10 daring thinkers who defied the rules

Maureen Thurston, global director, design to innovate, Aurecon

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6. Different by design

Maureen Thurston
Global director, design to innovate, Aurecon 

Design thinking expert Maureen Thurston has a “trifecta” of winning actions for companies faced with the forces of disruption.

First, ensure you recruit people with sufficient cognitive talent to adjust to change. Second, insist on implementing tools and processes that let employees respond to chaos and make better decisions. Third, treat time as an asset, rather than a cost, so that staff can think their way to success.

“I prefer to look at time as an investment to actually get to a better solution,” says Thurston, an industrial designer and educator who is now global director, design to innovate, at consulting engineering firm Aurecon. 

Championing the practice of design thinking to uncover new business opportunities, Thurston joined Aurecon in early 2016 after helping transform Deloitte from a traditional accounting firm to an award-winning innovator. 

She endorses the concept of the four villains of decision-making – narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion and overconfidence – that authors Chip and Dan Heath outline in their book, Decisive. Why? It stops companies making good choices, she says. 

In the 1980s, Thurston prepared a report for the once great photographic company Kodak, urging it to embrace a future based on digital cameras rather than photographic film.

“I knew ... that they were going to take that beautiful report I created and put it in the bin,” she says. “They didn’t take time to invest in the future.”

Want to avoid the same trap? Here are Thurston’s suggestions: 

  • Reduce the risk of missed opportunities through exploring and experimenting. 
  • Treat problem-solving as a “delicious” process rather than a chore. 
  • Consider the elements that must go right for a company to be successful, rather than focusing on what is wrong.