In Part 1 of our Covid Company Regroup Series, we discussed Communication strategies and more productive online collaboration during COVID. In Part 2, we dove into practices for virtual office etiquette along with virtual team tips. All aimed to help businesses during the recovery and rebuilding process now deep into the COVID Pandemic.. In this third part of our 4 part series we want to help you understand and use design thinking in your business. The possibilities are endless in business model transformation and using creative problem-solving to reframe a “crisis into opportunity” for your business.
With 2021 now and the ongoing pandemic what has changed in the way we think? How has that change affected the way we design, communicate, build and run our businesses. How has people’s behavior changed? Now with a New Year we can see new opportunities for survival and renewal during on and off COVID lockdowns.
What is Design Thinking?
Thomas Edison created the electric lightbulb and then wrapped an entire industry around it. The lightbulb is most often thought of as his signature invention. Edison understood that the bulb was useless without a system of electric power generation backing it up and the ability of electrical transmission to make it truly useful. So he created both.
Edison’s genius lay in his ability to conceive of all the moving parts for this new industry and of a fully developed marketplace. He was able to envision how people would want to use what he made, and he engineered with that in mind. He wasn’t always prescient (Originally he believed the phonograph would be used mainly as a business machine for recording and replaying dictation), but he took into consideration users’ needs and preferences, even though it was an unknown industry.
Edison’s approach was an early example of what is now called “design thinking”—a powerful methodology and framework
with the capacity to revolutionize your approach to just about anything. that imbues the full spectrum of innovation activities with a human-centered design ethos. By this I mean that inno- vation is powered by a thorough understanding, through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported.
Design thinking is a lineal descendant of that tradition. Put simply, it is a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity. Like Edison’s painstaking innovation process, it often entails a great deal of perspiration.
Historically, design has been treated as a downstream step in
the development process— the point where designers, who have played no earlier role in the substantive work of innovation, come along and put a beautiful wrapper around the idea. Now, however, rather than asking designers to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, companies are asking them to
create ideas that better meet consumers’ needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.
A modern example in Denmark the government had over 125,000 elderly citizens relying on government-sponsored meals. A design company we were called upon by the Municipality of Holstebro
to design a new and improved meal delivery service. One of the most notable actions Hatch and Bloom took was the decision to interview and prototype with both consumers and chefs. They found the things that meal recipients were desiring was similar to what the chefs requested as well—a more dignified service with
a greater variety of food options. By listening to their concerns, hearing their pain points, and testing out new options, Hatch and Bloom found ways to keep both their customers and employees happy and healthy.
Design thinking has much to offer the business world in which most management ideas and best practices are freely available to be copied and exploited. Leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive advantage; they would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the process. It’s simply a way to take creative ideas and convert them into reality in all areas of business.
How Design Thinking Happens
Design projects must ultimately pass through four spaces even though the nomenclature varies from person to person a generalization of the steps are:
1. Discovery / Data Collection
2. Inspiration / Ideation
3. Implementation / Realization
The myth of creative genius is resilient: We believe that great ideas pop fully formed out of brilliant minds and divine downloads Imaginations well beyond the abilities of mere mortals. But what the Denmark team accomplished was neither a sudden break- through nor the lightning strike of genius; it was the result of
hard work augmented by a creative human-centered discovery process and followed by iterative cycles of prototyping, testing, and refinement.
Walt Disney famously known for his creativity and before his
time in design thinking, used a 3 step approach, the dreamer,
the realist, and the critic. As a result of the three main stages above in Disney’s Creative Strategy, the team reached a solid creative idea with an action plan to apply it. The first stage focused on the creative aspect and sharing creative ideas and solutions. The second stage focused on reality and how to turn the idea into an action plan.
A Design Thinker’s Personality Profile
Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a bureau or a black turtleneck to be a design thinker. Nor are design thinkers created only by design schools. My experience is that many people out- side professional design have a natural ability and drive for design thinking, which the right development and experiences can unlock. Here, as a starting point, are some of the characteristics to look for in design thinkers:
1. Empathy. They can imagine the world from multiple perspec- tives—those of colleagues, clients, end users, and customers (current and prospective). By taking a “people first” approach, design thinkers can imagine solutions that are inherently desir- able and meet explicit or latent needs. Great design thinkers observe the world in minute detail. They notice things that others do not and use their insights to inspire innovation.
2. Integrative thinking. They not only rely on analytical processes (those that produce either/ or choices) but also exhibit the ability to see all of the salient—and sometimes contradictory— aspects of a confounding problem and create novel solutions that go beyond and dramatically improve on existing alternatives. (See Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind:
How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking.)
