Design Thinking and Innovation Management in a High Performance coaching Context: Application to Practice.


Collaborators: Dr. Simon Raby, Mount Royal University and Laura Watson, Own The Podium.

The innovation practice of design thinking is understood as a driver of positive and disruptive innovation (IDEOU, 2019; Kelley, 2013) – a series of organizational resources, theoretical perspectives and creative protocols that can seed positive innovation and organizational transformation in established corporate cultures (Brown & Wyatt, 2010). The use of design thinking as a driver of innovation and organizational transformation has been scrutinized for decades (Brown, 2009; Cross, 2011; Liedtka, 2015). However, most of these investigations have addressed design thinking as a form of process creativity, which has contributed to the blurring of boundaries between this impactful mindset and studies of individual practices within creative industries. What has driven recent growth of attention to design thinking in contexts outside of the creative industries is a change of perspective: design thinking is increasingly characterized as a distinct innovation management practice (IDEO, 2019; Hassi & Laasko, 2011), one which can support and foster the development of creative problem solving and innovative leadership skills (Plattner, Meinel & Leifer, 2012) . Session C of the Canada Coach initiative offered through the Coaching Enhancement Program (CEP) presents a unique perspective into how creative problem solving and leadership skills can be fostered using this design-based mindset. By studying the ways that coaches participating in the Design Thinking activity as part of CEP Innovation and Change Session adopt and adapt design thinking practices in their work (both during the CEP session and in their work with athletes) we will be better able to understand the validity, contingencies and limitations associated with this designed approach to thinking.

The purpose of this study is to capture the operationalization of the innovation practice of design thinking in a high performance coaching context to better understand its validity, contingencies and limitations. This study seeks to understand how design thinking changes the way that coaching and sport leadership work is carried out by examining the experience of coaches who participate in design thinking training as part of Canada Coach, an initiative of the Coaching Enhancement Program (CEP) delivered by Own the Podium (OTP). OTP is a not-for-profit organization that prioritizes and determines investment strategies for National Sport Organizations in an effort to deliver more Olympic and Paralympic medals for Canada. CEP is a ground breaking initiative built and delivered by Canada’s high performance partners that makes a long-term commitment to the development of coaches from Olympic and Paralympic targeted sports and sport disciplines. Through a historic assessment initiative and a commitment to targeted development opportunities, the CEP arms Canada’s coaches with the skills necessary to fulfill Canada’s potential at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), Sport Canada (SC) and Own the Podium (OTP) have worked in partnership in developing this multi-year program to support Canada’s coaches in the pursuit of Olympic and Paralympic excellence. Session-C within the Canada Coach Program focuses on Innovation and Change.

Design Thinking as a practice was introduced to this module in November 2018, and ran again in May 2019. Delivered over a two and a half-day intervention, coaches seek to understand their problems, leverage their creativity and prototype solutions. Prior to Session-C, coaches are exposed to thinking on emotional intelligence, a key skill to promote human-centred design. Beyond the development of a mindset and a set of new behaviours, the ultimate goal of the Innovation and Change session within the Canada Coach program is to imbue coaches with the ability to embed new innovative and strategic changes back within their own coaching environments. This raises an important question. While shifts in mindset and behavior are measured immediately after Session-C, the long-term impact of the program is not measured. In fulfilling this study, knowledge will be developed that can help inform the future development of Session-C, to maximize its impact and effectiveness.

This study seeks to understand:

1. How does learning about design thinking impact a coach’s work moving forward? How can Design Thinking (DT) approaches be used to reconfigure the social practice of leadership in sport?

2. What changes do we see after taking part in design thinking training? Which new competencies, skills, mindsets and attitudes do coaches bring to their practice after gaining experience in DT as a practice in a workshop setting?

3. Do coaches apply this to their coaching work after the workshop? How do coaches embed design thinking in their role post-workshop, and how durable are DT practices in innovation focused coaching work?

4. What is different about coaching using design thinking methods? What can we learn about the role of DT in sport leadership development by examining the case study of the coaches who participate in the Innovation and Change workshop?