Better Business By Design and Empathy with Alen Faljic

How can leaders effectively build bridges across disciplines so that different functions can team up and help their organization run more thoughtfully and successfully? How can greater empathy lead to greater business impact? How can design leaders in particular gain more business confidence so they can bring their problem solving expertise to co-create a different business world, by design?

These were just some of the questions we explored in our conversation with Alen Faljic, the Founder and CEO of d.MBA, an online business program made specifically for designers. Alen is an ex-IDEO business designer, one of the most prominent business designers internationally, and host of the d.MBA podcast.

In this episode of the In Trust podcast, Alen shares an abundance of wisdom and practical insights that transcend design leadership. We cover a wide-range of topics including how he and the d.MBA team are working to address a key gap in design education that can transform business, how developing a shared language facilitates cross-functional teamwork, how empathy is good for business and how to practice it, how to deconstruct big risks, and more.

If you’re interested in building a better business, improving cross-functional collaboration, and harnessing the power of empathy in business, then this episode is for you.

Overview of Episode 40: Better Business By Design and Empathy with Alen Faljic

Talking Points

  • What is business design?
  • Why Alen created the d.MBA
  • How the d.MBA addresses a key gap missing in most design training and helps designers have greater impact
  • How business design can influence the decisions mades in a company for the better
  • Why Alen chose to frame d.MBA around business confidence and its impact
  • The root of the divide between business society and design society
  • How business confidence can serve as a bridge across functions in an organization
  • The power of storytelling in building trust
  • Why many designers have a distrust for business
  • How learning the language of business can help designers amplify human-centricity
  • How the d.MBA helps designers leverage their superpower of empathy in new ways
  • The importance of building trust in yourself and a practical way to do this
  • The importance of feedback in learning
  • How to deconstruct big risks so they become less risky
  • How Alen overcame his fear of swimming in deep water (he didn’t trust the water to carry him)
  • How business empathy builds trust
  • How created a glossary can build business confidence, empathy, and trust (really!)
  • The importance of putting yourself in situations to learn about functions in your organization and how leaders can help open doors for their team when it comes to this


“That’s kind of our mission is to give designers the right tools and the right mindset, which is you don’t have to be afraid of business knowledge because it can help you have the right impact in the world.” – Alen Faljic

“Sometimes, for a good successful project, you just need to ask those dumb questions to get the input that you need so you can create the right asset.” – Alen Faljic

“What we’re trying to say is, ‘hey, even if you don’t know everything about business, you can just use this empathy that you already have for the users and you can use it towards managers within the company, towards business stakeholders, towards investors, etc. to really understand their point of view, their worth. That’s kind of where this business confidence comes from.” – Alen Faljic

“By building this business confidence, you also try to understand the point of view of the other side, and you try to build this bridge through language and through more empathy.” – Alen Faljic

“What we try to show is that if you learn business, you’re not a sellout. You now have the right language and the tools. You can actually use these to amplify human centricity because now you have the right language to explain it.” – Alen Faljic

“One thing we try to do in the d.MBA is use the very concept that’s very close to designers’ hearts, which is empathy and just say, ‘Hey, don’t just use the empathy towards users towards customers, but use it towards everybody. You know, try to understand the business, try to understand your manager, try to understand their KPIs, try to understand their processes, try to understand their challenges, try to understand their point of view, try to understand stakeholders. You don’t have to design just for a customer; you can design for a supplier. And many times this is even more impactful than designing for a customer because if you make something better for a supplier, it will be at the end better for the customer, etc.’” – Alen Faljic

“That’s the interesting thing about risk: if you approach it the right way, it doesn’t feel risky at the moment. Sometimes, you still need the leap of faith, but many times, especially with business, you can de-risk certain decisions to the extent where when you’re taking it, it doesn’t feel risky anymore. It may seem risky on the outside, but to you it feels like the most logical next step.” – Alen Faljic

“Usually, when something feels super, super risky, you’re just looking at it with big eyes, because you didn’t deconstruct it.” – Alen Faljic

“If you don’t have the trust, if you don’t have relationships, it’s because you’re just forcing certain opinions on each other, or you’re not speaking the right language, or the same language. But, if we’re having these business empathy conversations, you can, first of all, learn what the challenges are and secondly, you can also learn about their language.” – Alen Faljic

This episode sponsored by:

The Future Is Trust

Embracing the Era of Trust-Centered Leadership

There’s a lot of uncertainty about the future, but one thing we are sure about is that The Future Is Trust. Which also happens to be the title of our forthcoming book. 

The Future is Trust: Embracing the Era of Trust-Centered Leadership officially goes on sale on June 15, 2021

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