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Design Thinking: How to create a modern dialogue on design thinking in Japan with Brittany Arthur

Updated: Jun 23

Conversing with Brittany Arthur, Founder of Design Thinking Japan

Design Thinking: A concept that you hear at strategy meetings and continues to inspire leaders today to use it in all their briefings when tackling innovation.

What is design thinking? Well, if we quote Wikipedia, is it "the cognitive, strategic, and practical processes by which design concepts (proposals for new products, buildings, machines, etc.) are developed. Many of the key concepts and aspects of design thinking have been identified through studies, across different design domains, of design cognition and design activity in both laboratory and natural contexts."

Design thinking follows a process in 5 stages:

  • Stage 1: Empathize—Research Your Users' Needs

  • Stage 2: Define—State Your Users' Needs and Problems

  • Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas

  • Stage 4: Prototype—Start to Create Solutions

  • Stage 5: Test—Try Your Solutions Out

The design thinking methodology's role is to support innovation by seeing each stage a mode and building on top of knowledge existent in the team and co-create.

As Plattner, Meinel, and Leifer state (all researchers in the innovation field): "While the stages are simple enough, the adaptive expertise required to choose the right inflection points and appropriate next stage is a high order intellectual activity that requires practice and is learnable." In other words, you do need help in moderating the process and understanding how all pieces come together.

I had Brittany Arthur, the founder of Design Thinking Japan, as one of my guests for Femme Lead Podcast. It was a true pleasure to converse with Brittany about design thinking and innovation, how to use design thinking in your company's strategy, and how to design your career path.

Brittany Arthur is an expert in innovation and design thinking, and through her company, Design Thinking Japan, she bridges the world of innovation and organizational change.

Brittany organically developed the ability to connect her love for Japan with her passion for processes and customer-centricity. She has a double degree in business and Japanese, as she identified that this is the field she wants to pursue as it outlines her passion for people.

Design thinking as a career path is a function of the innovation efforts, and as Brittany nicely puts it, design thinking is an "and tool: use whatever you have AND design thinking." In a company, it plays along in two ways; she continues. "On one hand, it is the ability to build a creatively confident workforce, and on the other hand, it is the ability to create new business opportunities."

Popularized in the West in the early 2010s with IDEO, Stanford's, and the Hasso-Plattner Institute in Germany, the methodology reached Japan five to six years later. Brittany decided to become the liaison between this methodology and the Japanese market, as she possessed both the skills and the passion for this endeavor.

The differentiating factor in Brittany's career path was her ability to speak Japanese. Looking at the development of design thinking and what her peers were doing, she had a moment of epiphany where she asked herself:

"If I won't do it, who will? If I do not try to move the needle and do work in Japan, who is?"

From there on, Brittany started her company and focused on supporting companies' innovation efforts in Japan through consulting and workshops. The role of design thinking becomes even more prevalent in crisis times, as we have recently experienced when the question on everybody's mind is: "What are our priorities?"

"Design thinking is a process that will help you in a short period, with low investment, decide how do you want to spend your money over the next six months, one year, five years? I encourage you to look deeply at your priorities, but also move in a timely fashion. Using rapid, collaborative methodologies like design thinking will be one of those accelerators that will help companies set the strategy quicker and help the organization move, and even grow, through this crisis."

When it comes to tackling the challenges of design thinking in Japan, Brittany accentuates the need to create an analogy for the Japanese market for this "new" Western concept. She adds: "For example, in Japan, businesses do not take risks as much as in Western cultures at the beginning of a process, but when committed, they will invest all their resources. One analogy that works for us is using karaoke."

Funny enough, Brittany started her own podcast recently called "Business Karaoke" from the same passion of bridging the dialogue about doing business in modern Japan.

From the descriptive process to how you can use design thinking for your own journey, she continues with tips for designing your path: "Take a moment to realize you can design your career. Write down a plan, pivot quickly, and gather feedback. It is not something you need to leave to chance."

The conversation follows with advice for those at the start of their career who might ask themselves what they should say, as they did not gather the experience of a field of work: "Rather than act as a subject-matter expert, simply document your experience. As early as you can in your career, become connected to an idea. Think about what do you want to be known for and make it a part of your everyday life."

As for the professionals who are further ahead in their journeys, think about the analogy of showing up to an event: "Sometimes a series of events happen to take place, and somehow you end up where you are. If you are looking for a new challenge, this directly correlates with how much you give into that industry. The more you put into that industry, the more that the world knows that this is your line of work, and the more opportunities will come your way."

In other words: "Go out there!"

I am 100% in sync with this piece of advice. Personally, the more I speak about career progression and using platforms such as LinkedIn for branding and creating your journey, the more I get in a conversation with people who are genuinely interested in exchanging ideas and inviting me to join their cause.

Lastly, when thinking about "timing" and how it plays in your path, listen to the podcast's last 5 minutes. I have been very inspired by what Brittany shares on living a non-linear path and not comparing your journey to others: "My life is for me, every element that makes you special contributes to living your non-linear life. Your job is to show up for your community, for your industry, for yourself. Your life will look different than your neighbor', which is ok because they took a different path."

What are your comments on the thoughts shared here? How do you use design thinking in your work or your life?

Check out episode #2 of Femme Lead Podcast here:

If you want to hear the live Q&A session with Brittany, check:

For more info on Design Thinking and case studies:

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