Framing the Microfoundations of Design Thinking as a Dynamic Capability for Innovation: Reconciling Theory and Practice
Stefano Magistretti, Lorenzo Ardito, and Antonio Messeni Petruzzelli
kHUB post date: October 25, 2022
Originally published: May 29, 2021 (PDMA JPIM • Vol 38, Issue 6 • November 2021)
Read time: 25 minutes
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Design thinking (DT) is gaining ground among academics and practitioners as a means to improve the innovativeness of organizations. However, with few exceptions, DT studies are most entrenched in practice rather than theory-driven research. This weak tie between theory and managerial practice calls for delving into the dynamics of DT for innovation to build stronger foundations for future studies. Therefore, this study provides a theory-based framing of DT for innovation and a critical review of the DT literature to reconcile theory and practice. To this end, we propose framing and advancing DT as a dynamic capability for innovation rooted in lower-level aspects, namely microfoundations. Based on our theoretical framework, we conduct a systematic literature review that unveils the dynamics of DT and the context-specific capabilities to innovate. The contributions of the paper are twofold. First, we provide a theory-based framing of DT and combining it with existing theories in innovation and management (i.e., dynamic capabilities and microfoundations). Second, we review the extant literature on DT for innovation to reconcile previous studies with these theoretical lenses to, hence, guide future research. Based on this interpretation, we then define a number of avenues for future research, thus reconciling practical evidence with theories that can further explain how DT relates to firm innovativeness.
- DT should combine the analytic and creative phases to innovate, in contrast to the conventional narrow, technical, and product-centric way of thinking.
- DT should not be considered as a linear methodology based on the adoption of specific activities/tools that can be isolated, adopted, and replicated following a universal scheme, but as a context-specific dynamic capability for innovation that manifests and evolves differently among firms and over time.
- DT entails sensing, seizing, and reconfiguring dynamic capabilities throughout the innovation process.
- While there are several interpretations of DT, a rigorous analysis of its microfoundations (individuals, processes and interactions, and structure) might better guide its adoption and diffusion because these allow understanding how DT as a dynamic capability for innovation works within an organization.
- The heterogeneity among innovation performances and capabilities is (also) a reflection of the DT microfoundations.
- The individuals, processes and interactions, and structure underlying DT for innovation are strongly intertwined and should not be seen as standalone traits of the DT approach.