I am a firm believer that innovative ideas and concepts that lead to prosperity do so because they are solving someone-else’s problem or meeting someone else’s need, it’s not rocket science. And I’m certainly not unique in that belief. It is something that many business owners, conceptual thinkers, authors, coaches and mentors will tell you.
If you can identify an unstated problem or pain-point, or an unmet need, and develop some kind of solution that addresses it, it will probably be quite successful (in a nutshell).
We were introduced to complimentary thinking between business and design schools of thought. A simple overview would be to say that where traditional business thoughts and processes are logical, based on precedents and are results-driven; Design Thinking is intuitive, asks “what if?”, is unconstrained by the past (or status quo), and the reason I think it most appeals to me – it relishes ambiguity and strives to make meaning.
Design Thinking teaches that we not only need to approach business in the context of problem solving, we need to ensure that we put humans (customers or stakeholders) at the centre of the design process and at all times, have their needs at the fore.
This is a process that requires us to employ empathy (and that doesn’t just mean putting ourselves in the stakeholder’s shoes and asking ourselves how we would feel in their situation). It means digging deeper into their psyche – often it might mean literally walking alongside them as they confront the issue and experience it firsthand.
Only when we do this, do we really ‘get under the problem’. We begin to use more rational thinking that puts the problem into context.
But human centred Design Thinking, doesn’t begin and end there.
It is a ‘central iterative process’, a learning continuum that encourages a cycle of fast development, putting a prototype to the stakeholder, getting feedback, refining, and repeating; iterating often.
Human centred design is not about developing a product or service that is perfect or right the first time, because the risk is that we could invest an incredible amount of time, money and trust to build something that is theoretically, aesthetically or functionally perfect, only to discover that it doesn’t actually solve the human problem. In this situation, you end up with a concept that has great novelty, but no usefulness.
As they say in the industry, “nice landing, wrong airport”.
Looking at Design Thinking as a model for innovation, there are many different approaches that are worth taking a look at:-
- Stanford D School (where it all began): Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test
- Continuum: Alignment, Learning, Analysis, Ideation & Envisioning, Design & Prototype
- Luma Institute: Looking, Understanding, Making
- Darden School: What is, what if, what wows, what works
The underlying principle is the same = Learn. Design. Test. Model.
The two biggest areas that most organisations fall down, is in the learning and testing phases.
One of the reasons for this is that we have a tendency to impose our own views and beliefs on a problem, rather than seeking out new information which may contradict those beliefs. But that is part of building a robust concept – the more we find out about the problem and the more we test it from the perspective of the stakeholder, the closer we get to solving the problem and meeting the need.
What is important to recognise, is that ‘the right ideas’ for solving stakeholder problems exist only in the place where our stakeholders conscious functional needs and their subconscious emotional desires intersect. And you can’t presume to know those things unless you involve those people in the process.
During this course we also explored the notion of back-casting (as opposed to forecasting), which is mapping a future state and then plotting the steps required to get there, and talked about the S curve of company profitability and the point at which innovation needs to reach market, in order for the next S curve to hit its straps before the last one levels out.
If I can say it in one sentence, innovation needs to be continuous.
Again, one of the greatest benefits of doing this course was the value of meeting and connecting with so many highly intelligent and inspirational people.
One of the great takeaways for me from the Design Thinking course, was that we have the ability to manufacture serendipity – to a degree – by creating the right conditions for innovation to take place. How cool is that?
By bringing different disciplines, demographics and cultures together into a team, and putting them in a space that is away from their usual work environment, we create the perfect storm (brainstorm, that is). It’s like a flash mob of ideas. Combinations of people who aren’t in positions of power, or who don’t seem to be a natural fit with the stakeholder, will more than likely contribute content or ask questions that had never been considered and result in more extreme outside of the box thinking.
Another great nudge for me, was the importance of emotional engagement and envisioning to prototyping. By that I mean focussing on the human element and the actual stakeholder application. Telling the story of the human need during innovation prevents people from focussing on the reasons that a concept/product/service won’t work, and helps them to focus on the problem to be solved.
And a good reminder for all of us who are searching for solutions to problems (whether for ourselves or others, in business or in life), think about phrasing the problem as a question. Importantly, begin that question with “how can we….?” to help you to remove the impossibility blinkers and start ideating the solution.