How Cross-Functional Collaboration Can Unlock Creativity

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Though it may be tempting to rely on teams of specialists to drive innovation in your business, there’s a risk that a team of likeminded thinkers will lead to tunnel vision. However, one way to avoid the trappings of groupthink is by assembling individuals with diverse skillsets. When assembled, diverse thinkers can produce out-of-the-box solutions to big challenges. In case you are skeptical about this claim, consider the following scenario.

Imagine that you are the CEO of Airbnb, the disruptive peer-to-peer apartment rental service. You want to design a strategy for enhancing customer engagement but are having trouble finding inspiration.

So what do you do? Here’s a suggestion: you decide to bring on board an artist from Pixar to draw and narrate a storyboard.

Though this might seem like a bizarre strategy for optimizing customer engagement, this is exactly what CEO Brian Chesky did. He hired Pixar artists to draw stories of the Airbnb customer cycle from start to finish. By adding Pixar artists to his team, Chesky created a tool that depicted the user experience of Airbnb customers more effectively than had he relied on docs, spreadsheets, and charts. A short story speaks louder to us than a 100 pages of data. Chesky understood this.

Perhaps unintentionally, Chesky revealed himself to be a design thinker. Cross-functional teams, a cornerstone of Design Thinking, helped the company visualize their customers’ Airbnb experience.  

Teams made up of specialists from different backgrounds can produce amazing things when put together in a room. Chesky understood this concept. At Digital Surgeons, we live it daily.

Know what you get when you put together a journalist, an ancient Greek historian, a visual designer, and a technologist in a room for 3 hours? Innovation fueled by divergent thinking. Though this might sound like an eclectic medley, we have put together groups with this exact makeup. The result is a dynamic group that will fill a whiteboard with ideas that would have never been created had the team comprised only developers, writers, or visual designers.  

Wanting innovation is one thing but doing it is another. The pillars of Design Thinking add up to a methodology for driving innovation. Human-centered design requires us to step outside our comfort zone if we want to create something transcendent.  

Homogenous groups are at risk of tunnel vision, since team members tend to look at challenges through the same prism. Design Thinking responds to this problem by applying a wide lens to your business’ challenges. It draws on this simple but profound insight: people with different backgrounds generate different ideas. Design Thinking leverages this insight by creating groups who produce human-centered solutions.

Chesky hired the Pixar artists in 2011. I don’t need to tell you how things panned out for Airbnb. Design for your users — not for your board — to cultivate a human-centered business.

If you assemble passionate, cross-functional teams to tackle your business challenges, your company can innovate in remarkable ways.   

Want to know more about how design thinking can transform your brand or business? Let's have a conversation about the power of human-centered design.

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