Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For designing uber-focused solutions

As the architect of a design thinking startup that helps organizations and innovators bring ideas to life, Vidhya Abhijith applies a storyteller’s eye and ear to ensure projects solve problems.

“Design thinking requires precise need identification and context sensing. We need to remember our inherent ability to empathize,” Abhijith says. “What I look for in our designers is this ability to suspend all their judgments and observe a subject purely.”

That willingness to dig deep has helped transform lives. When her team partnered with Indian startup Vroom on a peer-to-peer app offering rides via motorbike passenger seats, it attracted 20,000 rides in its first year. 

“This project changed how I started looking at human existence on this planet, how we share this planet for a brief time and how we can fulfill each other’s needs by being the best of who we are,” Abhijith says.

In the seven years since Codewave launched, it also has helped health tech pioneer Embrace Innovations develop a smart warmer that allows doctors to remotely monitor babies born prematurely. And most recently, her team built its own enterprise solution to help facilitate virtual work amid the global pandemic. The tool “equips employees to easily manage their presence and availability, nudging ownership in individuals, allowing self-assignment of work and tapping into peer power to achieve shared goals,” she explains.

In the quest to fully understand the user journey, Abhijith and her team rely on character impersonation and role-playing to vividly articulate user pain points and zero in on tailored solutions. 

She also taps into the superpower that every project leader has: “The good news is, we’re all born with empathy,” Abhijith says. “We just need to access this ability in ourselves and unleash it.”

Q&A: Vidhya Abhijith on common sense, agility and Elizabeth Gilbert

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

My journey as an entrepreneur, leading an organization with radical transparency and no managers. With the finest, trickiest balance of autonomy and structure—and with an unflinching belief and purpose of making work one’s greatest play to self-discovery.

What’s your mantra for leading projects?

Lead with trust and common sense. Project management is no longer just about bringing more predictability to the way you create outcomes.

It’s also about bringing more psychological safety, trust, connectedness, clarity, measurability during unpredictable times or a sudden crisis—leading a journey that demands resilience of everyone onboard.

What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?

In tomorrow’s extreme agile world, businesses will run more like an ongoing social experiment with no fixed end date—just continuously evolving, self-aware and self-improving. Clearly, the role of the future would be “agile journey leader.”

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

Agility. A mindset to look at a project more like a journey, with an ability to embrace and integrate change seamlessly with the least resistance.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

I’d love to work with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love. I admire her ability to articulate difficult emotions like resilience, curiosity, shame and grief—in a way that calms you and makes you reflect.