When cultures collide: What can we learn from frictions in the implementation of design thinking?
Journal article, 2022

Increasing interest in the use of design thinking (DT) in innovation has called into question its integration in organizational settings. We draw upon literature on management innovation and new practice implementation that highlights potential cultural conflicts between the values and assumptions underpinning the new practice and the culture of the organization that adopts it. We investigate the cultural fit between DT and the adopting firm through qualitative studies of 13 cases of DT implementation in large established firms complemented with data collected during eight workshops with DT practitioners and scholars. We abductively propose a cultural archetype of DT comprising eight dimensions: subjective and aesthetic ways of knowing, long-term and nonlinear views about time, intrinsic motivation and sense of purpose, flexibility and change, relationships, empathy, and emotions at work, collaboration and inclusion, team autonomy and informality, and external orientation. We identify challenges and consequences associated with cultural misfits encountered in the implementation of DT: lack of legitimacy, lack of depth, disengagement, incrementalism, poor teamwork and alienation, collaboration lip service, micromanaged processes, and lack of external orientation. We thus (i) develop a characterization of DT by providing a detailed cultural archetype that we discuss relative to previous literature on DT and (ii) enrich the research on the recursive relationship between organizational culture and DT implementation, contributing to research on emotions in management and innovation culture. We also (iii) contribute to research on the challenges encountered by firms when adopting DT, extending the research on difficulties linked to cultural misfits when implementing new practices. Finally, we (iv) contribute to research on practice implementation and management innovation by highlighting the interplay between cultural fit, legitimacy, and the implementation climate.

cultural fit

design thinking implementation

innovation culture

management innovation


Lisa Carlgren

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Innovation and R&D Management

RISE Research Institutes of Sweden

Sihem BenMahmoud-Jouini

Groupement de Recherche et d'Etudes en Gestion d'HEC

Institut Interdisciplinaire de l'Innovation

Journal of Product Innovation Management

0737-6782 (ISSN) 1540-5885 (eISSN)

Vol. 39 1 44-65

Subject Categories

Business Administration

Information Science

Information Systemes, Social aspects



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4/5/2022 5