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Embrace 'design thinking' to solve problems and drive business growth

Design thinking is a proven protocol that any business can use to achieve big results. It actually makes us change our mindsets to focus on the solution rather than the problem.

December 25, 2021 / 07:33 AM IST
In any new growth project, if you have to fail, fail early and cheaply.

In any new growth project, if you have to fail, fail early and cheaply.


What do a transport service, hospitality service and a mobile phone have in common? Did you say the phone is a common thing? Wrong! They are all used for a concept of Design Thinking to drive innovative growth and successful stories. Uber, AirBnB and Apple are not just the three who use Design Thinking principles to drive new products and services to drive innovative business strategies.

As a partner to Mach49, a firm that helps Global 1000 to disrupt their business models for growth before someone else disrupts them, I have seen a whole bunch of companies spanning various industries from consumer business to financial services use design thinking to drive their disruptive growth agenda.

We try solving a problem and most often the accomplishment is less than ordinary. How often have we come up with a business-changing idea from our numerous meetings in a month or year? I have been trying various elements of design thinking and am a strong believer of this to solve any problem – The Medici Effect is another possible variant for innovation from diversity. Design thinking is a proven protocol that any business can use to achieve big results. It deploys both creative and rational/critical thinking that uses information and ideas to be organised, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and insights to be derived. It actually makes us change our mindsets to focus on the solution rather than the problem.

muneer column smart growthIn our work with clients, as a primary step of design thinking, is to simply apply thinking and ideating on a solution to address a problem or a customer need. Having adequate time for looking at all aspects of a solution and measuring its merit for viability to solve the issue at hand is a major problem in itself! I have a few pointers for business marketers and leadership team to think about with design thinking.

The first thing one should do is to get all stakeholders involved with a problem to be immersed fully into the session. Get them to define the problem to be addressed from a user’s point of view. It is important to see the problem from the behavioural standpoint. To do this, behaviour and observation-based tools are often more successful than traditional qualitative or survey-based research. This is so since consumers do not always know what they need, or worse, do not know how to express it. Imagine Apple doing a survey for iPad among consumers before consumers even realised they need such a product!

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There are several tools and frameworks that can help you understand and clearly define the problem to be solved.  Some of the more common ones include the “jobs to be done” framework and observational research.  Any process that is deeply grounded in the consumer in actual behaviour situation rather than attitudes or claims, and helping to generate empathetic understanding of consumer needs and associated barriers will be perfect.

It is important to do iterations on the above before attempting a solution for best results. At the start, restating the problem based on deep consumer understanding will pave way for a better solution. Typically we find organisations examine the problem definition three times and by the third time the definition looks pretty different from the first time. Continuing to ask the question, “Are we solving the real problem our consumers are facing and what are the barriers?” is a powerful way to drive innovative thinking. The next iteration happens when the early solutions evolve and we move into prototyping. Groups that are successful most often do iterative small scale user testing to help develop the prototype better. It is more like a co-creation for these groups. The best route may be to use a panel of existing customers and potential first-time consumers.

In any new growth project, if you have to fail, fail early and cheaply. With options thinking, assumption checklists and stage gate processes bad ideas can be screened. We need to use the resources to learn what we do not know rather than just screen. Iterative small scale testing of early ideas or prototypes is a key to taking corrective action cheaply. Testing to learn is a mindset change. It is a shift from “is it ready?” to “what can we learn to make it better”. To do this right, constitute teams with cross-functional employees who can examine various aspects.

Design thinking is a combo of science and art, the right brain and the left brain. It injects the innovation process with careful discipline and creative curiosity, to set the stage for ingenuity. However, there are some pitfalls one should look out for when using design thinking:

  • Design thinking leads to comprehensive solutions.  But the final offering might not solve every issue for everyone.

  • In the drive to provide great solutions, at times we may forget the relative value of solving that problem. Ensure that you do not lose pragmatism in search of ideal solutions.

  • In the early iterative development stage of problem definition, make sure that you find a way to communicate the same clearly and in a simplified way.
M Muneer is the managing director of CustomerLab Solutions, a consulting firm.
first published: Dec 25, 2021 07:33 am
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