eLab Interview Series: Q&A with Johannes Gaedicke

Authored by:
Dagmar Hoppe

Dagmar Hoppe

Design thinking is not just for designers! However, it does take similar strategies used in the design process and applies them to the business context such as approaching problems from the human perspective and uses the "design mindset" to be solution-focused and action orientated.

User focus, problem framing, collaboration, experimentation, and visualization are some of the guiding principles used in the Design Thinking process. The concept was developed in Silicon Valley by Stanford professor David Kelley and remains an often hyped, widely-debated yet an increasingly popular concept that is used across multi-disciplinary teams, in flexible workspaces and as a great facilitator of collaborative work. Think of it as the ‘secret sauce’ in today’s shifting work environments and here at eLab, we’ve included it in our curriculum so that our aspiring entrepreneurs can use this methodology across many areas of their business and get to the heart of what their users need, so they can focus on delivering a human-focussed solution.

We speak to our talented Design Thinking instructor from our eLab Emerge course, Johannes Gaedicke.

How did you first discover Design Thinking?

I learned about Design Thinking at a conference about entrepreneurship back in 2012. I attended a one-hour presentation by the head of D-School, Ulrich Weinberg, about what Design Thinking is and how it works and was fascinated. Design Thinking was not yet popular in Germany and it was completely new to me. However, it made so much sense and I wondered why firms and organizations weren’t working like this already. It was a no-brainer for me to study this new way of working and I applied right away for a position the following semester at the D-School program in Potsdam. I co-founded a management consulting firm during the time I finished my double masters degree, and about a year later I began learning about design thinking. I made it a top priority as I saw it as a huge potential for my business and crucial for my personal as well as professional growth. One year later, I received the official Advanced Design Thinker Certificate of the HPI and shifted more from strategic consulting to Design Thinking Projects. Both my partner and I decided that we wanted to refocus our occupation, away from our prescriptive management consulting work. My partner started working in the art sector and I opened my current business, Nudge & Leap, in order to offer coaching for innovation and digitalization projects for firms with the help of Design Thinking. During the years I grew my method skill set around agile methodologies, but Design Thinking is and remains a major approach in my work.

What are the basic principles of Design Thinking? When did it emerge & become important?

Check ten articles on the guiding principles of Design Thinking and you might get ten different answers. There are no stipulated or fixed rules. Design Thinking is not a static or prescriptive toolset, but a methodology, a toolbox, a mental approach, and a culture, which is still changing and developing. With its roots far back as to the mid 1960s when the term “Wicked Problems" (i.e. extremely complex/multi-dimensional problems) was connected to problem-solving with design, Design Thinking in its current form was strongly shaped by the two founding academic institutions – namely D-School in Stanford, USA and the HPI D-School in Potsdam, Germany.

How can entrepreneurs use Design Thinking in their business?

Design Thinking is not only valuable for big firms, but also for SMEs and all types of entrepreneurs. Stating that you first have to really understand your customers and their needs/problems before creating a solution in terms of a product or service, the design thinking mindset is especially relevant for entrepreneurs. Too often I see entrepreneurs failing because they did not understand what the market really wanted. Even today founders still start with ideas born out of technical developments or their own special interests, without having truly understood what their possible clients need or want. It becomes much more difficult and costly to run your business while trying to simultaneously understand who your customers are and what you can offer them. Design Thinking puts the understanding of the customer at the starting point before you even think about creating Prototypes or testing your product on the market. Entrepreneurs must adopt this way of thinking to be successful.

What are some non-traditional areas of business or everyday life Design Thinking principles can be applied to?

Design Thinking helps to solve problems, especially those difficult to grasp (“wicked problems”). Therefore, this approach can be used for all kinds of scenarios– not only on a business level. Just look at the recent efforts of innovating school education with help of design thinking, or rethinking our present political system towards a more direct democracy.  I believe the mindset can even help you in your everyday life by utilizing methods from design thinking to better understand and empathize with your employees, family,  and friends.

What do you enjoy about teaching Design Thinking to students and aspiring entrepreneurs?

I couldn’t stand university lectures where professors were just reading slides out loud! My learning effect there tended to be zero and I was bored out of my mind. Therefore, my Design Thinking teaching is based on a hands-on, interactive workshop style in which I give a short theoretical introduction with examples, then let the students try it out themselves and afterward reflect with them on their experience and their view on it. Not only does it lead to a better learning effect, students are also more motivated and engaged. It is a great experience to work with motivated students and the feedback is always very good, too.

What are some of the challenges you face teaching DT to entrepreneurs?

Active entrepreneurs usually have already either founded a firm or are preparing a launch / recently launched a product onto the market. If their product or service is initially successful, they rather want to learn how to grow and scale their business. In that case, the focus is more on agile management and growth strategies instead of Design Thinking. Design Thinking comes into play if the venture has not yet achieved the necessary results and the customer requirements and needs must be reassessed. For some entrepreneurs, it can be very challenging to accept that their product or service does not get customer interest and might need to be thought over. However, a better understanding and a so-called pivoting of the product strategy with the help of design thinking and other agile methods can bring a struggling venture back on track. So, all it needs is the understanding of the entrepreneur.  My task is to first explain that entrepreneurs need to better empathize with their customers and that product development needs to ensure constant feedback loops with the end users.

Why have you decided to join the teaching team here at eLab and what are you most excited about?

I believe that it is of utmost importance that we give people, who are willing to venture a new business, the proper knowledge to successfully do so and build on the knowledge that already exists and has shown to be useful. Furthermore, eLab is not just another business school where you learn theory by doing case studies, instead here participants learn through the hands-on approach in workshops and expert sessions, get access to great entrepreneurs and managers with industry experience, are mentored to develop their own venture and even have the possibility to network and connect with investors! I would have loved to have such a terrific offering when I started my first business, but I am honored and delighted to bring this cutting-edge education to a new generation of entrepreneurs.


Are you interested in learning more about design thinking? Would you like to learn it in a hands-on and interactive learning style? Alongside Johannes, we have appointed a whole team of successful and smart entrepreneurs ready to share their latest business learnings with you! Visit our website for more information about our accelerated startup programs and we look forward to welcoming you to one of Europe’s creative capitals.


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