Perspectives and Rituals for Healthy Innovation

Recharging In and With the Design Thinking Processes

Fourteen years ago, I was part of the Design Thinking movement in Germany: I was working in an innovation team at SAP that was taking an in-depth look at the basics and application of Design Thinking. In a small, interdisciplinary team, we developed groundbreaking ideas and implemented them as prototypes.

The work made me feel like a pioneer. I loved mulling over ideas with my colleagues in Palo Alto, California, and filled entire meeting rooms with colorful notes and design sketches. Finding the breakthrough solution to a complicated problem as a team felt like Christmas morning. This innovation high burned itself into all cells of my body and wanted to be topped again and again. It let me forget my personal limits, and even though I was burning for the company, the approach and my colleagues, I felt completely empty and depleted after awhile.

I needed a new beginning for myself. Twelve years ago, I left the big corporation and started my own company. Inspired by my experiences, I looked for ways to use the things I had learned in my daily project work.

Design Thinking outside of SAP?
I quickly realized that the ideal conditions for fully applying the principles of Design Thinking do not always exist. In my new work, I rarely had the luxury to be in an incubator with people who understand and live these principles. Looking for ways to transport at least the approach of Design Thinking into my new professional reality, I realized that I had worked so much that I had lost the connection to my own creativity. I needed some space for myself. A calm, quiet place. It was time to fulfill a childhood dream: I bought a Native American tepee and put it up in my garden near Munich, where I was living at the time.

Building a fire and quietly sitting in my tepee became my personal ritual. Here, I was able to be at peace and discover new ideas. Fascinated by the magic of this simple structure I began to delve into Native American culture. I made first visits to the points of origin of Native American teachings and spent time on reservations. In time, I found more and more parallels between modern management and innovation methods and the old teachings.

There is a lot of wisdom in indigenous approaches which can still be used today in companies and projects. Indigenous people don’t know the word innovation. They talk about renewal, because that is what they see reflected in nature every day.

The Fourth Dimension of Innovation

Innovation is often seen as the intersection of technology, economy and people. But an essential fourth element is missing: Nature. From a native perspective everything is done in sync with nature. With its different seasons, nature is not just the example for the process of renewal but also the mother of all innovation and a source of strength for all people.


In Design Thinking, observation plays a central role. Train your observation skills by spending time in nature. Sit in a park for an hour and let yourself be surprised by its rich diversity of life.

Loosen up
Move the problem. Meeting rooms often restrict people. Take the problem for a walk in nature or sit under a tree. Open yourself up to new perspectives and impulses.

Turn your variable space into natural space. Take your creative sessions outside.


Project Harvest: Take a Break as a Team

In our fast-paced world, success is taken for granted. It is seen as the natural consequence of hard work, intelligence and commitment. But success is first and foremost made by people. Harvest festivals are an old tradition that includes thanksgiving to everybody who helped and to all circumstances that contributed to the achievement. If the team skips this shared pause, we miss out on the opportunity to be proud of the things we have created. And we deprive ourselves of what makes us grow as humans: Appreciation.


Did you celebrate the completion of your last project? If not, now is the time to do it! Focus on the others

Appreciation nourishes the soul:
Tell your team members what makes working with them so valuable for you.

Follow the map
Take a little time to reflect together at the end of the project. Ask the following questions: What was the highlight for everybody? Which challenges made us grow?


Reframe the Term: Community Instead of Team

“Interdisciplinary team” is the buzzword of Design Thinking. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, function as communities. What is the difference? From an indigenous perspective, communities have a soul: They maintain clear values supported by all members. Basic rules to ensure survival. All members have their place and all know about the individual talents in the community. Elders serve as an important connection between knowledge, wisdom and generations.


Actual values instead of target value
What are the values your team is based on? These values must be ever present. Use the next team meeting to do it.

More life experience!
Who are the elders in your company? Involve them in projects as consultants. Sometimes you need fewer experts and more life experience.

Tell your talent
Do you know what talents your team members possess? In your next meeting, give everybody some space to talk about a hobby and what is so fascinating about it.


Innovation Needs Help

In business, we focus on methods and processes within the corporate or project context. But we often ignore one important fact: From an indigenous perspective, a community or team as a whole can be strong if each member takes care of his or her health – body and soul. It is important that each person has rituals and takes time to reflect and grow as a person. Rituals are not nice to have. They are essential in maintaining vital functions when projects and the people involved in them have to deal with serious turbulences.


Symbolic order
What are your daily rituals? What do you like to do on your lunch break? Read a good book maybe? Establish at least one daily ritual. You are the center – this is your time to take care of your soul.

I am not digital
Take a daily digital break. That means: Turn off your phone, computer etc. and just “be”. Even an hour-long digital break can work wonders.

Body good – head good
What is good for your body? When is the last time you indulged in a massage? Our bodies do incredible things every day, so treat yours with respect.


Outlook: Personal Growth Through Work

This is just a tiny glimpse of what I learned from “bridging different cultures”. Through observation of my Native American friends and nature, a whole new world opened up for me. These insights not only enriched my company and projects but also let me grow as a person.

I hope that this article is going to encourage you to think outside of the box and gain a wider perspective.

Connecting seemingly incompatible things is truly worth the effort.

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