Any organisation hoping to co-opt design thinking into their culture will need to think about how they can get every employee to believe in it – and one way could be through workspace layout.

Speaking on the sidelines of SAP’s TechEd event in Barcelona, the vendor’s chief design officer Sam Chen spoke of SAP’s own journey to adopt a design thinking mindset and some of the lessons learned.

SAP of course is but one backer of the power of design thinking. Others such as Salesforce and Accenture have similarly invested to back the concept into their own cultures.

For Chen, anything that aims to transform organisational culture is likely to be a “multi-year journey” and involve many moving parts.

“There’s so many aspects to really flipping a culture,” Chen said.

“You have to have the right people, you have to start modifying processes, and maybe most importantly you have to have the right mindset.

“But the actual environment also matters.”

SAP’s first experiments with workspace have been via its ‘AppHaus’ environments in Heidelberg, Palo Alto and Korea. They are a kind of design and co-innovation space for SAP and its users to interact in a non-corporate setting.

“There’s a whole different feel to how you work based on what your workspace actually looks like,” Chen said.

“We have been experimenting for a long time and we’ve taken the best practices of other organisations in terms of what it takes to actually set up a creative environment to work at.

“Based on our experiences and what has and hasn’t worked for ourselves, we started to create some of these things from a more customer-facing co-innovation space.

“At this point we’ve got a couple of AppHaus’s all over the world, in which we do co-innovation and sessions with our customers, and the environment really helps.”

Chen believed it was important for companies wanting to adopt design thinking to make an effort to get their staff to believe in its benefits and potential.

“I think ultimately you’re only going to get that innovation culture in your organisation if everyone believes it,” he said.

“A lot of people when they think of design thinking, think ‘Oh, that’s only for the designers’. But it’s something where everybody has to have that human-centred mindset, focusing on who it is that your company is trying to serve, really understanding what those needs are, and understanding innovation opportunities from those needs.

“It’s deep empathy ultimately for the end consumer, and it’s for every person within the organisation.”

Chen noted that the design thinking journey could prove challenging for many potential adopters as it ran counter to learned ways of operating.

“It’s very easy for organisations to do things the way that they were doing it before,” he said.

“Most organisations have become successful by doing things the same way, solving a problem and doing that very well. But it means it’s very difficult for that organisation to then change when the boundary conditions shift.

“I think all organisations run into that at some point in time.”

He believed one way of bringing a culture of creativity and innovation into an organisation was to learn from others that have undergone the change.

“We find it’s best done when you bring communities of practice together, people who have been at it for a long time, what are the success stories, what are the things to try to avoid,” he said.