In contrast with traditional methods for innovation, such as design thinking, ChatGPT poses a fundamentally different challenge because there are no clear problems to solve, user pain points to alleviate, or KPIs to achieve.


When smarter collaboration experts, supporters, and practitioners talk about collaboration, they often describe it as a “means to an end.” A means to higher revenue and profit, deeper customer relationships, a greater sense of fulfilment at work, faster innovation, and the list goes on. This is similarly the case for design thinking, a traditional method for problem solving that is focused on a specific issue or end goal. But with the introduction of one of the most exciting new collaborative tools this decade—AI-based ChatGPT—a new approach for tackling challenges is needed.

This is an “emergent thinking” method that involves generating ideas for innovation without fully understanding the problem that needs to be solved. ChatGPT is new and full of possibilities; people can only imagine the ways in which it can change our personal and professional lives.

Dr. Heidi K. Gardner’s latest Harvard Business Review piece, a collaboration with Johnathan Cromwell, Jean-François Harvey, and Jennifer Haase, explores fresh research that provides a starting point for best using ChatGPT to unlock value for customers. This approach involves: 1) understanding the core functions of the technology, and 2) then exploring how it can be used to solve problems across different domains.

Other hallmarks of emergent thinking include:

  • Evaluating ideas without understanding the criteria for success
  • Improving ideas with little preparation or planning
  • Changing a project’s target outcomes

The coauthors identified three emergent-thinking pathways for leaders that can help increase the chances of implementing ChatGPT successfully while also avoiding potential pitfalls. Backed up with examples from Instacart and Khan Academy, and notions from the late Steve Jobs, they offer guidance for how an unprecedented technology like ChatGPT can be harnessed to benefit millions of customers across many industries.