The Design Thinking Fatigue: When Innovation Becomes a Corporate Cliché

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
- Charles Kettering

Published at: 20 March, 2024

I was having a drink with Jeff, an ex-client of mine, also a product lead from a globally renowned insurance corporation who spearheaded their digital innovation wing. Surprise but not so surprisingly, he kinda cried about that that Design thinking, although a pervasive practice, had become a crutch for executives and consultants alike. It was no longer about fostering genuine innovation; instead, it served a ceremonial function, telling the board that the arduous task of validation had been outsourced and completed. It was a knee-jerk reaction that often led to the most profound disconnects between business objectives and the innovative endeavor itself.

I can't really blame the poor guy. I have had conversations like that more than I can remember in the past year or so.

In recent years, "design thinking" has become a buzzword in the corporate world, advocated as a holistic and innovative approach to problem-solving. However, its application has often led to a paradoxical outcome, with many corporate entities expressing fatigue and frustration with the process. Thought I would take the opportunity to dive a little bit into the paradox, dissecting the misconceptions among product owners, the missteps of consulting teams, and the path toward a more effective use of design thinking in the corporate realm.

Misconceptions Among Product Owners

While design thinking promises to unearth innovative solutions, the reality for many organizations is a process that often merely reaffirms what is already known. Product owners, eager to demonstrate thoroughness in their approach, sometimes use consulting teams to conduct design thinking workshops, not realizing that these sessions may yield little new insight.

Reaffirmation of Existing Knowledge -- The first problem lies in the redundancy of information. Product teams often conduct extensive internal research, believing that this groundwork fully informs the ideation and development process. They then turn to design thinking workshops externally, not to explore new avenues, but to validate their predetermined courses of action.

The Mindset of Validation -- Product owners and teams often enter the design thinking process with a tunnel vision focused on the success of their particular product idea. This mindset skews the utility of workshops, which become exercises in self-assurance rather than genuine exploration and problem-solving.

Covering One's Back -- There's an underlying fear that if a product fails, the blame will be placed on insufficient validation. Therefore, workshops are sometimes employed as a pre-emptive safeguard, intended to later serve as evidence of a diligent and informed process, regardless of the product's success.

The Flaws in Consulting Team Approaches

Consulting teams, on the other hand, bring their own set of missteps to the table. Design thinking has been mistakenly treated as a one-size-fits-all solution, leading to cookie-cutter workshops that fall short of the bespoke insights companies truly need.

The Over-selling of Methodology -- Consulting firms have sometimes misrepresented design thinking as a foolproof method for innovation. They sell it as a packaged solution that is easily applied and managed, which can lead to disappointment when the results don't match the enthusiastic promises.

Efficiency Over Effectiveness -- Design thinking workshops carry a certain appeal for their quantifiable effort and time-boxed outcomes. However, the emphasis on efficiency can lead to a myopic focus on completing tasks rather than on the quality and depth of the insights gained.

Lack of Alignment with Client Objectives -- In some cases, the objective of design thinking workshops may not be sufficiently aligned with the client's goals. Without this alignment, the process becomes an exercise in futility, delivering results that fail to address the client's true challenges.

Navigating Design Thinking Fatigue Effectively

The key to mitigating design thinking fatigue is to tailor the approach to the specific needs of the organization. Early diagnostic processes should be implemented to identify whether design thinking workshops or other forms of strategic guidance and consulting would be more beneficial.

Design thinking workshops are most valuable in certain contexts—when defining product roadmaps or validating a market fit, for instance. Workshops should not be a default step but a deliberate strategy in the broader context of product development.

When it comes to a health check for a product idea or the strategic planning of a product launch, a different form of interactive, strategic consulting may be more appropriate. This type of engagement allows for a clear path of action and a more holistic approach to problem-solving.

Clients and consulting teams must work together to define what success looks like and what is relevant to the organization's growth. Without this clarity, the value of any problem-solving technique, including design thinking, is severely diminished.


Design thinking has the potential to be a powerful tool for corporate innovation when used judiciously. By moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach and focusing on genuine problem-solving needs, organizations can harness the true potential of design thinking. The path to innovation in the corporate world lies not in the endless pursuit of methodologies but in the clarity of vision and the adaptability to the diverse and complex challenges of the digital age.

Workshops and problem-solving techniques should not be ends in themselves, but rather the means to a fruitful, relevant, and impactful end.


Kelvin Lee

Co-founder, Product Lead & Technologist

Digital product consulting for over a decade. Almost religiously passionate to find simple ways to solve the most complex business problems.

Latest Blog Posts

Why You Do Not Want To Skip Wireframes (Not Entirely Anyway)

When it comes to the design process, every step, from conception to finalization, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the end product not only meets the client's expectations but also provides an intuitive and satisfying experience for the user. One step that often gets underrated, or mistakenly skipped, is the creation of wireframes. Some designers view wireframing as an unnecessary step, an additional hallmark on their to-do list that doesn't add much value. However, this perception couldn't be further from the truth.

Read More >
Our Journey Finding The Project Management Tool For Our Agency

Steering a project through its tempestuous life cycle, there are few roles as fraught with daily decisions as that of a project manager. I've been navigating this tumultuous domain for over 12 years now, and I can attest that an adept PM's toolkit is as much a part of their success story as the milestones they set and achieve. Project management tools have the potential to be the unsung heroes, the invisible hands that shape visions into reality, energies into results, and teams into coherent, synergistic units.

Read More >
The Design Thinking Fatigue: When Innovation Becomes a Corporate Cliché

In recent years, "design thinking" has become a buzzword in the corporate world, advocated as a holistic and innovative approach to problem-solving. However, its application has often led to a paradoxical outcome, with many corporate entities expressing fatigue and frustration with the process.

Read More >