3. Optimism. They assume that no matter how challenging the constraints of a given problem, at least one potential solution
adopting AI tools and algorithms, as well as design thinking, and using those to redefine their business at scale have been outperforming their peers. This will be increasingly true as companies deal with large amounts of data in a rapidly evolving landscape and look to make rapid, accurate course corrections compared with their peers.
While the outcomes will vary significantly by industry, a few common themes are emerging across sectors that suggest “next normal” changes to cost structures and operating models going forward.
— Supply-chain transparency and flexibility. Neardaily news stories relate how retailers around the globe are experiencing stock-outs during the crisis, such as toilet-paper shortages in the United States. It’s also clear that retailers withfull supply-chain transparency prior to the crisis— as well as algorithms to detect purchase-pattern changes—have done a better job navigating during the crisis. Other sectors, many of which are experiencing their own supply-chain difficulties during the crisis, can learn from their retail counterparts to build the transparency and flexibilityneeded to avoid (or at least mitigate ) supply-chain disruption in the future. But also now former human transport has changed. With an unprecedented drop in commercial passengers, airlines have canceled up to 90% of their scheduled flights. But instead
to transport much-needed items, including grocery items and healthcare provisions.
is better than the existing alternatives. Experimentalism. Significant innovations don’t come from incremental tweaks. Design thinkers pose questions and explore constraints in creative ways that proceed in entirely new directions.
4. Team Collaborators. The increasing complexity of products, services, and experiences has replaced the myth of the
Reinvent Your Business Model at Its Core
Now with this design thinking in mind and the characteristics we’ve covered, going beyond comfort zones requires taking
— Data security. Security has also been in the news, whether it’s the security of people themselves or that of goods and data. Zoom managed to successfully navigate the rapid scaling of
— Remote workforces and automation. Another common theme emerging is the widely held desire to build on the flexibility and diversity brought through remote working. Learning how to maintain productivity—even as we return to office buildings after the lockdown ends, and work with hybrid models. As companies continue to automate activities—will be critical to capturing the most value from this real-world experiment that is occurring.
In retail, for example, there has been widespread use of in-store robots to take over more transactional tasks like checking invento- ry in store aisles and remote order fulfillment. These investments won’t be undone postcrisis, and those that have done so will find themselves in advantaged cost structure during the recovery.
— Grocery stores and Restaurants are now more difficult than before. Grocery stores are implementing partners like instacart for delivery service. Restaurants have access to fresh produce and need a revenue stream. Many restaurant chains, including Panera, California Pizza Kitchen and Subway, have begun selling fresh groceries. We can now order items like fresh vegetables, meat, eggs and even beer to pick up alongside their restaurant orders. The services guarantee customers can get the grocery items they need and provide a much-needed lifeline to restaurants.
Changing the Conversation and the Mindset Potential to be a Game Changer
Design thinking’s most significant impact is the way it adds new possibilities to the old and ongoing conversation between those in need, those doing the work and those controlling the resources. Finding new opportunities for learning from this conversation is perhaps the most productive path to innovation. the kinds of changes in the conversation that design thinking processes has produced:
1. People talked about envisioning new possibilities together instead of pointing out constraints or defending their personally favored recommendations.
2. They spent time together exploring what was going on in the market today in order to get alignment on a definition of the problem instead of jumping immediately to solutions.
3. They shared deep primary data gathered from the customers they wanted to create value for and mined it for deep insights instead of compiling web-based surveys that revealed only superficial attitudes and opinions.
4. They listened with the intent to understand their teammates’ perspectives and to build on them instead of listening for weaknesses to use in their debates.
5. Teams spent their time in meetings figuring out how to start small and learn instead of trying instead to create the perfect plan before any action could be taken.
6. They designed marketplace experiments instead of just arguing over PowerPoint presentations in conference rooms. Then they actively searched for disconfirming data instead of picking out the data that supported their ingoing hypothesis.
These changes in old business conversations reflected a significant change in the mindset with which the managers and their design partners approached innovation, and set in motion a series of behavioral changes that impacted the outcomes they produced.
The last year has changed how businesses everywhere operate. Even with federal help and the beginning of vaccinations underway, undergoing transformation and pivoting to a new direction could be the only way many companies stay alive. That question will have to be answered one organization at a time. Design thinking has the potential to be a game changer and a positive pandemic paradigm can be adopted, which could actually be applicable to some, in both business and in life.