Design thinking is method, not magic

Empathize → Define → Ideate → Prototype → Evaluate → Iterate

If you are looking for better ways to solve problems or wondering what that “design stuff” is then keep reading. What you will get is an overview of what Design Thinking is and what it takes to get results with it. It is a philosophy and behaviour combined with this method which makes it so powerful. It is being able to get beyond yourself and to be interested in people to uncover insights. Armed with this you can start designing what people want rather than trying to make people want what you’ve designed.

It all starts with culture

“Culture eats process for lunch” -Peter Drucker

If you have the wrong kind of culture it doesn’t matter what process you use, agile, design thinking, etc… The culture will reject the process no matter how powerful it is. Self imposed limitations, culture bias in the company and organization politics cause this to happen. A culture of creativity with a problem focus and bias towards action are required. Most of all the culture needs to build up resiliency to failure and a drive to achieve.

It means transforming from an operations and sales culture to a design thinking culture. You need to change the incentives for people. Venture capitalists have a hit rate of 1:10. If you aren’t willing to have this happen you aren’t ready for innovation. Use the techniques designer’s have been using for years. Go out and observe your users rather than starting with a solution and then searching for users to increase your success.

Is it a mindset? A skillset? A toolkit?

It is all of the above. When combined it is a method with a process. Like any process it is subject to politics and organization and individual limits. Create a curiosity through a culture of always seeking improvements. Value prototypes and test results over debates. Ensure your people value method and are mindful of implementing that process. Pursue RADICAL collaboration, what does that mean? Get the end user in the room. Get the buyer in the room. Get the makers in the room. Get the sales and service staff in the room. You hopefully see the trend here. Engage, get active, make things and test them!

So how do you do all of this? Do you have to be a “creative”? Creativity is not what we are after here it is innovation. Innovation is applied creativity which creates a result.

Misunderstanding of the framework, what makes it works, fear of failure or team composition will impose individual limits on what Design Thinking can achieve. Put humans at the center, adopting a culture of creativity and curiosity which values ideas and prototypes.

Empower the initiative

If you are a leader the best use of your influence to set the team up with the space, time and money to solve the problem. Death by a thousand cuts is the biggest risk. To put truly differentiated value on the table the team needs to have the freedom to explore things far outside of past things the organization has done. Useful creativity is about innovation that creates results. Entrepreneurs, startups, and more recently the growing visibility of intrapreneurs, are really who are needed to make innovation happen. You can’t have things “killed off” intentionally or unintentionally by dragging of feet or passive aggressive resistance. Entrepreneurship isn’t just a type of personality, it is a different form of management. These initiatives that are going to drive change need support from the top of whichever domain they are looking to impact. The key is air cover.

All too often, corporate top performers, or ones who have scaled the ladder of time, are put in charge, regardless of whether they have a passion to run a startup, the broad range of skills, required or the required relationships with industry players and outside partners. -Martin Zwilling

Assemble the right team

What does the right team look like?

  1. Multi-disciplinary
  2. Mutual respect, shared air space and a focus on combining diverse views
  3. Alignment on deliverables, particularly their different deliverables
  4. Shared values
  5. Has a coach!

It can take time for the team to hit it’s stride. This needs to be built into your timelines and expectations. They need to normalize and learn to trust each other. Trust is the basic foundation of every healthy human relationship. It is the same with teams, so you have to carefully assemble them. You need to challenge the status quo and avoid conceptual blocks. We are all speaking the same language, aren’t we? Nope! It takes time to work through language and everyone’s interpretation and use of language as they communicate. Interaction is key and takes time to build up to remove social barriers.

Talk to people!

Start talking to people, most importantly the end users and if they are a different person the buyers as well. You may be saying well I don’t have users or buyers. Although the terms used may seem foreign to your domain you do have these. They can come in many names such as stakeholders, beneficiaries, employees and customers. Gather context not just problem statements or ideas about solutions.

Start with need finding, never what we already know we can make. Don’t assume customers know what they want. They most often don’t, until you show it to them. They will usually focus on what they already have, but better rather than something totally different. The key is to observe how they are problem solving and their attitudes and start to dig deeper for implicit meanings & values.

This is what leads to unique insights and big new ideas. It is about research methods. It is important to be able to observe objectively. Check out Empathy Maps for a good starting place. The key is to observe what they do and the deeper thoughts or intentions behind what they say rather than what they say. This is because it is about how people feel.

Empathy Map

Invest in clear definition

Now you have observed to create empathy with the issues it is time to frame the issues. Start re-framing and iterating the problem statement itself. These are based on your insights. It is so tempting to frame a solution rather than a true problem to be solved. A problem has a way to measure how well you’ve solving it. It should have objectives and constraints. Careful not to let solutioning slip in here! Avoid describing methods or means. This will be the focal point for your energy!

Ideate and go really wide

The goal is to avoid missing great solutions by generating a ton of ideas before you start to choose a path. This is a key step. Brainstorming is a process in and of itself. Be careful that it doesn’t become a competition. It is key to have both individual time and group time in your brainstorming step. This will be the difference between tons of ideas and finding something amazing or grabbing on to something quickly and limiting your outcomes and not really innovating. Resist the urge to move to execution of a solution! Action feels good and you must see brainstorming as action. This is where you search for the best idea. This is where you either will or will not maximize your opportunity. This process should be generative and emergent and judgment free. Create space for people by leading with wild ideas! Capture, capture, capture. You have to record the session. At the end it is time to contrast and compare, group and select.

“If you don’t go beyond the normal you cannot come back to anything innovative.” -Tim Kelley

Prototype your solution

What does that mean? Don’t build it and don’t debate the concept. Make something tangible to get feedback before you land on what you are going to build. So what is a prototype? The questions is what did they try? You need to get reactions. Your prototype is a low-resolution, fast thing to make that allows you to observe how your users react.

“You have to “Fail Fast” if you want to “Succeed Sooner.” -David Kelley

Any change can be prototyped. The point is to create “cheap” mock-ups of your ideas to allow reactions from your users to determine what to build. This replaces debate. Typically these can be built in an hour or an afternoon. Another benefit of these is removing semantic challenges and getting to a common understanding within your team as well. Ah, that’s what we are talking about. Now I see it.

Working with the rest of the organization

Over communication is always the best policy. Find those ways to enable people to stay in the loop as much as possible. Going back to something discussed earlier this is an area to work with your sponsor or champion on very closely.

That gives you an overview of how Design Thinking works and what’s needed. It’s time to dig in and experience what human-centered design can achieve!