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Design-thinking your way to a problem worthy of a solution

Customer-centricity and adding-value are the mantras of modern business, driving us to pursue strategic programs in a race for a ‘killer’ innovation that will disrupt markets and propel profits.

Of course, it rarely works out that way. A common problem is that most people’s day job requires what renowned American psychologist Joy Paul Gilford called, ‘convergent thinking’; that is, the thought processes used in finding the “correct” or most optimal solution for routine problems. This type of thinking is a reductionist approach that directs the problem-solver down a narrow path towards a conventional solution.

Convergent thinking is the ideal pathway to a better mouse trap, but it won’t alter consumer behaviour or change markets.

The hard lesson for many (usually after significant investment in time and money) is that the advantages of faster-cheaper-better (the better mouse trap) evaporate quickly in a business atmosphere of hyper-competition – the next big thing quickly becomes the last big thing. This is why we need to use planning processes that fire the imagination and shift our efforts from treating symptoms to solving the big problems everyone else has overlooked. For this, we need ‘divergent thinking’.

Just consider for a moment some of the greatest business innovations of our time. Airbnb and Uber are excellent examples of creating a straightforward solution to a real consumer need. Even though these solutions seem so obvious and practical to us now, it’s easy to find yourself wondering why no one thought of them earlier.

What holds many organisation back is the cultural preference for conventional business logic with the elimination of uncertainty. But innovation doesn’t follow those rules. Indeed, we know that great innovations require a eureka moment where previously unrelated ideas arrive together to form a perfect marriage. And so, innovation is more about match-making to broaden the gene pool of ideas, than the logical resolution of a puzzle.

We also know that innovation requires imagination and risk-taking. If businesses want to be truly innovative, they need to get good at running experiments and learn how to live with ‘wasting’ money on ideas that don’t work first up. You might think from this that innovation involves relaxing the rules and taking a more casual approach to business, but it’s quite the opposite. Instead, innovation demands a great deal of discipline and is best done within the framework of a decent methodology.

At SRB Strategy, we like to use Design Thinking as the foundation for creative problem solving. Our experience shows that Design Thinking reliably yields insights that have the potential for tremendous value creation. Why? Because it provides a framework for solving problems that combines people-centricity, technological capability, strategic imperative and market opportunity – a veritable perfect storm of value realisation.

Because the deep exploration of customer experience is key to the process, we are compelled to discover overlooked points-of-friction and use them as the starting point for developing breakthrough solutions. Empathising and prototyping are other key stages of the Design Thinking process.

The beauty of using Design Thinking for business strategy is that it works more like a learning process than a problem-solving process. For us, problem-solving is the routine mechanics of strategy – the hard part is knowing which problems are worth investing in.

Have you used Design Thinking for strategy development? What else can we do to open-up the creative potential of our people?

#innovation #designthinking

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