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Design thinking: breaking fixation for new relationships between organizations

Mark Lewis (Walker College of Business, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA)
Scott Hayward (Walker College of Business, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA)
Rob Hornyak (W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 20 November 2017




The purpose of this paper is to show how design thinking can be a useful approach for helping interorganizational partnerships create higher levels of value creation for both parties. By integrating concepts related to human cognition, contracts and performance, the authors show how interorganizational relationships often hit a brick wall. The authors show how they can break through such obstacles in a systematic way using design thinking.


The authors anchor their conceptual and prescriptive advice in a real-life case study between a large logistics company and a global technology firm. The case study was conducted over a multiyear period with many sources of data collected: interview data, observational, participant observation, archival presentations, etc.


The authors show the factors that lead to rigidity in interorganizational relationships over time, and the cycle of confirmation and exploitation that truly squeezes the life out of relationships if firms are not careful. They offer a prescriptive approach for addressing this issue that should be valuable for many firms across the globe.

Research limitations/implications

The study is based on a single-case study, so generalizability is always an issue. However, we think that most practicing managers who have been involved (in any way) with managing an interorganizational relationship will attest to the fact that they often experience the patterns that the authors illuminate in their study.

Practical implications

By applying the design thinking methodology within the context of interorganizational relationships, managers will help their firms break fixation and enter entirely new plateaus of value creation for both firms.

Social implications

The world of work occurs through partnerships and relationships, companies rarely “go it alone”. Thus, developing the capacities in managers to continuously assess relationship efficacy, break from inertia and discover new ways of creating value will lead to positive social implications. Additionally, the design thinking methodology is based on developing empathy for others, and the authors would argue that such capabilities are sorely needed in this world.


There is a lot of work on interorganizational partnerships, but an absence of help for practicing managers on how to make such relationships great. Grounded in a real-life case study, this paper provides practical contributions to those currently managing such relationships.



Lewis, M., Hayward, S. and Hornyak, R. (2017), "Design thinking: breaking fixation for new relationships between organizations", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 38 No. 6, pp. 20-30.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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