By Lawton Ursrey: Forbes Magazine
Why Design Thinking Should Be At The Core Of Your Business Strategy Development
How many times have you left a formal meeting and doubted that anything was actually going to change? So many times we get together to solve a problem and nothing is accomplished—it’s frustrating. Sadly, many approaches to solving business challenges are misaligned for various reasons—pick your poison. Innovative, business changing ideas can be fleeting at times, but that’s the gist of what design thinking helps address.
I’ve been trying various elements of design thinking and have become really passionate about it because it works. Design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve big results. Design thinking combines creative and critical thinking that allows information and ideas to be organized, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and knowledge to be gained. It’s a mindset focused on solutions and not the problem.
A primary element of design thinking is simply thinking and ideating on a solution to address a problem or better meet a customer need. Establishing the proper amount of time for truly thinking through the work being done and measuring its merit as a viable solution to solve the challenge at hand is shockingly and overwhelmingly missed a lot of times. I’ve seen this at many organizations. Surprisingly, it’s that “little thing” that is missed—something so obvious. It reminds me of the immense amount of sales professionals that surprisingly do not ask for a sale.
As humans become more assimilated into the processes that govern their company, the insurmountable inertia against positive change can be overwhelming. Collaboration drops; good work born from proper thinking decreases. The machine, more often than not, has every waking minute of the day consumed due to task overflow and improper organizational structures. This produces one thing—chaos of inefficiency void of new pathways. The proper time to move the needle through dedicated thinking is silently not allowed by the proverbial “machine” and this paves a direct path to failure. You’ll never hear this admitted by corporate leadership at most companies, but when it comes to true change it’s more talk than real practice. Did you know that Google formally allows 20% of their employees’ time to think? That says a lot about the value of thinking. How much are you allowing your team to perform real thinking on good solutions to solve the challenges?
Design thinking should be at the core of strategy development and organizational change in order to create a culture that’s focused on this way of solving problems. This way of thinking can be applied to products, services, and processes; anything that needs to be improved.
There are many examples of big companies that use design thinking in their day-to-day operations, like Apple and Google. Design thinking can and does work for all types of organizations, big and small. Yes, it can be challenging to implement at a more established company where process and systems run amuck, but the benefits outweigh the process of cutting through all the red tape. And for entrepreneurs or small business owners, a design thinking culture is yours to create and lead.
So how can you implement design thinking in your company? Let’s discuss some of the basics.
Center on the customer; shake well – For goodness’ sakes don’t forget the customer. On their own, different functional groups tend to generate ideas that serve their group’s needs more than the customer’s. Their decisions are founded on good intentions, but can sometimes fail horribly for the customer when made in functional isolation. Fragmented functions equal fragmented decisions and the customer feels the pain of these long before anyone internally does. This is so easily fixed, but it continues to persist at countless organizations. Gaining different perspectives is obviously important and this is where cross functional blending of teams adds real value and identifying those who accomplish it without hand holding is essential. It’s one way to help elevate the empathy factor—a key in isolating and defining the problem. Customer-centric is the main word here. When you get them in a room, you may be shocked at how unaware certain functional groups are of the goings-on outside of their own function.
Here’s the good news: You may be pleasantly surprised by certain members of these functional groups that are more dialed in, ask a lot of questions and already break functional boundaries without you. I love meeting these types at organizations. These individuals excel at identifying solutions because of their high adoration, devotion, and awareness of the customer they serve. They do right by the customer, live and breathe perfection for them every day and obsess over every intricacy of the customer experience. Sadly, they are typically unknown by management. These are the individuals that the company needs to retain the most, but they don’t stay long for good reasons. No surprise here as the engine of performance evaluations is broken and typically yields the wrong answers
Identify and define the problem to form solutions around – Define the right problem to solve. It’s the assembled team’s job to always question the problem at hand and empathize, in a multitude of ways, with the person’s experience they seek to improve. Try to represent in a visual way the problem or scenario you need solutions developed around. We are visual creatures and the more you can “paint the picture” the better off you’ll be at forming viable and valuable solutions.
Create many options for the newly defined problem – Design thinking helps you go about things differently—not solving a problem the same way every time. It’s important that many solutions be ideated no matter what the problem at hand is. Be careful not to overanalyze each idea. Extract ideas from everyone’s mind, but be careful not to overanalyze the thoughts and ideas at the outset.
Fine-tune selected directions – Once you have a few good options, they need to be embraced by the group. Don’t let things like what’s happened in the past deter your from pursuing a good idea. Design thinking creates an environment that lets new ideas grow and lets the group experiment without the threat of making mistakes. Sometimes options will need to be combined, refined, etc. Several rounds may be needed to make sure the right answers are being brought forward to solve the problem.
Pick the winner and execute – This final stage is where a course of action is selected and resources are allocated to achieve goals.
Here are 14 things you can start doing now. Keep in mind this is not a fully instructional piece on design thinking. These are just things I’ve seen work in the past.
- Rally the team in the room – Over communicate the purpose, request an increased amount of mindfulness to the work being done, require everyone to be dialed into the solutions being formed no matter what functional group they are from.
- Invite everyone to participate at first – Everyone should be invited and have the opportunity to share their voice. Yes, this can lead to a longer meeting and perhaps the focus might sway for a moment, but it’s important to hear all perspectives because you never know who might have the best idea until you ask. This will also give you a sense of how you can divide the group up into different, smaller teams. At the outset, observe how things happen naturally and fine tune from there.
- Reduce distractions to zero, no multitasking – Most of us are long overdue for turning off laptops, cell phones and computers. Ban any form of multi-tasking in your meeting as it can quickly fragment the thinking in the room.
- Recognize when people are checked out – It’s not hard to spot and most rationalize their behavior by their function. It’s your job to observe team behavior and find a way to create the necessary dynamic. Tell the team to break out of their role and break the damn format. Require each person in the room to speak up and collaborate. In some cases, asking certain people what they think can help, but don’t overdo it.
- Accept differences, but don’t let them become excuses – Not everyone is going to be super creative and not everyone will be super strategic. Take these two strengths and mend them together to create something magical. Accept people for who they are and what they’re good at. Conversely, realize that the ones who don’t speak up may have the best ideas in the room. It’s all about working together and I really believe that most people are creative and visual thinkers at the end of the day. Some just need more encouragement than others.
- Lose control – In a good way. Creative types are rule breakers by nature. Encourage this mindset and allow freedom of exploration while maintaining problem focused solutions and metrics to ground people while allowing the appropriate leeway to be creative.
- No judging – Judging and criticizing thoughts and ideas is an absolute no-no. All ideas are gold. Vocalize this rule from the start with your team. Help people feel comfortable to speak up and say anything. Ideas centered on a solution and addressing the pre-defined problem are welcomed. Even the outlandish or silly ideas can be molded into a truly genius idea or trigger an offshoot idea from someone else. No one should poke fun—ever. Establishing this safety net early to increase participation and provide you with more ideas to distill and eventually crystallize.
- Watch for precision creep – You might not be able to create a space program. If you see a trend in ideas that are far off the mark from being solutions to the framed problem, it’s ok to throw out a subtle and polite reminder to add more precision to the ideation. You also want to watch for anti-viability trends—don’t end up with a majority of ideas that are valid, but cannot be realistically executed. Be very careful how you correct this as it can be counterproductive and cause some people not to speak up. When all the ideas have made the board you can start to make final selections.
- Make collaboration barrier free and a bit fun – Many companies employ project managers to facilitate all the moving parts. Having a mediator involved in the process can sometimes thwart collaboration. We want to track and clearly document what needs to be done, but keep this element almost invisible in the meeting. Design thinking is a process, but please don’t make it one. Watch for how a process destroys result.
- Give the floor to others – If you’re leading the session, be careful not to take over the conversation. Be a facilitator and a mediator in a sense. Pass the floor to those who have worked towards fixing the problem. Engage and praise them for their participation. Let them present their thought and theories and make it a safe haven. Remember everyone is creative—give everyone the opportunity to speak up and propose a solution or idea.
- Try Speed rounds – Maybe there are some objectives that can be met before the meeting is even over. This is not for every situation, but works in some cases. Test your team’s ability to fix something now and deliver it to market. Highlight the problem and require your team to have a better solution ready to deliver to market in a couple of hours. If you choose to try a speed round, make sure you blend the right cross-functional group—have all the players on the team that can completely push something to market rapidly. Try it once, see how it goes, and fine tune from there.
- Be better, not perfect – Be ok with delivering something that is better rather than perfect. Again, this is not something you can universally apply to everything, but in some cases you can correct a few things and deliver something better to market.
- Celebrate – Did you learn something new? Create something that stretched boundaries? These are the things that will motivate and should be celebrated—celebrate the collaboration in and of itself. Highlight the time savings, cost savings, increased teaming, and anything else you’re proud of to various stakeholders.
- Make it a game – Highlight the current score, set the high score you aim to achieve, establish how it will be influenced, and beat that score together as a team. Write them on the wall and overly communicate them. Gamify it! Iterate weekly or monthly level rather than quarterly.
I encourage you to check out the book, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, by Tim Brown. He’s a genius.