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SAPPHIRE NOW Session with Sam Yen: Further a Culture of Innovation in the Enterprise

Blog by Kelsey Bourque

Sam Yen, Chief Design Officer, SAP Managing Director of Silicon Valley Labs, SAP, took the stage at SAPPHIRE NOW to discuss using design thinking to enable innovation in the enterprise and accelerate an innovative culture.

Design thinking is a popular topic amongst some of the industry’s leading corporations. Consumer companies like Google, Facebook, and AirBnB are not the only ones recognizing the need to bring design talent to their organization. Large enterprise businesses without an inherent design focus are quickly acquiring design talent and seeing exponential growth within their business as a result. Although we are in the middle of a digital revolution and technology has always been at the heart of this transformation, organizations are finding that in order to be seen as the top innovation partner, they need to implement a culture of design thinking and design mindset.

At SAP, the main question to our customers and partners is always, “how can we help you run simple? How can we ensure that you are efficient and driving business innovation?” The answer lies in the important shift from IT standing for “information technology” to now representing “innovation technology”. Sam went on to discuss how oftentimes in technology we rely on buzzwords like blockchain, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, but it’s not just about technology anymore. It is about IT organizations having an innovation mindset, which is the culmination of creativity and execution.

Design thinking is a function of both of these properties and the common misconception lies in the belief that execution and creativity are congruent with problem solving. However, Sam argues that the power of creativity is in problem finding. Design thinking simply asks you to go through a process, to take a step back, and find the right problem that is worth solving. In order to succeed in this process, organizations need multiple points of view and multi-disciplinary teams. To emphasize this point, Sam recited a quote often stated at the Stanford, “Talent hits a target that no one else can hit. Genius hits a target that no one else can see”.

To illustrate the power of design thinking at work, Sam introduced Harish Lade, General Manager & VP of Asian Paints. Harish described the genesis of Asian Paints, an organization that was founded in India 75 years ago, with a vision of filling the demand to sell paint to large masses of people in the villages across India. As a country filled with vibrant colors and celebrations requiring large quantities of paint, Asian Paints addressed this market void by manufacturing and distributing mass quantities of paint throughout India.

Fast forward to 2013, Asian Paints experienced a major paradigm shift in their business, moving away from manufacturing and distributing to a vision of helping customers beautify their homes. Asian Paints transformed their business into a home improvement company and onboarded a design team in order to adopt design thinking as a methodology and core company value. This spark of change and design thinking paved the way for a culture of innovation that greatly expanded their horizons as a company and ultimately propelled their business forward as a market leader.

Through Sam and Harish’s personal testaments to the power of design thinking, the audience was left with a new understanding of this concept: by definition, design thinking is a human-centered process. It is the intersection between human desirability, business viability, and technical feasibility. Sam closed the keynote by reminding everyone to think beyond technology when reflecting on transformation and to inspire your teams to define the future together.

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