Professional Skills

Using Design Thinking to Innovate More Effectively

A doctor takes a look at you, measures your vitals, tells you that you have pneumonia, and sends you on your way. Sometimes, this outside-looking-in approach to problem-solving is all it takes. But in business, there are many cases where a problem exists across multiple dimensions, and it could be that the only way to “see” the whole problem is with an inside-looking-out perspective. Design thinking allows for this to happen.

Rethinking Customer Challenges

Design thinking is a customer-centered approach for discovering innovation, and it is governed by three considerations:

  • Customer desirability: What do customers need and what would they like?
  • Technological feasibility: Does the technology exist to realize a solution?
  • Business viability: Can the company afford this solution?

The alternative is for teams to sit around in isolation, dreaming up ideas for the business according to their own biases and then imposing their solution on end-users. Is it an effective solution? Do users like the solution? Who knows? This uninformed, dictatorial strategy to growing business cannot possibly succeed in the long term.

Design thinking ensures customers receive solutions that genuinely help. When applied in business, design thinking often involves creating multidisciplinary teams, embracing and demystifying ambiguities where they arise, and developing greater empathy for the challenges faced by customers. As for how to actually execute it, there are varied strategies. IDEO, whose founder is credited with popularizing the concept, goes through a process of inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Creativity at Work meanwhile presents a more elaborate process for design thinking.

Their eight-step process involves the following:

  1. Discover a strategic topic, about which you collect data and determine how customer needs could be better met.
  2. Reframe your selected challenge as an opportunity, looking to define your scope but only after challenging your assumptions and looking for data patterns.
  3. Incubate, i.e., take a breather and let the situation percolate in your mind.
  4. Ideate with a diverse team, experimenting with possible solutions.
  5. Evaluate your ideas (according to the three considerations noted above) and refine the best ones.
  6. Rapid prototype upon your refined ideas and gather feedback from customers.
  7. Deliver your solution after final testing and approvals.
  8. Iterate and scale on the solution where possible, using it as a springboard for new possibilities.

When you are focused on satisfying customers in feasible and responsible ways, the business is almost guaranteed to benefit. For additional information, you can view these resources:

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