To Grow As An Entrepreneur, Think Like A Designer

3 important design thinking teachings that’ll give you a competitive edge.

Sophia Sunwoo
Apr 9 · 4 min read
Bonneval Sebastien

When I reflect on what has given me my edge over the years as an entrepreneur and as an advisor to startups, I always come back to the tools I’ve pulled from the design thinking methodology. It has largely informed my unique concoction of my special sauce, aka my competitive edge.

Design thinking has been an important asset to me and has informed the build of each business I’ve built over the course of 14 years. I did my undergraduate studies in design strategy and thinking, and human-centered design, so it has been a framework that I’ve been trained on and intimately have been using every chance I get.

I know that there is an ocean full of reasons that contribute to an entrepreneur’s success, but for me and a lot other entrepreneurs I respect, I see them possess and practice design thinking methodologies on the regular. Even if it’s not a large reason why certain entrepreneurs are successful, I think it’s a common playground that these entrepreneurs play within.

As an entrepreneur who has leveraged design thinking tools in a myriad of ways over the years, here are three important teachings of the practice that every entrepreneur seeking a competitive edge should adopt.

Challenge The Knowns

Every question or project should start off with a curiosity of the “knowns” in a situation.

Rather than accepting the assumptions and expectations about a situation or person as a starting point, these should be challenged. There should be an opportunity to build the “knowns” about a situation or person from scratch through empathy and curiosity.

For example, if a business is looking to develop a deeper understanding of its target market, which are working millennials in the 28–33 age bracket, rather than giving weight to stereotypes and preconceptions of the demographic (some examples of stereotypes I’ve heard: lazy, entitled, job-hoppers) — this conversation should instead start from ground zero, with a strong discovery process of who these working millennials are, as if you’ve never interacted with them before or know of any millennials.

In my opinion, it’s extremely unhelpful to build a new business while latching on to stereotypes — not only does this cycle perpetuate the stereotype, but it’s also radically unempathetic and out-of-touch to design a product or service this way. This is where you have the strong possibility of misfiring and creating a product for a persona rather than an actual, real person.

I use this curiosity-first method in every single thing I do in my business — from marketing, copywriting, strategy, to solving problems. I recognize what the “knowns” are in whatever I’m working on and do my best to question those knowns. These back corners of dismantling beliefs and deep investigation are usually where the breakthroughs happen and where magic is born.

The No-Shortcuts Mindset

When I ask mentors and colleagues for advice, I only ask them about their experiences to understand guardrails and to contextualize what’s ahead for me. I don’t take this advice with the belief that their end result and path will be my experience.

There are no shortcuts, no secret playbooks or formulas that’ll be a straight shot to your success. These playbooks and formulas should serve as a skeleton for your path, but the only surefire way you can prove whether something will work for your business is by prototyping everything.

Every new strategy, product, and plan that you integrate into your business should be treated like a science experiment where you’re not sure how it’ll end. Some bad reactions will take place, some of your expectations will be met, but all-in-all there will be an inevitable stage of learning from what went wrong and fine-tuning your next round of experimentations so that your results are slightly better.

There is no scenario where you’re blissfully riding off into the sunset with your business, getting everything correct at its first go-at-it — this is a fairy tale and a TL;DR version that magazines and online publications tell because it’s romantic (but it’s not reality).

When you adopt this no-shortcuts mindset, you remove the pressure (and the stress) of expecting a certain result and keep your mind open to a learning mindset, which rewards you with the insights to, for example, solve your customers’ pain points better than your competitors.

Diversify Your Questions

If you ask yourself the same questions all the time, there are only a certain number of opportunities for growth you are exposed to.

Asking yourself the same questions over and over again may also be the reason why you find yourself stuck in the same challenges — you are stuck because you are asking the wrong questions, not because you can’t find the right solution.

This is why external questioners and challengers like coaches and consultants are particularly useful — they increase the quality of your question pool and help you ask different questions.

Diversifying your question pool and intensifying the depth of your questions lead to unobvious solutions. I visualize a question pool to be indicative of how big your solutions pool is as well. The higher quantity and different colors that your question pool is composed of, that same complexity and abundance will be reflected in your solutions pool as well.

For better solutions, ask questions differently and in higher quantity.

For more content like this that turns your startup chase into a victory lap, get my Friday morning emails, (lovingly called The Crux) in your inbox.

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Sophia Sunwoo

Written by

I create moneymaking brands with womxn entrepreneurs who refuse to settle for mediocre.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.

Sophia Sunwoo

Written by

I create moneymaking brands with womxn entrepreneurs who refuse to settle for mediocre.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.

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