Influences of National Culture on the Practice of Design Thinking: A Study on Chinese Subsidiaries of Multinational Organizations

My Trinh Thao

Student thesis: Master thesis


Over the past years, growing attention has been given to the area of design to encourage innovation, which has led to the emergence of Design Thinking: a novel problem-solving methodology combining technological feasibility, user and business perspective. Many of its most prominent advocates are multinational organizations, which increasingly introduce Design Thinking activities to their subsidiaries across the world. Yet, little is known about the practice and the cultural challenges these organizations face. Based on the case of China, this thesis aims to investigate the influence of national culture on the practice of Design Thinking in subsidiaries of multinational organizations. The Design Thinking conceptualization of the Hasso Plattner Institute has been chosen to analyse the different aspects of the framework, consisting of teamwork, process and the creative design environment. In order to understand the influence of culture, Hofstedeā€™s renowned cultural dimensions model has been utilized. In total, eleven online in-depth interviews with experts practising Design Thinking, including university professors, innovation managers and coaches from four different multinational organisations, have been conducted. The results show that the cultural dimensions Collectivism, Power Distance and Uncertainty Avoidance influence Design Thinking in both positive and negative ways. Additionally, two further aspects pose a challenge when practicing Design Thinking at Chinese subsidiaries: the hierarchical structure of the multinational organization and the resistance towards change displayed by its employees. In sum, it is recommended that multinationals put a higher emphasis on the national influence when introducing Design Thinking practices to their subsidiaries across the world.

EducationsMSc in International Marketing and Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages154