Design Thinking: getting to the heart of the matter
By Derrick Cooks
At Freethinking, we invest significant energy in understanding what Design Thinking truly means for our clients, and how it can help us to better understand and address some of the world’s most complex challenges.
For the business transformation programmes in which we’re involved, Design Thinking is not merely a bolted-on consideration, it’s not an afterthought, and it’s not an ethereal philosophy that lives only as thoughts and ideas.
In fact, our teams place a practical focus on Design Thinking, and bring it to the centre of our work, in everything that we do. We realise that our clients operate in increasingly complex, intertwined environments, where traditional business thinking is being forced to evolve
Beyond the four walls of our organisations appears a world in a dramatic state of flux – where economic and natural resources are becoming more constrained, where technology is forcing us to rethink our roles in the world, and where political systems appear to be unravelling, failing to serve our collective needs.
Dealing with these dynamics requires new leadership strategies. But so many organisations are gripped in a state of inertia, unsure of how to move forward. At Freethinking, we try to overcome this, by exploring and hopefully demystifying some of important facets of Design Thinking:
Design Thinking is human-centered
Traditionally, we’ve designed customer experiences around what our systems can do, or what internal capabilities we currently have. We’ve been willing to serve customers, but only “on our terms”. To be human-centered means to completely flip that model on it’s head, and serve customers “on their terms”.
Those enterprises that are truly leveraging the advantages of digital, and mobile, technologies are achieving unprecedented levels of customer intimacy and personalisation, by considering the customer first-and-foremost, and building their systems or processes around the customer.
As we embrace ‘human-centered’ Design Thinking, we recognise that today’s customer is more educated, more knowledgeable, and more connected than ever before. We start understanding these customers’ needs in a richer context, and start designing our businesses with people at the centre.
When a company designs its business in this way, they are able to systematically solve problems and satisfy customer needs. When we ask sharper questions – ‘What is? What if? What wows? What works?’ – we collect the insights needed to build winning strategies and winning businesses.
“Design Thinking draws on logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning – all of which must be applied to strategy to enable innovation”
Design Thinking is non-linear
The beauty of Design Thinking is that it fuses imagination, creativity and gut instinct, with more scientific, more systematic reasoning models. It blends the warmth of the human-centered approach, with the more analytical, data-driven practices.
When a product, process, or solution is created based on one singular perspective, there’s a good chance that something is missing, only to be realised much later in the process. What if the issue identified isn’t the real source of the problem? What if the steps don’t lead to the right solution?
Instead of starting with a problem, Design Thinking starts with observation.
Design Thinking recognises that solutions need to consider immediate, as well as future, needs. For instance, being aware of trending or breakthrough technologies and how they will affect the produced design or the proposed solution. When we take a non-linear approach, we’re always operating in two time zones: the now, and the future.
Design Thinking is a culture
We’ve realised that for Design Thinking to take hold within any organisation, its principles must be embodied as a part of the company culture. Teams need to be comfortable with continual cycles of learning, testing, refining; they must welcome failure as a way of learning.
Most importantly, the culture must empower individuals to think creatively, take the calculated risks that Design Thinking requires, and focus on the customer at every turn. It’s the culture that provides the environment for solution-focused, action-oriented methodologies. It’s the culture that encourages fresh designs for how people lead, manage, create and innovate.
Design Thinking influences strategy
Strategic thinking works hand in hand with Design Thinking. Consider that traditional business strategies tended to be ‘inside-out’, focused on the business and why people should buy its products or services, and on meeting aggressive targets. Design Thinking fundamentally changes how strategy is created and implemented. Instead of forcing a product on customers, it focuses on the customer’s perspective.
Our flavour of Design Thinking tends to draw on logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning – all of which must be applied to strategy to enable innovation.
In fact, it’s essential to be adaptive with one’s strategy. Design Thinking allows us to find solutions to complex challenges in new ways. From there, our project management methods simply become the tools to enable the execution of strategies.
Ask the audacious questions
Are you ready to adopt Design Thinking wholeheartedly into your business?
Strategist Jeff Chen perfectly describes the requirement to take bold steps on your quest to becoming a design-led, human-centered organisation.
He suggests we ask the ‘audacious questions’: Are you willing to take the necessary steps and risks to implement Design Thinking into the business model? Is your organisation flexible and open-minded? Is your organisation afraid of failure? Do you have a strategy that encompasses Design Thinking?
These questions, designed to search the soul of your organisation, are great starting points, as you embrace Design Thinking in 2017.