Design thinking teaches us to think about human-centred need and design – that to be successful and release engaging products, they should be driven from human need. However, how often as individuals do we address our own human need and how much does this affect our ability to innovate?

At a recent Innovation Leaders conference in the US, we collectively mapped out what the future landscape might look like – and the future is very human. We are due to let tech do its thing and we’ll do ours. This means high fidelity tech, low fidelity humans… if you like. This presents a hugely interesting shift for humans, as many of us have spent decades honing skills and doing jobs that are predominantly left brain, which we’ve come to realise machines can do. In doing so, we’ve moved away from our ‘human’ strengths – our people skills, empathy and emotional intelligence. We think in terms of rules, process, tasks and getting the job done. We’re busy. But how can we focus on human-centred need when we are wired to think in this way? Of course, we still need all these things, but we definitely need to think beyond them too.

With the predicted near nuclear scale fall out from AI on the horizon, an uprising of the ‘luddites’ – those afraid of change and unable to shift themselves into a different capacity – is due. To Ben Abbott’s point in his blog here, we shouldn’t just axe their jobs, instead we should create more value-add positions. For any CXOs reading this, guaranteed your organisation has objectives around reduction of headcount for the next 5-10 years. Maybe this is because of automation, maybe it’s that a new skill set is required, or maybe it’s both. We need to look at where this skill set appears from and understand what skills are really needed. No prizes for guessing; it’s the ability to innovate, because to innovate is very human. To change is in our nature, along with everything else in the universe. We are no exception. Change is the one constant we all share but many of us try to resist.

On a personal level, we consider change massive. We fear change because society doesn’t encourage it. The Government’s cultural capital – the provision of services around jobs, homes, health, infrastructure, education and environment – affects and dictates a lot of our lives, encouraging the drone in us rather than taking the initiative. We ask, ‘where is the cure for… X health issue?’ It’s sad that we are not asking about wellness programmes, so we can educate and take charge of ourselves and our health. There needs to be more encouragement for us to see where and how we can make changes.

However, there are, of course, a few that do seek this. We can also look at the current social shift away from the traditional focus on the collective to the individual. Many are adopting nomadic lifestyles, becoming contract workers, starting their own businesses. They are putting themselves first and don’t want to be attached to a single organisation. Whether the gig economy stays or goes, how do you attract and retain the best talent? You have to ask why they don’t want to be part of a larger organisation. Sometimes it’s money, but often it’s because they don’t want to be a cog in a machine, they want to do something interesting with more meaning and to see that reflected in their co-workers. So let’s help them.

Your organisation’s development is only as good as its people. So, we have to ask, what is your strategy and how do your people support it? If we go by the rule that actions speak louder than words and your words are your strategy, your people are your actions. If you want to be innovative, how ready are you to help and enable your people to change? You need to get into a position where your organisational culture supports the accomplishment of your most significant goals, and allows those goals to shift as the business needs (or customer human needs) change.

Indeed, I work to help organisations create a culture of innovation. If we want the organisation as a whole to shift and be forward-thinking, we need everyone with us, with appropriate behaviours to be aligned. We strike the perfect balance of common behaviour, whilst allowing each to be their own wonderfully flawed human self, where the common behaviour is embracing change and development.

It’s great to tell your employees they have space to innovate and can contribute more meaningfully to the business (an excellent first step is with a platform such as Wazoku’s Idea Spotlight) but it doesn’t really address them as individuals. At an organisational level, to innovate we need to see where we need to change and grow – it’s the same for people. We need to encourage people to self-assess. If you go to AA, step 1 is standing up and saying, ‘I’m an alcoholic’ – awareness and acknowledgement. There are then twelve further steps to take – there is a process to adopt and help to normalise the approach.

As this shows, it is easier to grow and change if there is a path to follow. Enter stage left – the Leadership team. They need to set the example by being a change visionary. Likewise, you need to make sure your managers are equipped to coach and develop their team.  Have your managers gotten to their positions due to individual performance, rather than ability to manage and develop people? If we want them to coach, we have to get them back to the human approach where differences, imperfections and vulnerabilities are normal and part of the ability to change. Empathy and emotional intelligence are key.

Fostering these skills and their ability to understand how they can change increases your workforce’s confidence, communication and ability to make decisions. It’s also key for adopting a truly human-centred approach required for design thinking. Sadly, these skills are termed ‘soft skills’ or only seen as present in client-facing roles or creative industries. Sounds similar to outdated perceptions of innovation, doesn’t it? That it’s just for creatives and a certain few. No, it affects us all, it’s something we all have in common and is part of everyday life – it’s just that some of us choose to resist it. Get on board with it.

As with my previous article, I say ‘beginners mind’ is critical to this – in the beginners’ mind anything is possible and we are willing to learn, but in the expert’s mind, we come with a fixed view of what we know. We all know Steve Job’s inaugural address to Stanford where he says ‘you cannot connect the dots looking forward’, but only when you look back – that we need to relinquish a bit of control and allow ourselves to go through the messy development and change process as that is where we are formed. Just like products are formed through iteration, learning and testing.

Leadership, show that this is valued and create an environment where it’s encouraged. If you invest in your people, they’ll invest in you. You need a workforce of people, and people who can shape where they are going – you can’t survive with a workforce of drones.

If you want to help empower others and drive a more innovative organisation, or want to do more yourself, come see me.

Written by Nicola Darke