Can Design Thinking change the future of your business?

Q&A with GConsultancy Innovation’s CEO, Dr.Julia Goga-Cooke.

Julia Goga-Cooke is the powerhouse behind GConsultancy Innovation; an Academy of Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship, based in the heart of London. GConsultancy Innovation believes that ‘innovators are not born – they are made’, and describes itself as ‘an ecosystem of design thinkers who can give you the mindset, knowledge and tools to shape a successful business’. We first chatted with the GConsultancy Innovation CEO back in 2015, when the company first became an IOEE Academy. This month we caught up with Julia to discuss how the business has evolved, why storytelling is so important, and how creative collaboration is key to success. 

For people who have never heard of the concept of ‘Design Thinking’, how would you describe what this is?

The term Design Thinking refers to both a set of mindsets and a process for solving complex problems. It is a fully formed discipline, with methods and tools for every stage. It brings together analytical and creative thinking in a very flexible way, allowing them to combine with other methods and tools that you are already using, such as Lean Enterprise, Agile, Appreciative Inquiry, and so forth.

I will mention four mindsets that I see recurring in the work of the Design Thinkers which are key to innovation. Design Thinkers are curious people, they ask questions, challenge assumptions – their own assumptions and other people’s assumptions. They are courageous, they experiment, they try thing out things in order to test, to minimise risk, iterate and innovate. They are collaborative; the more complex the problem, the bigger the need for collaboration across disciplines, ages, locations and industries.  They are optimistic, they adopt a positive stance; where other people see problems, Design Thinkers see opportunities for innovative solutions.

Apart from the mindsets, Design Thinking is also a process, which helps individuals and teams in how to approach complex problems, how to find needs and look for new solutions. It provides a common approach for teams to discover problems, to imagine solutions, and to try out some of those solutions before launching a new product, a new service, or a new way of working. Whatever the problem, there are always people in it. That’s why Design Thinkers start with people, understanding people, empathising with them, and then they move on to questions about the technology and how much business sense the solutions make.

What sort of courses services does GConsultancy Innovation offer?

There are a number of courses we offer to leaders and managers to enable them to facilitate and lead innovation within their teams, departments, or the wider company. The courses are designed according to the needs of different client types we have. Some have heard about Design Thinking and just want to have a taster of what it is. For them, we have the InnoZoomba, a 90-minute fast track hands-on workshop. It has been very popular with ‘Leader Away Days’, retreats and conferences, fitting into the broader agenda of the event.

Other courses vary in length from one to five days, from Introduction to Design Thinking where you learn and take away Ten Tools, to Training the Trainer – where you practice and create the confidence to use the methods and tools as a Design Thinking Facilitator of strategy conversations, boot camps, or short ‘Innozoombas’. Other popular courses have been Design Thinking for HR leaders, Design Thinking for Talent pool, Design Thinking for IT managers.

When we met you in 2015, GConsultancy Innovation had just become an IOEE Academy. How has your company evolved since this time?

We’ve been an IOEE Academy for two years now, and it’s fantastic being part of the IOEE family. Having this accreditation is hugely rewarding, and boosts our credentials as a professional, trusted and inspiring organisation.

We have been teaching Design Thinking for over nine years now. What we have seen in the last couple of years is that people in the business world have started to hear about it and really listen. Harvard Business Review had a whole issue last year on Design Thinking finally coming of age. And there are many reasons why it is being held as a competitive advantage, as Professor Roger Martin says. The speed of change as a result of technology, demography, society, resources and globalisation have made it a priority for any sized organisation, big or small, for profit and non-profit, to be creative and innovative in order to deal with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity, be it for the future and grow.

This is where Design Thinking comes of help – with practical methods and tools that help you to explore and make sense of this complexity, create a deep empathy for your clients and your employees, and come up with solutions that are new and offer value.

We strongly believe that anybody can learn how to become an innovator, and this is what the aim of our courses is – to help you adopt the mindsets, try out the tools, and use them as soon as you are back at your desk.

In the last couple of years that we have been part of the IOEE family, we have diversified our offer, guided by the needs of our clients, making it easier to access the programmes both as open courses and as in-house for teams and companies. We are very excited that we now have two new courses: Design Thinking Facilitator – Train the Trainer, and StoryTelling.

Storytelling is a large element of GConsultancy Innovation’s offering now. With its connotations of youthful fairy tales and so on, how does storytelling work in the corporate business world?

Storytelling is a very important element in the success of your business. You spend a great deal of time designing something new and bringing it to market, but if you can’t tell your story, you’re going to struggle – you need to inspire funders, supporters, clients, partners, followers. This is where storytelling, that brings together facts and figures with stories that connect to the emotions of your audience, helps you stand out and impact.

Storytelling is an integral part of the whole journey of discovering people’s needs, making sense of what you hear in the field, presenting your prototypes and pitching your ideas and products. These days, you need to master how to tell your story in a Tweet, in a one-minute pitch, or a longer presentation. We get our participants to compose ‘Six-Word Stories’, like Hemingway’s Award, and use techniques for headline-writing, Tweet composition, storyboarding, three-act presentations in one minute, and many more practical tools. They get tips from guest journalists – and even from one of the rising stars of opera singers, the Russian soprano, Ilona Domnich – on how to manage stage fright and anxiety, how to create presence, and how not to forget to breathe. It’s fun, enjoyable and practical learning.

As more companies are getting excited about using Design Thinking, how can people not only learn about using these tools, but spread the word too?

Since we last spoke, GConsultancy Innovation has also developed a course for Design Thinking Facilitators – basically, it’s training for the future trainers! It’s for the people who have some knowledge, who’ve read the books, studied on courses, but really want to learn more and take it to the next level. There is a lot of free resources on the web, thanks to, IDEO, and many more.

What people appreciate coming to the course is the use of those tools in real life situations. At G Academy, we have used Design Thinking processes to facilitate intimate workshops of five people and big live boot camps of 500 participants, and 48-hour virtual jams of a several thousand people. We are now teaching other people how to do that, giving them a process and a tool box, as well as follow-up coaching to get them confident in the early steps.

Where can people find GConsultancy Innovation’s courses?

We have published our course calendar in our Gconsultancy Academy website and we offer updates in our weekly magazine, Inspire to Innovate, a curation of articles from Technology, Business, Science and Arts.

We go to where the client is, offering in-house courses for teams of six upwards. Whereas all of our open courses and classes are held at Somerset House, one of London’s iconic landmarks. People come to these courses from all over Europe and beyond. Somerset House allows us to tap into the bountiful creativity, traditions and art on both sides of the River Thames, the Northbank and the Southbank, and act as inspiration to find and nurture the creativity that is at the heart of innovation.