Do you need more marketable skills in your repertoire? Could your job be next on the chopping block? For career-minded employees "design thinking" could be the key.
It's certainly the future according to the World Economic Forum, which notes the decline in the desire for technical task-based skills and the increasing demand for creative problem solving and social understanding/influence, says Darren Levy of Human Synergistics, a company that provides change strategies to organisations and individuals.
In fact, design thinking, say some, is the next quantum leap in business in an age where organisations often need to adapt fast to survive and/or meet targets. It's also proving to be a marketable skill in the workforce for careers ranging from marketing to IT development.
Design thinking, says Levy, is a mindset and a process for creative problem solving. It enables individuals and organisations to slow down and identify the real problems by finding out what customers really need/want, before looking for solutions.
The process involves empathising, defining the problem, brainstorming ideas, prototyping a solution and testing. It's the polar opposite of making assumptions as organisations did traditionally.
A classic example of design thinking in practice, says Levy, was the creation of Air New Zealand's Skycouch. A team from IDEO interviewed passengers and cabin crew, then made various life-size seating prototypes, and tested them on Boeing 787 aircraft.
One employee and emerging leader who sings the praises of design thinking is Daniel Houppermans, Waikato Regional Council's CI and Innovation lead.
Three years ago Houppermans was given the opportunity by his employer to upskill and has really seen benefits to his department, the organisation, his personal satisfaction and his brand in the employment market.
Design thinking is one of a number of toolsets, including LEAN and Kaizen methodologies, used in the department and throughout the council to foster continuous improvement and innovation, says Houppermans. It assists staff in getting to the bottom of real problems rather than turning attention to the nearest squeaky wheel making the most noise.
"It is one of the things that drives what we do and what we work on, says Houppermans. "We want to be solving problems that are meaningful for customers in our community."
On a personal level Houppermans really values the mindset that has grown from study with Human Synergistics, and subsequent practical application in the workplace.
"For me it's the increased ability to solve real problems and make a real difference for staff and customers. It's a way of thinking that puts people and their challenges at its heart." Houppermans has always been fond of creativity and design thinking has given him permission and scope to apply that to his work.
"I think creativity is a feature of human intelligence that I think is inimitable by AI (artificial intelligence), and will be increasingly sought out by employers in the future."
Houppermans loves his job. If asked, however, he is aware that the design thinking skill set is highly transferable across multiple industries.
"It has given me a high degree of mobility and options that weren't necessarily available to me in the past. I think this particular skill set is only going to increase in demand, and with it the opportunities available to design thinking practitioners."
While Houppermans is relatively young, Human Synergistics has worked with employees of all ages, says Levy.
"Some close to retirement age have been reinvigorated by changing their thinking." Adding design thinking to their skill set helps them remain relevant and employable.
Levy cites Spark NZ as another organisation Human Synergistics has worked with that has benefited from design thinking in its change journey.
Design thinking originated in Spark's Technology team, as a way to be more customer centric and then expanded into other more traditional areas, such as marketing, says James Boult, products and propositions at Spark NZ .
"It's not for building products or solutions; it's for everything that impacts people, whether it's customers, staff, or New Zealanders in general," says Boult.
Design thinking assists Spark NZ employees in their career progression, he says.
"It sets people up to be able to drive innovation and change the way that teams think about how they approach business.
"Over time, it changes the way your subconscious mind works; you're constantly seeking out problems others around you experience, or identifying opportunities you see in the world around you every day. It gives you a mental list of great things you could do that would make the world a better place, and helps you start the journey to building great solutions for those problems.
"More than this, it changes the way you interact with those around you; suddenly you are more conscious of how people feel, act, and respond to situations; this observation means you can respond to those needs in a way that truly resonates with those around you," says Boult.