Design thinking emphasises action over planning and encourages its followers to look at problems through the eyes of the people affected. Around 100,000 Infosys employees have gone through a series of workshops on it. The first such workshop sets the participants a task: for example, to improve the experience of digital photography. That involves moving from the idea of making a better camera to considering why people value photographs in the first place, as a way of capturing memories. As ideas flow, people taking part in the workshops immediately start producing prototypes with simple materials like cardboard and paper. “The tendency is to plan at length before building,” says Mr Rajagopalan. “Our approach is to build, build, build, test and then plan.”
That baffling structure in Palo Alto was another teaching tool. Mr Rajagopalan had charged a small team with reimagining the digital retail experience. Instead of coming up with yet another e-commerce site, they were experimenting with technologies to liven up a physical space. (If a weary shopper sat in the chair, say, a pot of tea on an adjacent table would automatically brew up.) The construction of the shop prototype in Infosys’s offices was being documented so that employees could see design thinking in action.
Infosys is grappling with a vital question: what do people need to be good at to succeed in their work? Whatever the job, the answer is always going to involve some technical and specific skills, based on knowledge and experience of a particular industry. But with design thinking, Infosys is focusing on “foundational skills” like creativity, problem-solving and empathy. When machines can put humans to shame in performing the routine job-specific tasks that Infosys once took offshore, it makes sense to think about the skills that computers find harder to learn.