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Designing the Future: Strategy, Design, and the 4th Industrial Revolution

by Tyrone S. Pitsis, Sara L. Beckman, Martin Steinert, Luciano Oviedo, and Bettina Maisch

Designing the Future: Strategy, Design, and the 4th Industrial Revolution
Can design thinking enhance the impact of technological innovation on complex problems.


Climate change, poverty, and infectious disease – the problems facing today’s leaders are highly complex, and subject to rapid change. These “wicked problems” demand innovative multidisciplinary solutions. Increasingly, those solutions will make use of new and emerging technologies from many different industries. But how should organizations innovate when the boundaries of a problem, and the ways in which it might evolve, remain unknown?

Design Thinking has become one of the fastest-growing approaches to innovation. It emphasizes human-centered principles that focus on an empathetic understanding of people and their specific needs. In an era of rapid social, environmental, and technological change, orienting the innovation process around human-centered design principles can provide a much-needed focal point.


While the academic study of design thinking is relatively new, the origins of the term can be traced back nearly 80 years. In the 1940s, Boeing’s development of the B-17 “Flying Fortress” was considered a deciding factor in the Allied victory during World War II. The success of this innovative aircraft was attributed to both its nimble private venture provenance, and its distinctive design features that offered pilots enhanced control and protection – what then- Boeing-VP W. E. Beall called “progressive design thinking.”

Designing the Future

Today, design thinking is a standard part of the curriculum in many business schools, and has also come to define the innovation strategy of many top companies worldwide, including SAP, Google, Siemens, Intel, IBM, Arup, and NASA.

As for the future of design thinking, interest groups and networks have grown exponentially in size and activity over the last few years, ensuring design thinking’s institutionalization as basic business practice. Paired with growing interest in the subject within universities, there is now a stronger strategic emphasis on design thinking as a way to bolster competitive advantage. And design thinking will only become more important as a means of focusing collective efforts to address wicked problems. As a result, those organizations that make design thinking a central strategic focus are more likely to develop a sustainable advantage for the future.


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