingencies and limitations associated with this designed approach to thinking.