The Innovation Method through Design Thinking
Innovation seems like the key to the future, but this intangible process seems so vulnerable to the passions of the heart and mind. Many are still waiting for that cosmic spark to light up in their head.
Poetry teaches us that ideas are like unripe fruit, its meaty flesh slowly ageing to perfection waiting for the right moment to burst forth with colour and flavour as gratitude for patience and apt timing. They lie dormant in our minds, waiting for our neurons to fire off at the right time, connecting thoughts we had built over a lifetime, till we can do nothing short of shouting out “Eureka, I have it!”. They sneak up on us, catching us unaware in the shower or in bed. Sometimes they cheekily wave goodbye to us, slipping out of sight because we lacked the forethought to jot it down.
These ideas do not merely appear in a vacuum, they are born foremostly when we EMPATHISE. When we take a long walk in another’s shoes, and see the problem anew. This Human or Customer-centric vantage opens up solutions.
There is a famous story of how much time and effort Apple invested in understanding how their customers will feel when they unbox an iPhone. That mythical feeling of newness married to the beauty and simplicity of the white clean box. The satisfaction of immediately using this brilliant technology you just paid a pretty penny for, because Apple had the forethought to pre-charge the phone. This “unboxing experience” is no accident. Apple has a designated team that focuses on the science of packaging. The customer is their focus, are they yours?
Once you have empathised and really understood, you need to take a step back and translate the emotion into action. Part of the innovation process is DEFINING in clear terms what the stakeholders want and how you can achieve them. How we understand our stakeholders shapes how we approach the innovation process and design of our solution.
There is an old joke about a 7 year-old patient walking into the doctor’s office and complaining that he hurts all over. The doctor asks him what specifically hurts and he replies with tears in his eyes “Everything!”. He says that no matter what he touches it hurts. When he touches his shoulder, it hurts. When he touches his knee, it hurts. Even when he touches his nose, it hurts! The wise doctor smiles and begins to bandage the patient’s finger.
Whether or not the Doctor saw that the patient’s finger was swollen takes away from what this simple anecdote teaches. Sometimes, problems are not what they seem. You will need to set clear contours of the problem you have encountered, understand how it impacts your client and define what are the limits of your solution.
It is from the hard labour of cracking your head that you can begin to IDEATE. You can almost begin to see the natural flow of these steps. The ideation process is crucial because you can be led down wayward paths or blindly miss the exit to success. The ideation process can fall victim to our worst inclinations, fears or even limitations. They can be shelved thanks to criticism or negativity, only to be dusted off years later and upon closer inspection deemed a serious “regret”.
Part of the struggle of every idea is getting people to believe its merits through a fair hearing. Bad ideas can leap from the lips of important people and are often greeted with blind enthusiasm. While conversely, good ideas can be waved away and met with disapproval. Such is the irony of the world, where rank, station, and experience become false purity tests for ideas.
Ideas can also be misleading when they are narrowly defined. The model question “How Might We…?” has been shown to flip problems on their head during this process by framing questions better. For instance, instead of asking “How might we create a pet tracking app?” we instead ask ourselves “How might we help pet owners feel confident that they will always know the whereabouts of their pets?”
There is an almost imperceptible shift in the world of solutions that this changed statement has opened up. You no longer focus on merely the solution but the whole process of the innovation. The focus is not the solution by itself but the impact and maximising its effect. Suddenly you sense the shift of the direction of the solution is restoring and building confidence in the customer, not just the unfeeling app.
The “How Might We(HMW)” tool is a blunt instrument that can be sharpened to yield meaningful results. By framing it positively instead of neutrally and by broadening the general scope, many can evade the knee-jerk reaction of a simple but poorly-though solution.
A fundamental rule for this tool is that it should be “solution agnostic”. The HMW statement emphasises “us” as the enactors of solutions but focuses our energy on how we might achieve something for the benefit of others, not simply for its own sake. We don’t want to just build an app, we want to “build confidence in the user”. Learning how to craft the statement well allows you to recognise there is a world of solutions for you to pick from. You are not bound by the limits of the statement but by your own imagination and interpretation.
After generating and evaluating ideas, you have to create the dreams you have dreamt of. PROTOTYPING becomes the buzz-word because you need to TEST it before implementing it. These experiments yield feedback that can influence the roll-out. It may even help deter wasteful investment in areas that prove to be misunderstood.
It is a no-brainer to test before rolling it out but many become so married to the idea that they become blind to its flaws. The excitement of having unlocked, at least in theory a solution, can become a runaway train and a mistake waiting to happen.
As a whole, these 5 phases should be taken as a process and not definitive isolated steps. One phase can bleed into another. Collectively, Beacon has come to term this process as “Design Thinking”.
“Design Thinking” is a process that allows organisations to break the suffocating mental hold of stale ideas. It allows ideas to be developed into solutions in a managed way, to be pulled out of the pocket when solutions seem to have plateaued.
In a nutshell, the journey of an idea and the way you can hack the process can be summed up in 5 phases.
Every team faces hurdles to mine the riches of the minds around them, to unearth great glittering gems. That struggle lies squarely at the heart of the culture and freedom created by decision-makers, who shape the tone of the collective creative effort. How teams huddle together and face the challenges of tomorrow is a good measure of the health of the team.