Connecting Head–Heart–Hand

“How does mindfulness support you as a Design Thinking Coach?” I was asked. Being a Search Inside Yourself teacher, I realized that indeed both are inseparable.

Design Thinking is a systematic, human-centered way of finding solutions to complex problems. It goes beyond traditional design related concerns such as shape and layout. Unlike engineering approaches, which often start from the technical feasibility and economic viability,  the needs of the users are key.

In Design Thinking a team as diverse as possible is lead through the following phases in iterative loops:

  • Scope – Get an initial understanding of the challenge to expand the problem space
  • 360° Research – Observe and interview end users on site
  • Synthesize – Interpret the empirical findings, create a Persona representing the users and reframe the challenge to narrow down the problem space
  • Ideate – Generate a variety of ideas supporting the Persona to expand the solution space
  • Prototype – Create a low-fidelity prototype for the Persona
  • Validate – Get feedback from end users on the prototype in order to narrow down the solution space
  • Implement – Build the product based on the validated prototype
  • Test – Test the developed product with the end users
  • Deploy – Deploy the product so that it can be used by the target group
SAP Design Thinking Process

The process contains a continuous feedback loop between the developers of a solution and the target users. Ideas are communicated in the form of prototypes as early as possible, so that potential users can test them and provide feedback.

As a Design Thinker you really dig into the world of the end users – not only interviewing them, but also observing their behaviors and emotions while using the product.

“Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment – in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness.”
― Mindful UK Report

All of these qualities form the basis of Design Thinking. Only if we are fully present, we can focus on what is important and really listen to each other. Mindfulness allows us to take a meta perspective – observing our thoughts and sensing our emotions in our body.

Curiosity helps us to hang on in times of ambiguity when there are no clear answers. We can understand problems in their bigger context and think outside the box. In addition, it brings a non-judgmental perspective which encourages us to experiment and learn from failures.

Kindness fosters collaboration with people from various backgrounds and enables new solutions to emerge from diversity. It is also the basis for empathy which helps to take different perspectives and focus on human needs and values.

Mindfulness is the foundation on which the subsequent emotional intelligence skills are built. All of them are key for a great Design Thinking experience.


Self-Awareness is knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.”
― Daniel Goleman

Self-awareness goes beyond the present moment that is the object of mindfulness. It allows you to take over a meta-perspective and monitor your own thoughts and emotions by bringing your attention to your body. In Design Thinking this capacity can help to enhance your facilitation skills by playing with the apparently contradicting opposites of:

  • Spark – Stillness: energize – calm down
  • Confidence – Humility: lead with courage – discover your blind spots and learn from feedback
  • Structure – Flexibility: follow the process – being open to adapt it to the situation
  • Attainment – Non-Attainment: support team to achieve results – be creative and learn from failures
  • Depth – Lightness: empathetically feel with participants facing challenges – have fun as a team


“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor Frankl

While self-awareness focuses on understanding emotions, self-management helps dealing with emotional triggers. By creating a space between stimulus and response you can move from an automatic impulsive reaction to a conscious response. You have a choice how to react or even not react at all and endure silence.

Self-compassion helps meeting yourself with kindness and curiosity – without criticizing yourself like when talking to your best friend experiencing a failure. In a Design Thinking process both qualities can support you in taking care of yourself when things get difficult and avoiding to take arguments personally.


“Empathy is the ability to experience and understand what others feel while maintaining a clear discernment about your own and the other person’s feelings and perspectives.” ― Evan Thompson

In Design Thinking empathy supports you to:

  • Meet people fully and listen from the heart
  • Stay curious to understand where a person is coming from
  • Do not judge – value different experiences and perspectives
  • Manage transitions and energy shifts in the group
  • Do not get caught in others’ emotions


“Leading with compassion may be defined as the capacity to be attentive to the experience of others, to wish the best for others, and to sense what will truly serve others.”
― Joan Hallifax

Leadership is the ability to inspire others to follow you. Leading with compassion starts with knowing yourself and then bringing your attention to the experiences of others. It integrates self-awareness, self-management, empathy and enhances it with the question: “What would be of service for others?”.

It shifts the perspective from ME to WE – from „What can I do?“ to „What do you need?”. This attitude is key when leading through a Design Thinking process to ensure everyone follows the same vision.

Connecting Head–Heart–Hand

Mindfulness practices and emotional intelligence can enhance the quality of all Design Thinking phases:

Interviews & Validation
  • Minute to Arrive – Invite everyone to pause for a moment and before starting conversations
  • Empathetic Listening – Be fully present while listening and reflect back what you heard and felt
  • Persona Visualization – Sense into the Persona to get a feeling for what she really needs
  • Body Scan – Invite the team to connect to their intuition using embodiment practices
  • Focused Attention – Whenever the attention wanders, bring it back to the needs of the Persona
  • Journaling – Discover new insights by thinking through writing
  • Mindfulness in Motion – Energize groups using the breath and the body in motion
  • Open Awareness – Encourage creativity by labeling new ideas without judgement

“The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervenor.”
― Bill O’Brian

Design Thinking can take on a completely different quality depending on the attitude and mindset of the people who use it. It is only you who can connect head, heart, and hand:

  • Head – processes, methods and tools
  • Heart – empathy to discover what is really needed
  • Hand – prototyping and to learn from failures