IBM + Design Thinking

The Summary

Robert J. LeBlanc is a senior software executive at IBM where they are trying to answer the question: Can you grow in the new businesses faster than your older, lucrative businesses decline? They think that the answer to this question is “design thinking”. While in a top-management meeting, LeBlanc began thinking about Phil Gilbert and decided to give him a call. Phil Gilbert is a design and user experience fanatic who was working at a startup that IBM had acquired in Austin. LeBlanc asked Gilbert if he thought the design work he was doing in Austin could be done across IBM. Gilbert replied and said that to be able to have an impact, IBM had to be prepared to hire over 1000 designers. Phil Gilbert is now trying to change IBM’s old habits so the company can adjust to the relentless advance of digital technology.

Revenues at IBM have been steadily declining in the last two years. They have invested in new field like data analytics, cloud computing, mobile technology, security, social media software for business, and its Watson artificial intelligence with hopes that these new focuses will spell out a brighter future for the company. But the hopeful thought around IBM is that the introduction of design thinking will give them the edge they need to survive.

Design has always been important to IBM. In the 1950s design meant creating eye pleasing functional products. But now design thinking is focused on identifying a more productive way of organizing work: Look at the problems through the lense of the user’s needs, research those needs with more people and then build prototype products quickly. Another focus of design thinking is defining problems more extensively. Design thinking is also helping change the relationship between IBM and their clients, inviting more collaboration and creativity and design thinking is also encouraging better quality products that just so happen to be getting completed at a faster rate. Bluemix, a software toolkit for making cloud application, went from an idea to a software platform in as little as a year.

IBM is on its way to hiring more that 1000 professional designers and much of their management work force is being trained in design thinking. IBM’s ceo Virginia M. Rometty says that this transition year will be a difficult and that they must be quick to be able to keep up with the competition.


I think the subtle argument in the article was something along the lines of “with design thinking we will make a killer comeback”. I do not know enough about design thinking (yet) to agree or disagree with that argument. I think that it wouldn’t hurt to take a design thinking approach toward new products and problems within the company in general. I also think it is a good way to attract college graduates. Something that I did not include in the summary above was that IBM was “worried” (I’m not sure if large companies get worried) that they might not appeal to millennials as much as other tech companies and design thinking would be a way to attract the youth. Design thinking creates an atmosphere of creativity, collaboration and openness and that is definitely appealing to me, being a young person who will soon graduate college.