Ever wanted to be a real-deal innovator? You know what I mean, your secret daydreams of joining the ranks of Steve Jobs and Henry Ford, but you thought to yourself “Yeah, but those guys were geniuses. I’m not a genius, so forget about it!” It’s true that they had extraordinary minds, and probably an insane amount of good fortune behind them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tap into the source of creativity that underpinned their business ventures. Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day, and many of them use Design Thinking to help them devise new and innovative ideas. This won’t necessarily turn the average manager into Steve Jobs, but it will up their game.
We all know that technology is growing exponentially. There is the very real possibility that drones will instantly deliver your Amazon orders. Mattel just recently released a 3D printer that children can use at home to print toys, and Bocusini are about to start shipping their first prototype 3D food printer to consumers. Ray Kurzweil famously said that what used to take 100 years of technological evolution, now only takes 25 years, and this period of time is only getting smaller (check out his TED talk about the accelerating power of technology).
Thanks to the internet, knowledge has become decentralized, so there are no more business secrets. While KFC still holds the original secret 11 herbs and spices recipe in a vaulted safe, the internet has revealed alternate recipes that some say indistinguishable from the original. The downside? You can no longer horde your business idea until you’re ready to launch.
Traditional business models rely on data and market research analysis to solve problems. That worked in the past and it’s great for incremental change, but it’s useless for innovation because it moves too slow. By the time the data has been analyzed and a thousand board meetings have been held, some other upstart has already thrown a beta product on the market and improved on it, and everyone is talking about them. So you’re back to the drawing board, trying desperately to find a new idea or spin on your product.
What does all this mean for you? The message is there’s no time to snooze with data analysis and board meetings. If you want to keep up you have to be more innovative, more flexible and prepared to take risks. In other words—don’t be caught sending your product out via the post when everyone is using a drone. How can you do this? By using design thinking to plug into your customer’s unarticulated needs and firing out products that they don’t even know they need.
What is Design Thinking?
I’ll tell you first what it’s not. It’s not about making your product or website look trendy (although that can come under it). It’s also not some wishy-washy off-with-the-fairies idea that makes you throw your hands up in despair. Contrary to what you might think you don’t have to be a creative genius to use it.
So what is it? It’s a systematic approach to problem solving, that allows you to come up with new and exciting innovations that your customers want. It unshackles you from outdated business models and allows you the freedom to be truly innovative.
Design Thinking goes beyond traditional business models and focuses on customer empathy and real-world experiments. When you focus on these two key components, you uncover unarticulated needs. There is no customer in the world who could have told you that they would need an iPhone before it was invented. Apple discovered this by using design thinking.
Four Key Questions
The whole process can be broken down into four key questions:
What is? This is your cue to slow down! Don’t run straight to the whiteboard to brainstorm ideas. Take a look around and pay attention to what is going on with your customers. Get into their lives, their homes, find out what makes them tick, work out what their problems are and how you can help solve them. In a way, innovators are ethnographers, delving into the cultural milieu to find nuggets of gold. By staying in the present and focusing on how your customer experiences your product you’ll gain invaluable insights which will save you loads of time later.
What if? You can now hit the whiteboard. But bring along absolutely anyone and everyone who has anything to do with this product, this could be customers, volunteers, experts, it doesn’t matter as long as they have an interest in the product. You need everyone’s input to generate as many ideas as possible. Inviting in as many people as possible also creates a sense of ownership and engagement, and you’ll get so many more creative ideas by having a diverse group of people on board.
What Wows? That “Wow” spot is the point where what customers want and what your business can deliver meet. Go through each idea that came up in the idea generation stage and evaluate it, you’re looking for concepts that can be produced using the resources that you have. It helps to have visual references at this stage, so take photos, draw a picture, make a map, this will make those ideas more concrete and ensures that everyone is on the same page.
What Works? You have to transform your ideas into prototypes, send them out into the world and get customer feedback. “Wait, wait, wait, I’ll make a fool of myself! My prototype is rubbish!” well no, like LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman said “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Just asking customers what they want isn’t enough. Customers aren’t very good at imagining things that don’t already exist. You have to get a prototype in their hands so they can interact with it. Send it out, ask for feedback, refine the prototype, send it out again, keep going until your idea shines. This stage is all about fast feedback cycles with minimum financial risk. You’ll quickly know if your product is working or not thanks to the customer feedback. You may fail early, but you’ll succeed faster because you know what works for your customers.
Content originally published on the PieSync blog.