The next creative edge: from Design Thinking to tomorrow’s organisational design.

With a design leadership profile she developed over 26 years, five countries and three continents, from the U.S.A. to Singapore, and a number of positions at Philips, Lucent, and Electrolux, including the role of Chief Design Officer in Stockholm, Pernilla Johansson, co-founder of the Centre for Organisational Creativity, has established herself as a reference name in corporate design, industrial design, and international thought leadership. Pernilla spoke to Filiberto Amati of Amati & Associates and me about the future of Design Thinking and design, the critical role of creativity in organisations, and her third wave of professional commitment for companies and people.

Marco Bevolo
6 min readMar 22, 2022

Pernilla knows design in its industrial roots, from mechanical engineering to fine arts studies, finding her synthesis at the Gothenburg School of Design. Nowadays, the notion of what “design” is way more complex, confusing and sophisticated than what “industrial design” used to be in the 1980’s and before the 1990’s desktop revolution. According to Pernilla, a fitting definition for the endless evolving field of design is: “Designers design well-designed design”. In a way, what “design” is ultimately comes to the actual viewpoint of each person using such a word at each time, therefore the risk of semantic dilution is concrete. Pernilla addresses such risk by associating the word “design” each and every time she uses with a discriminating qualifier. The purpose is to prevent dilution of the word “design”. What is however undisputed is the expression: “by design”, that always implies an intent. From a strategic viewpoint, “design” is about “innovation”, whereas at a tactical level, “design” is about “differentiation”. From every viewpoint, “design” has generated a massive quantity and quality of value in the last decades, with business management looking at the “what” design does in terms of output, whereas designers know that process, therefore the “how”, is key to achieve an outstanding performance. In essence, according to Pernilla, “design” is based on a cognitive skill that belongs to every human — it is a different matter, however, whether people might perform “design” at professional level. “Design” is the linking pin between incubators, innovators and those talents who move corporations forward. Even more, designers are key actors in transformative processes, therefore it is no surprise that the design competence has grown in the last two decades, from ancillary aesthetics to strategic roles. Here Design Thinking is and will be the fundamental inclusive, systemic approach that enables collaboration over competencies and disciplines.

Corporations need to juggle between disruption and development of business categories as they are. “Design” is about both dimensions of business roadmapping, combining both the ability to analytically focus on the core business with the necessary explorations of the fuzzy front of innovation. This why “design acumen” and “business acumen” must go hand in hand within any organisation, with speed as a discriminating factor for tomorrow’s leadership and team empowerment as a key enabler of speed. The blurring of established lines among disciplines and functions, in the end, is the ideal horizon for designers in corporate organisations and more in general in future business organizations. From the industrial design or the automotive design that established the post-WWII boom and cycles of crisis, the four drivers that will determine the future of design firstly include AI, or -in Pernilla’s definition- “Augmented Intelligence”, whereby AI has the potential to uplift the key questions from the “how” to the “why” we do what we do, hopefully enabling us all to address the climate change and other complex challenges ahead. Secondly, neuroscience is a key component in the design discipline of tomorrow, with “mindfulness” being the third pillar of future design towards meaningfulness beyond empathy. Lastly, the “expansion” of design as an emergent organisational form will continue from the current democratisation of design towards a more multidisciplinary, holistic, life-centric practice, from business to lifestyle, thanks to a redefined notion of creativity. A new “lingua franca” will be required for professionals, academics, and practitioners to communicate across languages, disciplines, and traditional domains, e.g. industrial design versus digital design. In this sense, language itself is a bottleneck because it carries the legacy of history, whereas human centric futures will require design disciplines to blur beyond applications within specific domains. Pernilla envisions a mission critical quantity and quality of work that will be necessary to redefine a design language that unites “the rest of us” as the first step towards the future of design.

Language is a central pillar of any given culture, where linguistic formats and formal grammars are executed within everyday practices, from rituals to exceptions to the norm. Culture is key, however it must be deconstructed into distinctive elements. Within any given culture, creativity is the cognitive muscle that determines transformational capabilities, abilities, and opportunities. Pernilla refers to THNK School of Creative Leadership, Amsterdam, as one of the international hubs that study the necessary conditions for the organisational adoption of a creatively infused environment within corporations; and to David Kelley of IDEO. The intangible assets that organisational storytelling offers in each business in terms of heroes, myths, and the general norms of behaviour are fundamental parameters to determine the potential elasticity of a given culture, hence defining the scope and context where and how design, innovation, and transformation might elicit change. Thinking is the cornerstone of any business, and thinking requires structure, mindfulness, and all the conditions that inspire the freedom of creative processes. Namely, a system thinking approach will be required to navigate the current organisational challenges, by design, towards our preferable futures inspired by vision and enabled by creative capacity:

Copyright: Centre for Organisational Creativity, Stockholm

Within digitalisation trends impacting and deeply transforming work as we know it, boundaries increasingly blur, with the risk to lose interaction and serendipity with respect to traditional modalities to organise the professional sphere of life. However, Pernilla identifies the current blurring of physical and digital as an intermediate step towards “phygital futures” where Millennials and post-Millennials generations will transfer to remote work their virtual social skills. The big benefit of digital environments is inclusiveness, with endless possibilities to expand networks, include voices, and multiple occasions of encountering and connecting to people all over the world. Such benefit will drive future organisations, with the need for management to recognise the new everyday. Millennials will increasingly choose jobs where autonomous, empowered, value-based opportunities exist for self expression, with management designing the frameworks and gradually delegating more and more in terms of decision power. The focus on business goals might result in autonomy based on analytical insights and the need for speed, where organisations will shift from hierarchical pyramids to purpose-driven networking structures directed by a crystal clear vision.

The big shift ahead is from command and control to mentoring and nurturing talent. According to social theory by Geert Hofstede, masculinity and femininity pertain to human nature. Feminine values will increasingly come into play to shape organisational futures through diversity and inclusion. On the other hand, even in progressive corporations like Philips, leadership has traditionally been predominantly male gendered, even in the design department and related service units. In this sense, on her path to the C-suite at Electrolux, Pernilla, co-founder of the Centre for Organisational Creativity, advocates the rise of a new generation of more diverse and inclusive design leaders but also acknowledges how male role models in her past to have provided frameworks and references with feminine values. Diversity will be key to enable inclusivity and in order to achieve diversity, the traditional structures of power will need to be challenged beyond gender inequality, with the power of love. This is because design starts from empathy and compassion because it is the labour of love for others, namely the end users or the ultimate beneficiaries of design work. In this sense, design, which was defined by Stefano Marzano as: “An act of love”, eminently is and will increasingly be oriented to feminine values.



Marco Bevolo

Italian living between NL and Japan. 1967, born; 1994, Literature and Philosophy; 2016 Behavioral and Social Sciences; 5 books; 20 scientific papers; Keynote.