When your business faces a complex challenge, where do you begin? Design Thinking is an innovation methodology to help you on this journey. It is seeing rapid uptake as a result of the growing number of thorny problems organizations face today.
Our partners at The Berkeley Innovation Group use an iterative, four-phase Design Thinking process that fluidly takes innovation teams from research and observation to prototyping and experimentation.
As is true about most processes, the first steps we take on this innovation journey have an over-sized impact on the quality of the ultimate results. In the initial phase, Understand and Observe, we form our Design Thinking team(s) and begin the process of discovery. We say "discovery," because in this kind of work we begin by declaring that we actually do not know the answer and then set about to discover it. Discovery is a fundamentally divergent activity, in contrast to the more prevalent, convergent approach where we have a desired end-state in mind and immediately charge toward a solution.
The discovery process follows a bottom-up path. We start by conducting secondary research, or as we sometimes call it, desk research. The goal is to learn all we can about the industry, the space, the existing competitors and products, etc. Essentially, the goals are to steep ourselves in the world of our users and to identify macro-trends.
Aside from Googling the topic, valuable sources of desk research are industry publications, 10K reports, demographic information, trend reports of all kinds, published interviews with experts, company leaders, and futurist publications. Browsing through social media and forums can also prove worthwhile in uncovering unmet customer needs.
After building up a good knowledge base, the real work begins: talking to people. Go into the field and conduct interviews, speaking with actual customers and stakeholders. Learn all about their experiences. Spend time with them, ask them about their lives and about the products and services in focus. Perhaps most beneficial at this stage are failure stories: the things that did not work. These stories contain rich information that will lead you to a deeper understanding of the opportunity space for creating new products, services, policies, companies, etc.
It is simply amazing how much you can learn from just a few of these field interviews. As a matter of fact, with as few as ten interviews, you are able to understand up to 85% of user needs. That is a remarkable claim in the era of big, quantitative data. But it is important to appreciate the immense quality of data when you spend two or three hours, or even a day, with somebody - learning, watching, observing, and speaking with them about all aspects of his/her life and the topic at hand.
The most successful researchers take two attitudes into the field that are essential for getting good interview results: empathy and curiosity. Empathy is the capacity to authentically understand how it is to be in the shoes of another. We are noticing, not judging. We are witnessing, not participating. For example, so often when an interviewee says, "When I went to my senior prom...," the interviewer instantly and unconsciously starts to fill in the blanks with the details of his or her own senior prom. In other words, they stop listening to the speaker.
We are predisposed to judge, to react, to compare and contrast the phenomena we experience with our own personal histories. This is where maintaining a sense of curiosity, a spirit of discovery, can make all the difference. The most successful Design Thinkers are authentically interested in the people and the lives that they are studying. The ability to sit and listen to someone tell the story of his or her day or the use of a product or service is easy if you get your reactive mind out of the picture.
Knowdeon partners with The Berkeley Innovation Group to bring the powerful innovation practices of Design Thinking to individuals and organizations around the globe. For more, check out our new Design Thinking online course.