Design Thinking

Interview with Torben Lohmüller

Dark Horse from Berlin are an innovation agency and offer workshops on New Work in their academy. Dark Horse was founded in 2009 by 30 graduates of the D-School at the Hasso-Plattner-Institute in Potsdam. Based on the experience of how important collaboration and working at eye level is, especially in interdisciplinary teams, they have taken new paths in collaboration from the very beginning. The experiences of the first years can be read in their book „Thank God it‘s Mon- day“, published in 2014. Dark Horse Innovation enables organizations to utilize the market potentials of the digital age. “We create user-centered products and services and transform structures, processes and minds to empower our clients to be more innovative.” Torben Lohmüller has only been a team member at Dark Horse for a relatively short time, but he is convinced of their approaches and is committed to teaching in the workshops offered. He talked to me about the changes in the world of work and New Work.

Dark Horse wrote about Generation Y in the first book (Thank God It‘s Monday) – how did the generation develop in your opinion?

Generation Y was a strong driving force to re- think the ways we work, and maybe to make it a bit more humane. In the meantime, many of them have become parents andhave to reconcile family and work, which changes the working models once again.

Dark Horse has also changed in this respect. There are new needs among the young parents, and we support all colleagues during their parental leave. A flexible commitment to work was already in place. Inspired by the principle of monks and pilgrims, who together form a community of solidarity, and where some make their contribution in the monastery while others go on wanderings and bring new experiences, it was also possible in the past to work elsewhere for some time. So, some colleagues have worked on their theses, founded start-ups or worked in other companies and then came back after some time with these experiences. We discuss and plan together who is going to work how much and when. We call this Commitment Day. The individual plans for the next year are brought together there: how do I want to work, how much, where, how much vacation do I want to take?

But at Dark Horse, the workspaces are also important for the working collaboratively. Also, while working with our customers, we ask ourselves over and over again how rooms can be designed in a user-oriented way so that they support the respective needs and working modes of the people. Space is needed both for concentrated tunnel work and for exchange and collaborative thinking!

How is remote work designed and how does it affect the question of space?

I think collaboration still requires presence. Face-to-face communication make important contributions to the quality of work.

What are the skills for the next 5 years? What do you need as an employee?

I think we will still require both methodical and personal skills: on the methodological side, this means, for example in design thinking, user and customer centricity, iterative work, i.e. no long planning and production cycles, but regular feedback on the question whether what we are doing right now is relevant for our users at all. To fail early isn’t bad at all, but rather an opportunity to learn and steer things in a different direction. In my opinion, this is an important common feature of agile methods such as Design Thinking, Scrum or Kanban. On

the personal skills side, in addition to a certain degree of humbleness in the face of the complexities we often have to deal with today, a high degree of uncertainty tolerance and the ability to organize oneself and as a team is required. New challenges also arise for managers. Their role now often consists of supporting self-organization, removing organizational obstacles and providing framing and orientation.

These changes in work tend to be perceived as liberating by the younger generation, but threatening to those who have been doing the same job for a long time and need a lot of security and stability. But here, too, we should be cautious not to overgeneralize. There are simply different needs in terms of working methods.

And, in addition to the customers, the employees are also the users whose needs have to be taken into account and included. However, there are still areas in which routine line work makes sense. Agility is not the answer to all questions, just as user centricity in the arts can perhaps bring about good pop, but no works that challenge our habits of perception and thinking.


What does Design Thinking mean for New Work?

Among other things, it is about being able to act innovatively in rapidly changing situations. Organizations are under pressure: environmental conditions are changing, markets and technical developments have become more complex and the old Tayloristic approaches to labor organization can no longer cope with these complexities. If we orient ourselves more strongly to the needs of our users and are prepared to repeatedly review our constructions of reality „out there“, we can shape the future in a solution-oriented and constructive way.

What does New Work mean for companies?

An important point is that people in organizations want different working conditions to which companies must adapt. If employees want to work more freely, they need a high degree of self-organization. Self-management is an important competence here. If decisions are no longer made by the boss alone, responsibilities must be shared. This requires frameworks that must either be set or worked out by the employees themselves. It is a wide-spread misunderstanding that new work simply does away with all hierarchies. Decisions may no longer be pushed through one-dimensionally from top to bottom, but there are still rules and processes that have to be followed and which are precisely the precondition for the freedom in other areas.

With this approach, organizational models change. But such change processes must also be iterative. We have to find out what works. A procedure with prototypes can be helpful here. That way you can learn together what works.


One of your latest books is called Digital Innovation Playbook. In it, you further develop your Design Thinking thoughts. In which direction is that going?

Design Thinking focuses on the development of a product in an iterative process, starting with the understanding of user needs. Hypotheses are developed and questioned again and again in prototypes, further developed until they are finally found to be good. In the field of Digital Innovation, Design Thinking therefore fits very well with other agile approaches such as Scrum or lean business models.

Another exciting development I am currently observing comes from the field of Circular Economy. With our old linear ways of production we are still transforming raw materials into products that become waste after a short period of use. This makes no sense not only ecologically, but also economically. Circular Design can help us to design products and processes intelligently in such a way that the value of the raw materials is not destroyed by their use, but is preserved, e.g. by using different materials in products in such a way that they can then be recycled separately.


The interview was conducted by Friederike Zelke.