How a Design Thinking bootcamp can foster circular innovation in your company

Many companies, both large and small, across many different industry sectors, are already investigating how to adopt circular economy approaches. But the past few months, some industrial giants (including P&G, Daikin & 3M) asked us the same question.
Mathias Fahy

Where and how to get started?  

Often the best way to find out what works is to give it a try. If you want to learn to swim, you must jump into the water. Experimentation and circular economy pilot projects help you discover what will be successful in the market. Through the feedback obtained by hands-on doing, rich insights can grow – which can inform strategy formulation. But piloting and trying also requires a structured approach.

So the next question is: how do Iidentify tangible experiments that can help me to start building a sustainable and circular business? How do I align stakeholders on this? And how can I, afterwards, move beyond mere experimentation and piloting?

‘Design Thinking holds great potential to design “around” circular challenges. Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung and GE, are using Design Thinking for sustainable innovation.’

Central features of Design Thinking– coincidentally just what we need for a circular economy!

  • Empathy: being able to see the world from different perspectives.
  • Optimism: starting from the premise that there is always a solution to a problem.
  • Learning-by-doing approach: designing experiments through which you’re going to learn.
  • Collaboration: working together cross-disciplines.
  • Human-centered: focusing on the wishes and needs of the end user.

In March of this year, just before Covid-19 hit us, Möbius was selected – together with 15 other idea owners – to participate in a 2-day Design Thinking bootcamp focused on finding innovative solutions for sustainability & circular challenges, an initiative by the VUB Chair of Social Entrepreneurship and its founding partners, BNP Paribas Fortis, Close the Gap and Euroclear. We’d like to share with you some experiences from these two inspirational days; probably you can fit them into your own design thinking workshops & bootcamps on circular economy!

First, let’s take a look at how to apply Design Thinking – and then we put it into practice on the circular economy. Using the so-called Double Diamond, Design Thinking approaches problems and solutions by applying 2 different types of thinking.

  • Divergent thinking: keeping an open mind and considering anything and everything.
  • Convergent thinking: bringing back focus and identifying a limited number of key problems and solutions along the way

This leads to four phases to the Double Diamond approach:

  • Discover ‘opportunities’: societal needs, customer wants, environmental issues. (diverging)
  • Define specific pressing opportunities to focus on (converging)
  • Develop potential solutions to these opportunities (diverging)
  • Deliver feasible and viable solutions to these opportunities (converging)

Double Diamond diagram (source: Design Counsil, 2019 – Adapted by Möbius Circular economy & Sustainability)

How does it work ?

Day 1 Research & Insights

First, try to focus on a general opportunity statement: what does a sustainable future for our customers look like? How can we enable circular offerings for our customers? Try to get the broadest view (diverging) on this statement as possible. The Double Diamond calls this diverging the ‘Research’ phase, in which you try to obtain as much information as possible about the problem/opportunity, amongst others through interviewing your customers, entering into a dialogue with value chain partners or taking in expert views of research or innovation institutions.

With the acquired information, you enter into the ‘Insights’ phase, where you and your team break down the general problem statement into more specific challenges, and prioritize them (converging). This helps your team to focus on a limited number of challenges. How do we capitalize on a circular purchasing strategy from one of our key accounts? How do we lower the material footprint of a specific product, in a specific business unit? In the end, a good opportunity statement should be broad enough for creative freedom but narrow enough to make it manageable.

Day 2 Ideation & Prototypes

Next up is the creative part, the ‘Ideation’ phase. Now it’s time to come up with creative ideas and to encourage each other to identify a broad spectrum of possible solutions to the defined problem or opportunity. How about introducing a circular purchasing criteria into contracting, or making a circular case database accessible to suppliers? Anything is possible, diverge as much as possible. These spontaneous ideas are the seeds for the ultimate, practically useful ideas in the ‘Prototypes’ phase.

By prototyping some ideas (through sketching, storyboarding …) – and presenting them to your customer, value chain partner or expert for feedback – you will eventually be able to present workable solutions, ready to be pitched. Always wanted to end your circular bootcamp with real-life circular economy pitches? The Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently launched a circular pitch guide, filled with useful tips!

Möbius consultant Justine Tytgat together with teammates during the VUB Design Thinking Bootcamp

This type of 1 or 2-day Design Thinking bootcamp, bringing together people from different departments and with different perspectives, is sure to speed up your transition to a circular business. Design Thinking offers a range of highly formatted tools that deliver a sense of security and guidance. This makes it easier for your colleagues to become circular innovators. The ideas generated and tested during this type of bootcamp help you lay the basis for a circular economy action plan & pilots, ready to be pitched to senior leadership. Moreover, involving colleagues in the process of generating ideas, will help you win internal support for your circular economy ambitions.

Good luck!

Thanks for reading

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